Young Children Creating Plays for a Study of Drama

I often wondered why children had special classes in art, music, and physical education – but never drama. Drama is valued as much in our society as the others. So, the best way to understand drama for young children is create and perform their own plays. So, every spring my combined first and second grade visited behind the scenes of a professional theatre and then returned to the classroom to simulate all that we saw. Our first job was to become playwrights. The plays were not meant to be polished performances – only allowing the best opportunities to learn and fully understand all aspects of drama.

Below the age of about eight or nine years old, children are too young to try out for parts. If so, each one is convinced that she will get the desired part, and if that doesn’t happen there is much puzzlement besides disappointment. Young egocentric children just cannot understand beyond their own viewpoint. Which in this case is, “I want that part so why isn’t it mine???” Then there is an aura around the one that got the part. When older, children need to accept that they can’t win everything desired, but then, although disappointed, at least they understand it – understand other viewpoints. But for young children it is not possible to accept something that is beyond their comprehension.

Therefore, each child decided upon a character s/he would like to be. This guaranteed that every child felt like a star. They were portraying exactly the character they wished to be and had to describe whether it was good or evil, what age s/he was to be, and any other characteristics desired.

The class was divided into three groups, each afternoon meeting with me for a week for about a half-an-hour. We would brainstorm and listen to many suggestions about the plot and how to include each character. Making up details was quite easy but getting a complicated enough plot required more effort, and often some help to create a theme. Sometimes the plot would develop easily, and other times I would go home after school completely baffled. Then the next day, back with the group, I would offer my suggestions and some from my husband. Often they would reject them! But perhaps it gave them an idea of the complexity needed because they would finally decide upon a good plot. As they participated in dictating, I read what had been accomplished the day before. I also showed them my notes, indicating the drafts needed before the final play was typed. And as we progressed, my suggestions for the theme were offered, some to be rejected and one to be accepted. So becoming playwrights involved mostly the children’s ideas but also mine; however, they had ownership of their story so the only suggestions of mine that were included were those that they approved of. Making up the three plays would take three weeks.

Following each week, I would take the story home and over the weekend rewrite it in a play form. The first time I did this with a class, as soon as the plays were passed out, some children began to count how many times they had speaking parts. So from then on, as I wrote the plays, I kept a tally so every child would have the same number of speaking parts, usually five. We always had a narrator who explained about the passage of time and any information that might have been an overload for the characters. Narrators had more to say than the actors and actresses, but it was accepted because instead of memorizing, they read their parts. The narrator was chosen from volunteers who wished to be one. The ones who didn’t get chosen still had the opportunity to choose a preferred character.

After the plays were written, reproduced, and sent home, children had a week to memorize their lines at home while we made scenery and costumes in school. Then one week for rehearsals and finally, the production. Our study of Drama took three weeks.

Read more about programs, including the whole drama program, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A First Grade Story Book

In my combined first and second grade, for about two weeks in mid-fall, the first graders met with me daily to create a story book. So, while making the book they were learning together and exploring more about story content which hopefully would be an aid while writing their own stories. This book was kept secret from the second graders. They ignored or pretended to ignore what was happening. After all, each had created a book of his own the previous year.

Children voted for the characters, what their attributes were, and where it would take place. I also offered suggestions but mostly asked questions. Volunteers dictated the sentences for the introduction. This was usually composed quite easily.

The plot and theme were more difficult. Again I asked lots of questions and offered some suggestions. Certainly their ideas predominated, especially with the details. There was a time of rejection and acceptance until they agreed, with a good idea for a plot. It was rare in the fall that first graders could suggest the theme. Finally they would agree upon one from several I had offered.

Upon completing the conclusion different children were called upon to dictate sentences. Throughout the process, they were shown my notes and writing which were the first, second, third, etc. drafts until we had the whole thing dictated. Then a few children would offer some morals. Throughout all, the process and purpose of how to write a story was explained, and sometimes compared with professional authors.

