Dramatic Arts Overview

pkp_si_si_sink_float.jpgEvery child needs a moment in the spotlight. Activities described in this unit provide opportunities for building skills and egos. Imitation, role play, and fantasy are part of the natural, spontaneous play of children. These Dramatic Arts activities are designed to take advantage of the child’s natural talent and high motivation in order to foster significant social, emotional, and language development as well as good self concepts.

The lesson plans in this unit fall into three general categories. The first group offers practice at being part of an audience and in taking turns performing, pantomiming, story telling, or acting out a role (object, animal, or situation).

The second group of activities is extensions of children’s typical play themes from “real life”—shopping, doctor, eating out, space trips, etc. Within these play themes we can introduce cognitive concepts and define and clarify roles of individuals who serve important functions in the child’s experiences.

The third group of activities describes ways for children to dramatize stories. The play is fictional and has a predetermined plot, action, dialogue, props, costumes, and scenery. There is a sequence of events which develops through cause and effect relationships.

Keep in mind that all dramatic activities with preschoolers are improvisations. In virtually all of the activities in this Curriculum Guide emphasis is on the process rather than the product. This is especially true of Dramatic Arts. Although the story provides a framework within which to operate, the kids’ whims and inclinations will make every performance unique. It is always possible to add another character to any story. One boy in our group insisted on portraying a dog in every play that he was in. Toward the end of the year he expanded his repertoire to include other animal roles such as horses, bears, and monkeys. In doing Caps for Sale, one girl decided to be a dancing girl in the village. She used scarves and jingle bell bracelets to create her own costume and danced throughout the performance.

Sex roles are no problems for kids. We have had Maxine instead of Max, star in Where the Wild Thing Are. Little Red Riding Hood may be a boy and may visit his sick grandfather, be attacked by the wolf, and saved by the woodsperson. (‘Woodcutter’ is a good, non-sexist word.)

Characters may be played in pairs or teams. In The Three Billy Goats Gruff several little, middle-sized, and big goats and a clan of trolls are the rule. Often a bird, butterfly, or other creature enters the action to advise the goats that winter is coming or to watch out for the trolls.

Plays can be done without costumes, props, or rehearsals. Stories may be familiar old favorites or they may be invented especially to capture the imagination of the group. Although the lesson plans for plays in this section are elaborate, don’t hesitate to try simplified versions of these or other stories. See also MUSIC: “Ten Little Monkeys” and Nursery Rhyme Variation for other ideas.

1. Casting: When casting a play, start with the minor characters first. After all the roles have been filled, children who are left may be offered parts as scenery (trees, rising sun, flowers, stage curtains) or sound effects (wind, thunder, rain, squeaking floors s and doors, etc.). Those who do not want to perform may be invited to be the audience. Be sure to define the roles of the audience.

Be prepared to fill any necessary role which none of the kids will accept. Your active participation as character as well as narrator will provide a model while the kids are getting started.

2. Costumes: Making costumes and doing plays are not necessarily related, at least in the minds of the children. As in the adult world, the stage and wardrobe crew types differ from the performer types. Nevertheless, most children enjoy wearing their costumes around school, acting out a dragon on the playhouse and a king in the playhouse. Costume making may be a high motivation fine motor activity which draws kids who are not much interested in other draw-cut-paste projects. The product is personal—one can wear it rather than put it on the wall or in one’s bin. Don’t underestimate the value of a simple headband with ear, scales, or jewels on it in sparking the imagination of a child.

3. Introducing Plays: Typically, plays are introduced to children by reading from a book or simply telling the story. Felt board presentations are also an excellent way to introduce drama. The felt board story is presented to the group and immediately upon conclusion the play is cast, felt board pieces are pinned to the performers in lieu of costumes, and the story is enacted. Children who were part of the audience during the initial performance are invited to join a small group project which continues the dramatic activities.

Stories to Dramatize: We have listed below stories and books which work well as plays. You will no doubt discover many others.

- Bears in the Night, by Stanley and Janice Berenstain
- Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina
- Chicken Licken, traditional story
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears, traditional story
- Jack and the Beanstalk, traditional story
- Little Red Hen, traditional story
- The Three Billy Goats Gruff, traditional story
- The Three Goats, in “Told Under the Green Umbrella”
- Three Friends, by Robert Kraus
- Too Much Noise, by Anne McGovern
- Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

The Play as a Big Production
By Jack Bannon

Through participation in structured skits and dramatic presentations, preschoolers can act out their favorite stories and fairy tales. The child’s fantasies and imaginings are realized through her active participation in the play. No longer the passive observer and listener, the child becomes an enthusiastic doer, interacting with peers while moving through a series of adventurous scenes that never seem to loose their appeal no matter how often they are recast and repeated.

Play-acting projects accommodate a wide range of children with varying abilities and talents. For instance, the unusually quiet child can participate by assuming an undemanding role. Such a child might be asked to be a member of the audience, sitting in a chair, observing the performance and occasionally clapping. As the child’s confidence and familiarity with the play grows, they can move into the play as a minor character or as part of the scenery. Verbal proficiency is not required since the teacher can tailor the dialogue to fit each child’s abilities

Skill Developments
Self Image: The play is the medium which the child can use to enter a variety of roles, feelings, and experiences. Since there is no way to fail, the child’s confidence can only be enhanced
Language: The structure of the story, coupled with the child’s eagerness to repeat and relive the drama, provide a sound framework for the development of language skills. For children with language delays, the play dialogue can be shortened and simplified to facilitate language and comprehension. Children who are still imitating basic sounds often enjoy portraying animals. They can moo or cluck-cluck and be an integral part of the action. As the child’s language skill progress, the teacher can expand the dialogue and introduce a more sophisticated syntax.

Plays based on fairy tales like “The Three Little Pigs” include simple repetitious dialogue with structured language lessons; each pig or Billy goat basically repeats the dialogue and actions of the one before her.

Since many of the players are involved in the center of the action only for a short period of time, their attention and they, themselves, frequently wander. By giving each child a function to perform and a space for his performance, the teacher can maintain the interest and involvement of the cast. For instance, when casting “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the teacher can set the cow up in her barn chewing some fresh hay, ask Jack’s mother to clean house and make dinner, and set the giant up with “loot” to count and gloat over.

Pre-Reading: Storytelling is a basic pre-reading and language skill that focuses the child’s attention on the characters and the sequence of events through which the story evolves. The beginning and the end of the story are linked together through a series of cause-effect relationships and character interactions which the child learns to understand through his/her participation in the play.

In preparing for the play, the teacher can clarify the feelings, actions, and events outlined in the story by reading the story and asking the goup to respond to questions focused on the characters and the plot. For example, after reading Jack and the Beanstalk, the teacher might pose the following questions: “Why didn’t Jack’s mother ask him to sell the cow? Why didn’t Jack take the cow to town? How many magic beans did the man give Jack? What did Jack’s mother do when Jack gave her the beans?” and so on. This questioning technique can be used to review the play after an initial presentation.

Even though you may plan to produce a play to be given for an audience of parents or other children (a marvelous experience which we heartily recommend), an oblique approach to this goal will be the most successful. Repeat the play often with many different children playing different parts and each child trying many roles. Let the kids make the costumes (but don’t expect kids to “save” them for the big performance). Make scenery and props as group efforts. The active participation of the children in many aspects of the play production is the best preparation for an exciting performance.