In DRAMA (1), I had a Book Chook rant on what I think drama lessons can do for kids. Today, I want to suggest some drama activities you can incorporate into class or family life to help kids develop creativity, communication and thinking skills.
In the early years, drama is almost an extension of natural creative play. To encourage it, you could make sure your kids have access to a dress up box. The ones I like best are those that have things kids can use their imaginations to adapt. To me, that means lengths of material that can be draped as a toga, twirled as a cloak, or worn as a cape for a super hero. I believe kids get so much more from inventing their own costumes than having a range of bought ones. A good dress up box also has props like card boxes and sheets, textas/markers, etc. Yes, it gets messy, but that's the nature of play!
When you've shared a read aloud, or you're talking about a favourite story, suggest you and the kids, or just the kids act it out. It doesn't need to be a dress up activity either. Drama gives kids a chance to move, and some active kids need that. There is no right way to do this. It doesn't matter if you stray from the text. You're not producing something fit for an audience to view, so much as improvising and having fun. Later, and in more formal situations, kids learn about speaking and acting in a way that the audience can understand.
Once kids are comfortable with acting a story out, you can introduce another element. Say they have performed Goldilocks. This time, they must enact the story of Goldilocks in sixty seconds, or in the style of another story. They might try Goldilocks as an opera, a cowboy movie, or an advertisement for porridge. AND still do it in sixty seconds!
Machines are great for getting kids to work as a team to produce something that communicates a message. Start with one person repeating a sound and movement. Noni raises and lowers her left arm and says "chock, chock, chock" in time with her movement. Add others slowly. Tran watches Noni, then kneels at an angle to her, waving both arms and saying "swish, swish, swish". Sam links arms with Noni and nods his head, "bibbidy-bob, bibbidy-bob". More and more kids join in, thinking about how what they will add will affect the machine. Once kids are used to making simple machines, introduce another element. Ask them to split into groups and make a vacuum cleaner, or a car wash. Add another element. Become more abstract and ask for a punishment machine, or a politician machine, or a day at the beach machine. Link to literature and ask the kids to communicate the essence of a book as a machine. Parts of the machine may by this stage contribute sentences, song snatches, interactive movements - whatever is needed to get their message across to an audience.
Another one I like that you can use with literature or history even, is still pictures. A different name for it is tableaux. This is a bit like machines but without movement. To start with, it's fun as a guessing game. Have kids use their bodies and expressions to make a frozen image of something. With young kids, it might be as simple as someone pretending to eat curds and whey, and you need to guess Miss Muffett. Add another element. In groups this time, kids have two minutes to create a scene from a book you have read. Freeze. Audience tries to work it out. Research and imagination might result in a still picture of Captain Cook arriving in Australia, or one of what democracy really means. Add another element. Start a scene with a still picture but then have characters come to life and improvise dialogue and movement the way they think it might have happened.
With all the drama activities I use, I encourage participation and reflection. It's about being part of a team, contributing something to a whole. Ego often needs to take a back seat. I constantly remind my students to watch, listen and evaluate what's happening, whether they are performing or part of the audience. Remind kids to observe, and discuss what works afterwards. Instead of criticizing, which we humans are wont to do, we talk about what works, and what we would change. This isn't so necessary in a family situation, but kids often benefit from discussion. What did you like? What worked? Which shape and colour looked good against the black backdrop?
I can't speak for all drama teachers, but I know that many, like me, rely on improvisation as a core skill for kids to develop. If you've ever seen Theatre Sports or a TV show called Whose Line Is It Anyway, you've witnessed skilled performers practising the art of accepting offers from another player, and improvising. There are several improv sites on the internet that list and describe games, but not all are suitable for kids. You will find a nice list of more drama games at dramagames.info
To some people, drama means finding a scripted play. I tended not to go there with my students, but only because it wasn't my style. We preferred to create our own plays, and scripted them rarely. Often though, there is no time for such a creative luxury. If you want scripts and skits, this Cool Homeschooling site has links to some beauties. Remember Rinse the Blood Off my Toga? You'll find more scripts and skits at:
Archive of Children's Scripts from Dramatix - most have religious themes or at the very least family values.
MacScouter's Big Book of Skits- 400 skits, corny but fun.
Scroll down to Skits on this campfire page.
Short n' Simple Skits for actors or puppets
If your kids love acting, reading through other people's scripts is a great way to involve them in reading within their interest area. That leads naturally to writing their own plays, performing and recording. FUN!
I think drama activities are useful to parents, teachers, and anyone who wants to encourage creativity in kids. If you're interested in learning more, or involving your children, try your local community theatre or library, or look for a teacher whose students seem full of energy, happy, yet capable of disciplining themselves. If you want more activities, or have a question, let me know in comments or via email (Contact Me tab). You might also be interested in a series of articles I've written about Reader's Theatre (Reader's Theatre 5 is coming soon, I promise!)