What Does Drama for Young Children Actually Involve?

As we near the opening day of our Weekend Activity Studio, I wanted to use this week’s blog to take a look at the role of Drama in the early years.

The first thing I want to do is banish a misconception. When we say ‘drama for children’, many imagine dance routines to ‘Fame!’ or awkward Christmas shows where the main character forgets all their lines. This is not how we do drama in the Early Years.

I’ve been practicing drama for children for around a decade, and my key, driving force has always been ‘play’. Now, as you probably already know, actors, historically, have been called ‘players’, but how similar is an actor’s play to a child’s?

A few years ago, I was sat in the first class for a BA module in Theatre for Young Audiences. The room was full of students in their early twenties, many of whom hadn’t met before, but all serious about their budding careers in theatre and performance.

After the usual introductory presentation, the professor (the wonderful Helen Nicholson) divided the class into two, and simply told us to build forts. Within minutes, everything that could be - chairs, mats, coats and bags - had been repurposed into building materials, and war had broken out. While some tried to sneak past enemy lines to retrieve a particularly good chair, others were held hostage, and others still cooked up a tasty ‘meal’ before forgetting what they were doing as they chased the person who’d just stolen the roof.

Actors and theatre practitioners, by trade, play every day. Maria Montessori said that ‘play is the work of the child’ - well it’s the work of the drama practitioner, too. So, a good children’s drama teacher will be able to guide the imaginative and creative play so important to young children, teaching them skills and lessons in a wide range of subjects through organic, child-oriented methods.

So, this begs the question: what skills can drama teach young children?

  • Life practice

Let’s start with the very thing that makes drama and imaginative play so special. In drama, children get the opportunity to try out pretend situations - either that they have not had the opportunity to experience yet, or that are fairly new to them. Whether it’s something as simple as going to the shops, or as complicated as asserting your own boundaries, dramatic play allows children to test out their thoughts, feelings and reactions. This is all whilst staying in the safe world of the pretend, where you can decide to stop at any moment. This can, then, make those situations - or similar ones - feel a little less daunting when they occur in real life.

  • Language skills

During drama sessions, we regularly encourage children to take on roles - often as adults. Research into imaginative play has revealed that, often, while playing as an adult, children use language more advanced than they would in daily life, as they practice these strange new words in the safe world of the pretend.

  • Emotion regulation and empathy

As you may have noticed in our Saturday morning IGTVs, I regularly use drama activities to help children express their emotions. This practice at showing and managing feelings can be great for preparing little ones for real-world upsets.

On top of this, drama’s use of roleplay encourages children to put themselves in others’ shoes, and really think about how they may feel, thus developing their empathy skills!

  • Confidence

In drama sessions, children are encouraged to share their ideas, show off the things they’ve created, speak up in group discussions and express their thoughts and feelings. On top of this, we learn how to stand tall, to speak with confidence, and even some grounding skills to help beat the nerves!

  • Cooperation

Drama is a group activity. In our Weekend Activity Studio sessions here at MEplace, children will always be working in groups, whether that’s as a pair or the entire class. This encourages children to listen to one another, create collaboratively and find compromises.

  • Memory and concentration

A staple of the drama session is the focus game. We usually use these at the beginning of a session to draw everyone together in the space, and ensure everyone is fully present and engaged. On top of this, children will often be asked to show their creations to the larger group, which involves remembering their lines and actions, and paying attention to other groups!

  • Taking control

In roleplay, children often choose to play adults - whether that’s a parent, a fireman or a Knight of Olde. By doing so, children get to experience life as those they see as most powerful (adults!), and take control of situations they would not normally. This can help children to be a little more content with the amount of control they have in life, and even reduce tantrums or feelings of anxiety.

  • Imagination and creativity

These two skills are highly valued by employers. In the ‘adult’ world, they allow us to resolve problems in new ways and dream up unique ideas. Unfortunately, in schools, creative subjects are often pushed aside to achieve higher test scores in Maths and Literacy.
In drama, however, we nurture imagination and celebrate creativity. Children are regularly encouraged to not only share but extend upon their own ideas. You may have heard of ‘Yes, and…’. This important phrase in the drama workshop means that no idea is wrong, but every single one can be nurtured and grown.

Lastly, drama is a learning tool. Play is the natural form of learning for young children. Playful techniques capture the imagination, and roleplay creates a personal connection to the subject. So, through structured sessions, a drama practitioner can teach anything from Maths to History to Conservation.

So, with all that in mind, I hope to be meeting many of your little ones at our upcoming Activity Studio. In the meantime, be sure to check out our IGTVs for some fun drama exercises you can try at home.
Keep playing!

Content Creator and Children’s Drama Practitioner @MEplace
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