After I typed the story, I would cut the pages into the number of sections that equaled the number of children, with each one pasted at the bottom of a blank page. Then each child was given a five by six inch piece of blank paper to make a picture with a black marker. (It was not a good idea for children to draw directly on a page because I’d hear, “Oops, I goofed.”) The picture was pasted above the typing with their name under it. The story title for the cover and the authors’ names were written on a cover and volunteers decorated it. After it was sent to the district printing department, it was returned with two copies for each first grader and one copy for every second grader with extras for the Book Center.

Finally the afternoon arrived when the books were passed out, and after practicing with each other, the proud first graders read the story to the second graders. Second graders were a great audience and contributed fine comments and asked good questions.

Read more about early reading and writing programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Children’s Participations with Teacher Initiated Art

In my combined first and second grade classes, teacher initiated art provided experiences for children to participate in the art center during Choice Time.

Activities provided: various types of collages; string painting; ink blots; clay; finger painting; rubbings; mixing colors, sometimes with medicine droppers; potato printing; object printing; tissue paper art; sponge painting; straw blowing; and large and small brush painting.

Some techniques would be explained for using the materials, but never how to make a finished product. For instance, if beans, peas, seeds, and rice were on the table with cardboards for making collages, they would be shown how to use the glue, and because the materials were heavy, if it were immediately picked up at an angle, all would fall off until it had time to dry. If introducing clay, they would be shown how to make a ball, roll it, and by using different utensils are able to make a variety of designs, but it was up to them to create.

In using the materials, children were developing their small muscles. An excellent addition to making bean collages is giving them tweezers to use. Some first graders may still have difficulty using scissors. It’s not wise to force this or teach them how. They will accomplish cutting with confidence if they have enough time to develop the necessary small muscles. If an issue is made, they may become self conscious and resist even more. Children who can’t cut, every so often will pick up a pair of scissors and try it out. If it doesn’t work they put them down and choose something else to do. But one day, when they try it, it works!!! So they may spend the rest of the time cutting over and over again. And, as with everything else, when they’ve had enough time to cut in a haphazard manner, enough time to experiment with this new tool, they will begin to use them very purposely for their projects.

Some things were not offered very often. For instance, paper maché is not in the above list. It took too much time to finish – just ages before the whole class finished. Clay was expensive, so it wasn’t readily offered even though it was an excellent medium for them to use. They had an art class once or twice a week which included clay more often than in our class. For potato printing, since the potatoes didn’t last long, it was an occasional activity to make patterns on large paper to use as wrapping paper for parents’ presents.

It was important to begin offering materials a little at a time to see how the class handled all that was involved – to see how they used the materials and how much responsibility they had in caring for all. This determined how much variety could be offered. The rules that we had were only enough so that children could function comfortably. Accidents of course happened, and it was only important that they were willing and able to clean up the messes.

These concrete experiences added to their joy in creating and provided opportunities for increasing their cognitive development.

Read more about Choice Time and programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Programs for Six-, Seven-, and Eight-Year-Olds

What programs in my combined first and second grades provide the natural learning of childhood? Exploration, discovery, and experimentation are part of self-initiated learning stemming from children’s great strives to understand and absorb their world. Learning centers supply an enriched environment that keeps their minds active and allows them to strengthen and expand their concepts, the necessary equipment for good progress in the academic areas. So, a daily Choice Time in the math, science, art, writing, and book centers was very important. A happy productive time.

Then what about the instructional programs, those that would allow them to grow and still keep their love of learning that they arrived with? It was hoped that each program would be appealing by allowing children to identify with others, enhance and broaden their thinking, and enable them to understand and accept purposes for learning. Programs addressed a wide range of intellectual levels and abilities without limits for achievement. Programs that would, along with the learning centers, reinforce and extend their concepts.

So my challenge and hope was to never, or try never, to turn them off. Then I know their learning and growth could really accelerate.

Read more about these programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved