by Hanna Vock
Please also read: Drama Activities at Kindergarten.
Theatre play – as long as the children are enthusiastic about it – is ideally suited for a holistic and at the same time strongly cognitively oriented promotion of gifted children, especially for children from the age of 5. Younger children can also be integrated into a theatre play group if the work is well supported by the older children.
Theatre play is to be distinguished from spontaneous or guided role play. The decisive difference is: theatre play includes more areas that have to be simultaneously observed and cognitively integrated by the child, and therefore it is more difficult. Creative parts in the narrower sense, i.e. the free formulation and thinking up of the play and the individual roles, initially take a back seat. As soon as the children have learned some techniques, their creativity can unfold all the better in the play.
The method of the theatre play depends on how much experience and practice the kindergarten teacher and the participating children have with theatre play. The following suggestions are intended for those who do not have much experience.
There are, of course, other good ways to play theatre with children. Here I would like to offer my experiences.
It is about:
1. the objective: what should the children be able to learn?
2. the choice of the story to be played.
3. the composition of the group of children.
4. the question: performance yes or no?
5. organisational tips and
6. methodological hints.
In addition, under point 2 you will find „director’s books“ for three plays which you can work with and which you can adapt for your conditions and change according to your ideas.
The objective: What should the children be able to learn?
In the beginning, theatre only played a marginal role in my kindergarten. It was not a permanent part of the methodology. At that time, I found it tedious and sometimes frustrating to develop a theatre play with the children. This only changed when the same children, who were particularly talented cognitively and/or in acting, played theatre intensively for the second and third time in quick succession. It became apparent that we had become adept, that the troubles of the beginning had been overcome. (Something similar happened later when dance became a permanent part of my methodology).
So I would like to plead for not just playing theatre „once in a while“, but to constantly develop the skills that are important for it with the children. Then, over time, the effect is that new children, even if they are not as talented as the „initiators“, can learn a lot from the more experienced children.
This makes your work easier, and leads to less idle time and frustration.
– and then soon everyone involved really enjoys it! And the children learn a lot in the process.
I consider it favourable if a particularly enthusiastic and talented colleague in the team takes the matter in hand and receives the support of the team.
My goals for the theatre play were:
1. for all children:
- They gain basic experience with active theatre play. What is important when you want to play theatre? (See methodological tips below).
- They consciously try out the different possibilities of expression (language, facial expressions, gestures), are guided in the process and experience a mirroring by the audience.
- They learn that cooperative and disciplined behaviour is necessary for success and practise it.
- They experience taking on their own role in a complete art work and thus contributing to the success of the whole.
- They experience the creation of a complex complete art work.
2. additional goals for the intellectually gifted and/or for drama especially gifted children:
- They experience the development of their talent „open to the top“. This means that the Kiindergarten teacher pays careful attention to which abilities the gifted children show and encourages them to go to their (performance) limits.
- The children keep track of the emerging complete art work in all its phases.
- They take on leading roles that make great demands on their imagination, stamina and memory.
- They move on to speaking roles according to their own possibilities. This means that the narrator role is increasingly relieved by the child also taking over the linguistic parts of the role from the narrator (see methodological tips).
- They practise special roles, for example, they take on the tasks of the prompter, the props master or even the narrator (perhaps only in one scene at first).
- They practise several roles completely so that they can stand in for another child at any time.
- They prove to be pioneers when it comes to rehearsing a scene completely from scratch.
- They make creative suggestions for shaping the play (critique, suggested changes, additional ideas).
- They make mental connections to professional theatre performances.
- They experience that their high demands regarding the result are taken seriously and supported. (See the example of Marja and the Punch and Judy puppets in the article Playfellows and Friends of Gifted Children).
The choice of the story to be played.
Any exciting and/or funny story is suitable. It can be based on picture books, fairy tales or stories you have made up yourself. The stories may also be changed. Changing stories is an important early experience, especially for gifted children, in which their abilities and inclinations to divergent and unconventional thinking are taken into account and further developed.
(See also: Divergent Thinking).
It is good if the story can be easily and sensibly divided into individual scenes.
For a first theatre play attempt, the story should be short so that the children can first gain an overview and orientation of what theatre is all about (see methodological notes).
The kindergarten teacher’s preliminary work should be to draft a director’s book, which will then change and improve in the course of the play, because the children’s ideas will flow in and because it will become increasingly clear as the scenes are acted out what the children can do well and what goes down well with the audience.
Here are examples of such director’s books:
„Little Red Riding Hood“ (particularly suitable for an introduction to theatre acting).
„Hansel and Gretel“ (more demanding, highly talented children will find more opportunities and challenges here).
„Tale of a Princess Whom Almost Everybody ConsideredToo Smart“ (It makes much greater demands on the children’s stamina and takes considerably more time to play. Particularly gifted primary school children should also participate).
The composition of the children’s group
If the children do not yet have continuous experience in theatre, it is best to start with a small group of 4 to 5 children. (See also: Advancement in Small Groups – Possibilities and Advantages.)
If you are working across groups or openly (that means that all children can move freely in all rooms) it is advisable to work with the team to discover children who fit at least one of the following characteristics:
- proven or suspected high intellectual ability,
- special interest and talent for acting,
- exceptionally good language skills,
- enjoyment of performing (including their own person) and presenting.
Sympathy among the children involved makes the whole thing more enjoyable.
Later it will be possible to involve other children. At first, these criteria should be taken seriously so that the children don’t quickly lose interest because (once again) it doesn’t progress at their pace or with their qualitative standards.
The first „actors“ of the kindergarten should be absolute volunteers. After all, they first have to create a track and an example for those who come after them, which the others can then follow. So please don’t take a child with you for whom it would be „important that he or she comes out of his or her shell / has the courage to do something“. It is possible that this child will later feel attracted to the interesting hustle and bustle around the theatre.
