Watch young children. What are they very often doing when left to their own devices? That's right - play-acting. It seems that drama play comes naturally. Kids “play house", pretending to be mommy or daddy; dash around acting like a superhero, or raise their arms in victory when emulating a favourite sports star. Most children come into formal educational situations having gone through their imitative stage of drama play and having experienced some imaginative, creative, self-directed play.
Tapping into this natural interest in drama play can give educators a way of providing students of any age with an enjoyable learning experience through which they not only gain knowledge but develop many life skills.
For example, drama play provides the opportunity to hone the skill of co-operation. Learning to cope with the inevitable differences in opinions and working styles (not to mention everyone's emotional foibles) is of utmost importance if a project is to be successful.
As the Play Write or Story Teller:
Synthesizing the ideas, facts, attitudes, personalities and events takes organized thinking and planning. This can happen even with the very young child who is simply retelling the story if Goldilocks and the Three Bears. With practice they learn to consider the sequencing of events, (Bears leave, Goldilocks comes, tries and eats porridge, tries and breaks chair, tries and sleeps in bed, Bears return, Goldilocks runs away) as well as the characters involved. In their retelling, Poppa Bear's voice and attitude are rarely the same as Mamma's or Baby Bear's. As students mature and develop their own story lines for drama play scripts, they hone their ability to visualize events, characters and settings which takes creative thinking and problem solving.
As the Director:
Even when no one person is given the responsibility of being the “director" of a group drama play, inevitably someone will emerge as the leader of the production. This person often has firm ideas about how the task should be done and imprints his or her interpretation on the presentation. This is a skill to be encouraged, but sometimes it is necessary to officially assign this role to someone who may not be bold enough to speak up and take the opportunity for leadership. In this role, the skills of interpretation, decision-making and communication come to the fore. (Not to mention standing firm in the face of mutiny!)
As the Actor:
Putting oneself “in the other person's shoes helps to develop empathy. Acting out a different set of life circumstances can lead to an understanding that there is another point of view that may have validity.
For many of us, learning to be comfortable speaking or performing in front of an audience is a trial! Starting early with informal drama play in the classroom setting can help to ease children into oral presentation. As students become accustomed to performing, they can be encouraged to memorize scripts or ad lib, express a range of emotions through voice, facial expressions, and body language and even develop their own characters.
As the Backstage Support
Whether a tiny classroom drama play or a large staged musical, there are always items that need to be made or found for props, costumes or scenery. Students working to prepare these items, contribute their time and creativity, but also learn to be responsible to the group. One of the best lessons taught by drama is that everyone is necessary for the success of the venture. Those responsible for the “behind the scenes" jobs are just as important as the actors “up front".
Anywhere along the continuum from informal role-playing to formal staged and costumed musical drama learning opportunities abound. Drama play should be an integral part of every student's education.
If you are looking to spice up your program with a little drama play , check out the ideas and materials at Scruffy Plume's site for play scripts and songs for teaching.