Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why is dramatic play educational?

I just attended a fantastic training by Victoria Brown of the Lucy School on the "Dramatic Difference in the Preschool Classroom," at the Potomac Association of Cooperative Teachers' Spring Conference. This training was a refresher for me, having participated in some 15 hours of Lucy School training back in 2006-07. Several of my colleagues have participated in the Lucy School's week-long summer training institute on using drama and the arts in education - an experience I highly recommend!

Drama is a vibrant tool for teachers to engage children. But, it is not simply about entertaining children - there is real education happening here. Let me quote directly from Victoria Brown's handout:

Children emerge as communicators, problem solvers and humanitarians through holistic experiences. The arts provide a unique multi-dimensional medium for early learning. Drama, movement, dance, music and visual arts communicate to young children in their own language - the language of make-believe. Their curiosity is stirred, questions arise, ideas are shared, and language is expanded and practiced. What's more, when children participate in creative arts activities infused with literacy, their interest in and awareness of reading and reading-related activities increase.

Today, Victoria Brown was teaching some 100 teachers how to use drama in their preschool classrooms. She used the story Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and showed us, scene by scene, how we could dramatize this book with children. We teachers had such a good time! It was quite a sight to see all of us sailing on an ocean journey, creating birds, alligators, and whales with a simple piece of paper ("object transformation" - to do this, children must encode/decode, which is a necessary step in pre-literacy). There were many laughs as we collectively danced the wild things' rumpus, jumping on bubble wrap like happy, young children. We vigorously shouted "I'll eat you up!," as Max did, and then immediately returned to our normal selves. (Imagine the thrill children must have, being the protagonist - especially, such a naughty one!).

At the end of today's training, we collectively brainstormed just a few of the things that children learn from drama:

• it is a great pre-literacy tool; becoming good readers requires entering the story and acting lets children do that,
• drama teaches the structure of stories – beginning, middle, and end,
• it is a great way to engage active learners and, conversely, shy children,
• drama helps children learn to self – regulate, as seen by speaking in varied tones of voices, moving in unique ways, and
• it provides a fun starting point for talking and exploring subjects (such as, in Where the Wild Things Are, exploring feelings of disappointment, anger, being out of control, and even forgiveness).

Many children's books can be easily dramatized. Victoria Brown offered suggestions for incorporating drama into your curriculum, including:

• Dare to dramatize as much of the story as you like – it is also effective to read most of the story and dramatize only a part. (Remember the developmental attention span of your class – 20 minutes may well be sufficient.)
• Be careful to distinguish between your teacher’s voice and any character you might play – and, vice versa, have a signal for the children to know when they are in character or not.
• Try to make the scenes multi-sensory, with sight, sound, and tactile experiences.
• Consider having the children keep a drama journal – allowing them to write or draw in response to a performed scene.
• Develop a drama “trunk” or closet, to have basic extras at the ready, including fabrics, yarns/ribbons, CDs with nature sounds, and even basic recyclables such as paper towel rolls that could be transformed into magical objects in a drama.

All the specific lesson ideas and strategies that we saw today are described in detail in Victoria Brown and Sarah Pleydell's book The Dramatic Difference: Drama in the Preschool and Kindergarten Classroom. Drama is an intrinsic part of the Lucy School program, and the children work through stories over many days and even weeks. This school year, they worked through a remarkable original drama about Pakistan, based on Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen. Those of us at the training saw fabulous photos of this creative endeavor. It was truly remarkable to see small children engaged in an intensive, long-term effort on such a mature theme, leaving me no doubt that there is tremendous value in dramatic play for children. Check out the Lucy School website for more information! Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a wonderful workshop. It also sounds like Victoria is great with adults too. I especially am attracted to transformational props and objects.