Creating Scenery and Costumes for First and Second Grade

The best way to study drama in my combined first and second grade was to visit a professional theatre, before simulating the whole process in our class. See my entry about creating and presenting these 3 plays:

While the plays were being printed and then given to the children to learn their parts, the week was spent making scenery and costumes. Initially, we made new scenery but as time went on we began to repaint the scenery from the previous year. Since the three plays were fairy tales, even if untraditional from the children’s imaginations, the same scenery was used for all three plays with just minor changes. There was always a castle on the left of the stage, several trees representing woods in the middle of the stage, and sometimes a small building on the right side. For instance, one time a play was called,A World of Magic”, the castle was the Kingdom of Glory, the woods were The Woods of Glory, and the second building was The Kingdom of Waralot.

The castle was made from a refrigerator box cut along one side, so it opened in four sections. The two middle sections were full size and each end section shorter. Turrets were cut along the top edge, a door opened and closed big enough for a child to pass through, and windows painted on. Trees, usually three, representing a forest were also made from a refrigerator box with the trunk and top all in one piece. If an additional building was required, it was made from a stove box.  So, for one week, each morning four or five volunteers at a time took turns painting.

Knights’ helmets, vests, shields, swords and lances, plus the crowns for queens, princesses and fairies were made in the afternoons during this first week.

Empty plastic ½ gallon milk cartons were brought in for knights’ helmets. The handle plus space for the face was cut off. These milk cartons seemed to fit each child’s head just fine. Sometimes the top was left but other times a cone was made from oak tag and then stapled on the top of the helmet. Sometimes circular pieces were cut out for each ear and sometimes left covering the ears. Helmets were sent home to be covered with aluminum foil. When returned, sometimes a plume was made by folding colored paper over and over, then strips cut and curled, and placed in a hole on top of the helmet and taped inside.

Knights’ vests were made from two pieces of oak tag, 12” x 18. A V was cut in the middle of the top of the two pieces. About three inches from the edge of the V’s at the shoulders, half heart shapes were cut to fit around each arm. Then the two pieces were taped together at the shoulders. The V was large enough to slip over a head. Two sets of holes were punched on each side for string ties. Vests were also sent home be covered with foil and ties attached. Of course if anyone had a problem with that, all was done in school.

Each knight made two identical shields, representing his crest. After spending time designing it, they were given two oak tag shields to paint. The main shield was about 9” x 12” with strips of oak tag stapled on the back to slip onto an arm and another one about 6” x 7” to be stapled onto the front of a vest.

Swords were cut from cardboard, and lances were made from wrapping paper tubes. After each hilt was decorated in school, they were also sent home for the blades and shafts to be covered with aluminum foil.

It was stressed to parents that costumes from home should be very simple. Knights usually wore a turtle neck shirt and tights borrowed from a sister or dark pants. A good queen, princess, or fairy costume was an adult nightgown. It seemed a shame for a mother to spend time sewing, when each play took about 10 minutes. And everyone seemed very pleased with their nightgown fancy dress. Sometimes fairy wings were made at home and sometimes from oak tag again at school.

Queens, princesses, and fairies had several styles of crowns to choose from made with oak tag. They were sprayed with gold paint and then decorated with various beads, buttons, glitter, etc.

Parents came in on some afternoons to help with making costumes.

See another entry about rehearsals:

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

The Joy of Timed Tests in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, I fully believed that understanding math does not replace memorization. It is a tool to facilitate carrying out math operations. Timed tests? Never, I thought, for these young and eager math students! Then I heard of a method and decided to try it. After children took a daily timed test, they kept a record of their scores on a personal bar graph. This focused their attention upon their own improvement. Much to my surprise, it didn’t take long for me to realize that they LOVED taking timed tests. And Anne S., as an adult writing about her memories, stated, “And I remember those one-minute timed tests. Somehow, you made them fun for us – so fun that my friend and I would practice them during free time, as if they were the newest game. You taught us in such a way that we didn’t know we were learning – we thought we were just having a blast!”

There were six tests. The first two tests were a plus test and then a minus one of 50 problems with sums to 10, for 1 ½ minutes. (Full sheets of 100 facts were cut in half to provide only 50 facts per test) Next, for three minutes, were an addition and then a subtraction test with 100 problems for sums to 20. And finally for especially capable students there was a multiplication and a division test also with 100 problems, each for three minutes.

Sometimes, however, after successfully completing the first three tests, a few children were progressing very slowly on the minus test with sums to 20. So, they were taught a new method which involved just knowing the sums to 10. When given an example, such as: 15 – 8 = (written vertically) they were reminded that 15 = 10 + 5, and then, looking at 15 – 8 =, told to first take 8 from the 10 resulting in 2 and then add the 2 to the 5 ones which = 7. Voila! The correct answer. It involved more than plain memorizing, but with a little practice it was simple for them to use, and they could do it very rapidly. Certain children loved this method and their scores quickly progressed to passing the test.

Correcting 24 or so tests each day was more than a little daunting. So that children could correct each others, the top row of numbers on a pair of tests, were the answers to the other. One child for each test would read the answers, and I would correct that child’s test. I would always correct any test that was passed. But when spot checking at times, the children seemed to be quite accurate. And if someone got mixed up, we’d hear a loud, “Wait a minute!”

Scores were recorded on one’s bar graph, filled in each day when the previous day’s test was returned. If, over time, I saw a child who wasn’t improving, the parents were informed. Usually they acknowledged that they hadn’t been studying the facts for a while. When studying resumed, the bar graph began climbing again, and the child was very pleased. Facts were to be memorized at home, but if that was a problem, some student or adult volunteers at school would help.

In order to reinforce their attention upon their own success, each day on the front blackboard, I wrote the names of about 5 or more who had improved the most. The name could be for a child on a plus test with sums to10 or one on a division test. This was the last activity for each afternoon. Children were so disappointed if for some reason we couldn’t have a daily timed test.

Read more about the math program, including the timed tests, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where the timed tests and graphs can be downloaded, in addition to downloading other materials for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved