The world of drama in all its different forms is a great tool for building expressive, self-confident children. There are lots of ways to incorporate creative drama games and activities in your own home. And … it’s a ton of fun.
My grandson is a quiet child who loves nothing more than to find a quiet spot alone so he can read. He is kind and gracious to others and quick to forgive. This sensitive child got the lead in his small town’s production of an off-Broadway play. The role required great acting, but in addition, dancing and … singing! I was the proudest grandma around when he belted out the biggest number of the evening like a rock star. Later I asked him how he felt when he did that number. His simple answer was, “Confident!”
Drama can do wonders for shy children. It can help them break through personal barriers and become brave. I saw it with my own eyes.
Kids love to pretend. Kids love to move their bodies. Voila! Drama incorporates both of these child-friendly activities. Here are some of the benefits of introducing creative drama activities into your family’s fun times:
- Creative drama is a great tool for teaching content in other subject areas. Learning about the rainforest? Try some movement games to enhance the understanding of jungle animals. Learning about Shakespeare? Try writing a simple play based on the story of Romeo and Juliet (and act it out).
- Creative drama stimulates creativity and self-expression. It encourages children to get outside of themselves and try something new. It gives the opportunity to express a wide range of emotions, thoughts and ideas that may not be part of everyday life.
- The expression that is the heart of drama builds self-confidence and self-esteem. It goes past nerves and self-consciousness and allows children to try something new with success.
- Learning to act “in character” requires focus, paying attention and engagement – all great learning tools.
- Well-managed drama experiences offer a safe environment to try on other roles and to express feelings. How does it feel and look to be angry? Sad? Afraid?
- Drama experiences build empathy and a chance to support others in their efforts. It is community-building.
- The process of planning, rehearsing and then performing offers great feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Drama teachers often use games and activities to “warm up” their budding actors and actresses. These come in a wide variety of formats, but all of them serve to provide exposure to the art of drama. They may ask children to convey thoughts or feelings, allow them to express an opinion, appeal to one of the five senses and be done either verbally or nonverbally. The games provide structure within which to explore movement, voice projection, quick thinking and reacting, focus and attention to detail and much more. Here are some of the kinds of drama games that might work in your own home.
Mirror activities are standard drama class fare. They build awareness of body movement and facilitate working together and nonverbal communication. There are many varieties of these games, but the basic game has children working in pairs, facing one another about two to three feet apart. The leader makes a slow, continuous movement and the follower mirror images the movements. The goal is to succeed, not trick one another. In a more difficult version of this activity there is no leader or follower, the two just act as one. Mirror activities can be done to music as well.
Role-playing games give kids practice in being someone else. There are hundreds of ways to begin – scenarios to act out, themes to guide the dialogue, choosing animate or inanimate characters, using verbal or non-verbal responses. Here is an example of a role-play game children love. Bus Stop: one child sits at the bus stop and another joins the first. Both have chosen secret roles and speak to each another in character. All playing try to guess their identities.
In the world of drama, improvisation is a form of live theater in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a scene or story are made up in the moment. The entire activity is spontaneous. Often the topic is suggested by an audience member and the actors take it from there. Each performance is unique. Improv can be a bit intimidating for those new to it, but improv games can take the fear out of the process through exposure and a no-fail attitude.
In improvisation games for kids, the leader selects players and they draw a topic or scenario from a basket. There is no right or wrong, just responses. Skills will improve with opportunities to take part in the game. Children will become more and more comfortable with quick responses and actions. Improv is often funny because of the surprising responses.
Pantomime exercises are nonverbal responses to prompts. They make for great drama guessing games and practice in thinking creatively. If the prompt is office work, the player must think of a way to portray that, possibly by typing on a virtual keyboard or making copies at a virtual copy machine. If the topic is jungle, the actor might act like a monkey. There are literally hundreds of theater and drama games. Check the resources sidebar to find the right ones for your children.
Try Puppet Theater
Sock puppets, paper puppets, wooden spoon puppets, paper bag puppets – kids love to make and use puppets to tell their stories. Turn over a table and crouch behind it, or cut out the back of a cardboard box and you have a puppet theater. Write your own script from a favorite fairy tale, folk tale, myth or legend. Or write a script using family members as the characters.
Puppet theater extensions make a great response to a story book that is the current favorite. Children also enjoy writing the exploits of their favorite superhero. The choices are endless as long as you see the opportunity to guide your children toward a hands-on response to something they know, love and are excited about.
You’ll remember skits from summer camp days. Skits are short dramatic responses to some topic or scenario. Write your own or purchase skits from one of the resources in the sidebar.
If you’ve read my book, “Homegrown Readers,” you’ll know that retelling stories is one of the best ways to increase reading comprehension. The process of remembering the beginning, middle and end of a story, mentioning details about the characters and setting and explaining the resolution of the story are skills that ensure a good understanding of the story content. Oral tradition stories make good retells.
Retells can be done with a bit of flair and become a form of theater. Have your children take turns telling the same story. See who remembers a new bit of information or who can embellish the character. Change the ending of the story. How would that affect the entire story line?
Readers theater, or oral interpretation, is a kind of drama that is low risk for beginning actors. Children sit on chairs or stools and read a script or story, making their part come to life via great reading and intonation. Readers theater requires no props or costuming. It’s easy and fun and when done over time will encourage strong oral reading skills.
Drama in Your Community
Drama is an art form that enriches those involved with it. Be sure to take advantage of local children’s theater offerings via schools and theater companies. These theater companies often offer beginning theater classes for children. They’re well worth the cost of enrollment. Make drama and dramatic responses part of your family fun.
Websites with Creative Drama Games and Activities:
- childdrama.com kidactivities.net
Books on Creative Drama
- “The Creative Dramatics Cookbook” by Kelley O’Rourke
- “Learning Through Drama” by McGregor, Tate and Robinson
- “Creative Dramatics in the Classroom and Beyond” by Nellie McCaslin
- “Readers Theatre for Children” by Laughlin and Latrobe
- “Show Time: Music, Dance and Drama Activities for Kids” by Lisa Bany-Winters
- “Seven Steps to Creative Children’s Dramatics” by Pamela Prince Walker