Voluntariness should also have a very high priority in the further course. After all, we are still in kindergarten…
Performance Yes or No?
This question should be answered in the negative at the beginning. There should be carefree enthusiasm about playing theatre, there should be no pressure and certainly no time pressure.
If, at the end of the project, one or more performances are staged at the children’s request, all the better. But not just before the St. Nicholas party or the summer festival, but on a suitable date (for example, a performance for all the kindergarten children or at a grandparents‘ afternoon – experience has shown that grandparents are particularly sympathetic and attentive spectators).
Once theatre playing is established in the kindergarten, then there will be enough performances.
It is motivating and fun for everyone involved if the play can take place on the scheduled rehearsal date and is not postponed or cancelled at short notice. Interruptions and disruptions should also be avoided at all costs.
Therefore, it makes sense if the kindergarten teacher involved in the play can take time out of the rest of the day for the rehearsal (i.e. no phone calls, no door-to-door talks with parents, no fetching tea or preparing breakfast).
The children should also be able to fully engage in the theatre play. This means that the times are planned in such a way that the children are not taken out of the play for parallel activities or picked up by their parents.
Here I would like to describe my own experiences as an offer of how it can work. Other ways are also possible. Since theatre play, as I present it here, is a project, I also refer you to the article Advancement through Projects.
Start playing as soon as the children know and understand the story.
Don’t get bogged down in scenery
and making costumes.
This can grow on the side. Or it can be done by a „prop group“ made up of children who are very fond of crafting and creating but do not want to do theatre.
At the beginning it is enough to indicate the different places on stage (for example the witch’s house), for example with a certain cloth on the floor. More important is the procurement of the props necessary for the play plot and a curtain.
Decide right at the beginning where the stage and the auditorium will be. If you have a gymnastics room, you could consider attaching two sturdy hooks to the wall there, to which you can always quickly attach a line or wire rope. Diagonal solutions that partition off a large corner as a stage space have proven successful.
The curtain is important as a spatial and temporal structuring element:
– Here the actors – there the audience.
– Now it’s time to play – now it’s time for a break or to discuss things.
The curtain fabric should not be too heavy so that the line does not sag (try it out with blankets or existing fabrics). But it should also not be so light that the slightest breeze makes it move. Whether you (have) sewn loops for hanging or a hose tunnel through which the leash can be pulled, it basically doesn’t matter.
It’s also fun to keep embellishing your trove over the years. In the beginning you can improvise.
Do not distribute the roles at the beginning. All the children should be able to try out all the roles in the course of the project if they want to. It is favourable for this procedure if you plan the costumes so broadly and loosely that they fit all the children or can at least be adapted with a few hand movements. So no princess dress with a narrow waist.
The actors on stage are the ones who are on stage at the moment. All the others, meanwhile, are spectators and stay in the auditorium.
The spectators are also very important:
When the scene is over, they are allowed to clap, criticise and make suggestions – and then try it out themselves. In this way, theatre play is also a good learning field for criticism and self-criticism.
First concentrate on one scene that is rehearsed over and over again, with a changing cast. This does not necessarily have to be the first scene. Always follow the pattern:
The curtain is closed – the curtain goes up – it is played – the curtain closes – we talk about it.
During the rehearsal of the individual scene, only the director may intervene with criticism or suggestions. (Gifted children who also have an acting talent can, in my experience, also successfully fill this role at times – and benefit greatly from it).
Both during these interventions by the director, which should be gentle and not too frequent, and especially before and after playing a scene, one can practise talking about the situation and the feelings of the acting characters and expressing the corresponding feelings (in posture, gestures, facial expressions and possibly voice and manner of speaking).
The difficult thing for younger children with theatre is that it makes so many demands. There is the understanding of the role itself, its placement in the overall play. Then there are the temporal sequences, furthermore the facial expressions, the gestures, the movement in the stage space, the volume, the modulation and adaptation of the voice to the requirements of the play situation, the attention to the respective play partner as well as the reaction to him, the turn to the audience and finally there are also the words that are to be said.
In spontaneous role-playing by children, this happens spontaneously, but in theatre play with a fixed story, the task is to participate in a total „work of art“ and to fit into the total work of art. It is not for nothing that people like to say of the greatest stars: „He is a very disciplined actor.“
But it is precisely this difficulty that makes theatre so interesting, especially for highly gifted preschool and primary school children,
if they want to do it.
To keep the difficulty within limits and to be able to practise everything except the spoken text first, it makes sense to introduce the role of the narrator. (See also the director’s books on „Hansel and Gretel“ and the „Tale of a Princess Whom Almost Everybody ConsideredToo Smart“ .
At first, this role should be taken over by an kindergarten teacher because it is not only about reading aloud, but the play process on stage must also be observed and coordinated with the reading aloud. Later, perhaps a child who is confident in reading can also take on this task.
The use of a reader helps the children to orientate themselves in the play and to get along with little – if necessary at first without any – language. With increasing confidence and fluency, the children can then – depending on their individual wishes and abilities – take on more and more speaking roles, which the reader must of course adapt to.
If a child is (still) awkward – or insecure or shy – play with them in dialogue, you (or a secure child) take on one of the roles. The child is more likely to get into the role when he/she has a counterpart acting sensibly than if both of them have no idea how to do it at first.
In my theatre projects, after a few rehearsals, the (highly and especially gifted) children had no problems jumping back and forth between scenes. It didn’t matter to them whether the third scene was rehearsed first, then the fifth and then maybe the second. Very quickly they were „at home“ in the play and reminded the scatterbrained director (me) of important details of each scene.
Please also read: Drama Activities at Kindergarten,
even though both articles overlap in some passages.
Date of publication in German: April 2017
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint