The world of drama in all its different forms is a great tool for families who want their children to make their own fun. While we often think of drama taking place in theatres with a cast of tens or more, there are lots and 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. He’s sensitive to the point that it’s hard not to ‘protect’ him from the real world. But this introverted child got the lead in his small town’s production of an off-broadway play. The role required great acting, but also required him to dance and sing! 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:
Theatre games and activities
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. A drama teacher may ask children to convey their thoughts or feelings, allow them to express an opinion, appeal to one of the five senses, and be done either verbally or nonverbally. These 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 - 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 play - 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 nonverbal responses.
Here is an example of a role play game children love: Bus stop - All children available play the game simultaneously. Two people act at a time; the others are guessing their role. Person A sits at the ‘bus stop’ (bench or two chairs) and person B joins Person A. Each character has secretly chosen an identity. It can be anything: person, animal, machine, etc. Each person speaks in character, trying to guess who or what the other character is. Those waiting for their own turn also guess. Set a specific time for each pair of characters to interact, then ring a bell to end that session. You may choose to divulge the identities or not. When finished, Person B moves over and becomes Person A with a new identity. A new player joins the game. Kids love playing this game, and it requires almost no props. It’s wise to keep a list of possible characters for those children who can’t think of one quickly.
Improvisation (Improv) - In the world of drama, improvisation is a form of live theatre in which 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 are no right or wrong answers, just responses. Skills will improve with the opportunity 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 - 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.
Puppet theatre - 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 sturdy cardboard box and you instantly have a puppet theatre! 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 theatre extensions make a great response to a storybook that is a 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.
Skits - You’ll remember skits from summer camp days. Skits are short dramatic responses to some topic or scenario. Write your own skits.
Retelling stories - 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, the middle, and the 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 story content. Oral tradition stories make good retells.
Retells can be done with a bit of flair and become a form of theatre. 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?
Reader’s theatre - Reader’s theatre, or oral interpretation, is a kind of drama that is low risk for beginning actors and actresses. Children sit on chairs or stools and read a script or a story, making their part come to life via great reading and intonation. Reader’s theatre requires no props or costuming. It’s easy and fun, and when done over time will encourage strong oral reading skills.
Family tales - I’ve mentioned it before, but writing stories based on your own family’s activities make for high engagement from your kids. Write about the trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house last summer or the hike you took in the mountains. Turn family members into superheroes with superpowers. Take the family on a journey into space... the possibilities are endless and kids think it’s great fun to write about and act out the exploits of the family.
Drama is an art form that enriches those involved with it. Be sure to take advantage of local children’s theatre offerings via local schools and theatre companies. These theatre companies often offer beginning theatre classes for children. They’re well worth the cost of enrolment. Make drama and dramatic responses part of your family fun.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and freelance writer. She is the author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read. Find her at janpierce.net.
Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2023 Calgary’s Child