Children's Drama Activities
In teaching or organizing children's drama activities, there is a number of variables that need to be taken into consideration.
- The venue may be a school, an after-school Drama Club, a Sunday School, Christian Religious Education, a church, or a large hall.
- The occasion may be a drama class where children are taught about movement and action, an incidental acting out of a situation that is intended to revise something taught, or it may be a full-blown presentation.
- The drama activity may involve just the children or they may be making an audio recording, an audio-visual recording, or using one of a number of different kinds of puppets.
- The children may all be around the same age or there may be a range of ages.
However, there is one important premise:
KEEP IT AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE
Whether the children's drama activities involve them briefly acting out a situation, or a script, the young actors, the movement, the rehearsals, the costumes, the props, the scenery, the make-up, the helpers, any extras, such as sound effects, lighting, music, it needs to be kept as simple as possible.
1. The Script
Whether you use a script or not depends on the aim of the drama activity; whether it is an 'on the spot' scene to emphasize a point, a mime, or a play that is to be presented to an audience.
No script: The children know the story and they act it out in their own words, with or without a few simple props or costumes. This can be an excellent way to revise a point or lesson.
Mime: In a mime there may be no script, or the teacher, a student or a group of students may act as Narrator while the drama is acted out as a mime. Again, this may occur during a regular class session, or it may be rehearsed and then presented for a special occasion for an audience or congregation.
Full Script: This may be a short scene written by the children or the teacher, or it may be a published script. Parts can be allocated to the whole class or simply to a small group that presents their play to the rest of the class. They may learn parts in a longer play and be directed in their acting and movements on the stage as they rehearse it before it is presented. Children love plays and most enjoy taking part in them and most children learn their parts surprisingly quickly.
2. The Young Actors
Young actors in any kind of drama activity can be fairly unpredictable at times. There are a few pointers that may help in dealing with these situation:
- Keep the play as simple as possible for all aspects of the production. It helps to reduce stress for the teachers or leaders, stress which can very easily transfer to the children.
- Allocate the parts at each rehearsal to different children and only choose the actual actors on the day. It often happens with children, especially young children, that someone in a vital role is taken ill at the last moment, and this can be disastrous, upsetting the rest of the cast.
- Having understudies can help as it means that more children are learning vital roles. It can also give a chance for children who are shy to experience the position when they would find a prominent role before an audience stressful.
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3. The Movement
In guiding children's drama activities, it is important to spend time discussing with them how they would feel in different situations, and how they would show those feelings so others could understand. Lessons on movement may be part of a class, or a whole series of classes, so that repetition helps the children to take these on as their own.
If you are leading a drama class, there needs to be quite a bloc of time set aside regularly for teaching, demonstrating, and allowing the children to learn:
- To express different emotions, such as joy, sorrow, jealousy, fear, anger, or peace.
- To practice movement: how to walk across the stage, how to portray their particular type of character, e.g. young child, old man, fat person, a burglar. Young children, especially, may need to be taught to face the audience as much as possible.
- To practice gestures: how to use gesture for acting different personalities, such as the graceful gestures of a princess, a very poor person hugging a warm drink; the actions of pleading, repulsing, enticing.
4. The Rehearsals
Whether the rehearsal is a quick run-through for a brief scene during class, or for a production, it is important for the teacher to have a plan so that it proceeds as smoothly as possible. Children's drama activities, including rehearsals can be fun, enjoyable for all concerned if they are carefully planned and directed. However, the teacher needs to be ready to expect - and deal with - the unexpected, including those who have small parts getting bored and mischievous.
Finally, little children seem to have unlimited energy, but, in fact they can flag and tire easily and quickly, so rehearsals need to be kept as short as possible.
5. The Costumes
Costumes really add to the sense of occasion and help the young actors to get more into the skin of the part they are playing. A simple hat or robe can add fun and charm even in a drama activity that is a revision of, say, a Bible story that has just been told and discussed.
However, costumes can cause problems if they are too complicated, so it is wise to keep them as simple as possible. If you are planning a children's drama for an audience, this is especially pertinent unless you have the finances to hire the costumes or have them made by professionals. Most parents are busy, many are working, and expecting them to produce complicated costumes, even when enough warning is given may not be acceptable. It's surprising what effects can be obtained with just token costumes.
6. The Make-up
Most children love to have make-up used and it helps them to get into the mood of the character if the play or mime is being presented to an audience. Make sure there is a mirror nearby so they can see what they look like. As in all the other sections, simplicity is important.
Because time can be an issue, especially when there is a whole class of excited children, the make-up can be done at home. In this case, a note home with instructions of what is expected can be helpful for the parents and also may help prevent some nasty surprises for the teacher.
If there are a few parents who are willing to do it and are good with character make-up, it could be best to have it done on the spot as you can supervise as they go along.
7. The Props
Props can vary greatly from being the actual actors in the play, to occasions when puppets are used, to numerous items that can be quite difficult to keep under control.
Puppets: Some children's drama activities may involve their use of puppets. If this is in a school class it can be quite straightforward and a great way to help shy children. However, if it is a production for parents, it is worth keeping in mind that it is best to keep any props as simple as possible.
The Children: Props are great, even if the scene is in the classroom, but again here, they do need to be kept simple and not too many, either. It's amazing how props can get mislaid. If it is a full-scale production, it could be useful to have a reliable parent take charge of the props and of placing them at the right time in the correct place. This needs to be orchestrated and listed, other people are not mind-readers.
8. The Scenery
Backdrop: Scenery in children's drama activities may be non-existent; children have wonderful imaginations. However, for a simple production it is surprising the effect that can be gained with the use of a simple sheet, plain or painted for a back-drop. There may be some willing parents or an art-teacher who would embark on producing more complicated scenery.
Additional Scenery: There may be other scenery needed, such as a table, chairs, the front of a house (painted). Again, for things like this it is best to arrange for people to be in charge of scenery.
Curtains: If you are in a hall, there may be curtains and you will need someone to work these at the appropriate times.
People in charge of all these things need to have their duties carefully listed and they will need to be responsible to someone, probably you, too.
9. The Helpers
If it is a whole class, a whole year-level, or a whole Sunday School, there needs to be a considerable planning. If other teachers are involved, meeting together and making lists of duties, what needs to be done and who can do it can save a lot of angst later. The leader should have a copy of all the instruction lists for each person so they can be co-ordinated.
Although it is 'only' a children's drama, it is important to the children and a surprising number of people and should be run as smoothly as possible. Choose reliable helpers plus, if possible, some extras as stand-ins, in case some volunteers need to pull out at last minute.
Sometimes there are parents or supporters who are proficient in some aspect of production and are willing to help. You may not have thought of using these extras in the production, but people enjoy being involved, especially in helping with children's drama productions. Special jobs such as dealing with sound effects, lighting and music can add greatly to the presentation and if it can be done with a minimum of fuss, that is great.
There are others who may like to contribute their help. They could assist with the tickets, if you envisage such things, setting up the hall, enhancing the stage with plants at the sides, or clearing up rubbish afterwards. Make lists of who have offered for these duties and then make a list of what each will do. Keep duplicates for yourself and in case some go missing.
There are many things that will help in the smooth running of the event, whether it is an ad hoc situation or a big production. Then it can be such an enjoyable experience for all participants.
More Drama Ideas
- How to Use Drama in ESL Lessons
The use of drama in ESL lessons can be helpful for revision and reinforcing language use and learning in an enjoyable way. Drama can be utilised for ESL classes for youngest children right through to older students and adults.