In an imaginary "Agency of Smiles," preschool children pretending to be aid workers are immersed in such activities as typing letters, sending and receiving faxes, answering phones, and negotiating with clients. A mail carrier delivers a letter from an immigrant preschool boy in the Netherlands, who requests help in making friends in his new environment. The employees of "Agency of Smiles" brainstorm about possible solutions. Finally, children send an "ambassador" with the following message: "Let your teacher know about your skills, and demonstrate them to your classmates, too. It does not matter that you do not speak the new language; you can sing, draw pictures, or do sports with your new friends. This will make you happy, and other children will realize how wonderful you are."
At a Hungarian preschool (1), children, teachers, and even custodians are improvising a role with the guidance of a facilitator. While imitating actions and language in this imaginary environment, children are solving problems and developing comprehension of themselves and the world around them.
In Hungary, preschools are required to develop their own curriculum in compliance with the National Program of Preschool Education (1996), which provides a flexible framework for education standards for children ages 3-7. Early childhood educators are given the autonomy to design a culturally and individually appropriate preschool program in their own communities. The teachers at this Hungarian preschool, named the "Little Snug House," recognized that young children learn best through dramatic play and interaction with their environment (Brown & Pleydell, 1999), and they developed an integrated curriculum rich in opportunities for creative drama. This article describes teaching strategies and activities in creative drama for children ages 3-7, primarily through examples observed and recorded in the Little Snug House (2).
CREATIVE DRAMA AND ITS TYPES
Creative drama is an improvised enactment in which informal playmaking is planned and played with spontaneous action and dialogue. Unlike theater, creative drama is intended for participants rather than for the audience (Ward, 1969). Creative drama is "an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect on human experience" (Davis & Behm, 1987, p. 262, cited in Mages, 2008). In addition, considering the nature of creative drama on the continuum of spontaneous vs. structured and child-initiated vs. teacher-initiated, Brown and Pleydell (1999) propose the following three subtypes of creative drama: 1) incidental drama, 2) evolving drama, and 3) pre-planned drama. This article focuses on appropriate strategies in evolving drama, in which the drama experience springs from children's play and interests, and on pre-planned drama, in which the drama experience is developed to support a curriculum unit.
WHY AND HOW To USE CREATIVE DRAMA
Creative drama for young children inherently offers effective means for enhancing all areas of children's development. Interaction, cooperation, and negotiation during drama time support social and language development. Brown and Pleydell (1999) add that "[drama] introduces young minds to 'as if' symbolic thinking, [which is] the intellectual foundation for problem solving, social learning and even reading" (p. 5). Research also suggests the positive effects of drama on literacy skills and its ultimate contribution to academic success (Podlozny, 2000). Moreover, drama can be a means by which children express thoughts, feelings, fears, and concerns. In addition, when combined with creative movements (e.g., imitating flying birds, galloping horses, and crawling spiders), drama boosts the development of large and fine motor skills. Similarly, parents and teachers who participate in the drama benefit from the joint experience. They might gain a new perspective on the child, thus deepening their understanding of the child's needs and interests. Moreover, the importance of allowing for high-quality drama experiences in education is recognized by the Consortium of National Arts Education Association along with preschool standards for creative arts ("National Standards," n.d.).
Early childhood curriculum can embrace an integrated drama approach. Creative drama serves as a process-oriented building block in the curriculum, which can lead to the accomplishment of numerous curriculum goals. As a teacher at the Little Snug House preschool says, "In the curriculum, I integrate creative drama for many purposes, such as problem solving, improving relationships among children, clarifying abstract concepts through concrete examples, exploring complex feelings and topics, facilitating various language uses, and developing an in-depth understanding of concepts through arts" (A. Kunne, personal communication, August 5, 2008). The following examples from the Little Snug House curriculum illustrate unique venues of drama integration: 1) story drama (e.g., Musicians of Brema) and folktales (e.g., The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button, Lottridge, 2001), for solidifying comprehension before or after reading the story; 2) preplanned drama (e.g,. "Agency of Smiles") and environment protection for problem solving; and 3) dramatizing customs (e.g., traditional Hungarian wedding, grape picking and winemaking) for increasing students' comprehension of the abstract concepts of culture. Ultimately, these drama experiences are smoothly built in the curriculum to advance the development of the whole child.
APPROPRIATE STRATEGIES AND ACTIVITIES IN CREATIVE DRAMA
Three types of objectives should be determined when planning creative drama in early childhood classrooms: 1) short- and long-term objectives based on the curriculum, 2) objectives related to areas of child development, and 3) objectives intrinsic to drama (Brown & Pleydell, 1999). For example, in a story drama based on The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button (Lottridge, 2001), the following objectives were set: using new vocabulary, including idioms introduced in the story; recognizing the consequences of our acts/actions; and using imagination to describe and create the scene and the characters of a story (A. Kunne, personal communication, August 5, 2008). After determining the objectives of the creative drama, the teacher can implement a wide variety of strategies and activities for crafting scenarios and determining characters, setting up an appropriate introduction, dividing drama into scenes with proper drama activities, establishing a clear closing, and processing drama through reflection (Brown & Pleydell, 1999).
Scenarios and Characters
Keeping the objectives in mind, the scenario and characters are outlined. In a story drama based on The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button (Lottridge, 2001), for example, the scenario is primarily based on the story itself; however, additional episodes might be added to meet specific objectives (e.g., building new scenes with body sculptures while listening to music recalling a scene from the book).
On the other hand, a pre-planned, theme-based drama offers teachers more scope for their imagination in terms of scenario and characters. To address the importance of environment protection, and to meet the goal of making children aware of responsible decisions and actions regarding nature, Little Snug House teachers created a scenario of an imaginary land. Here, two peaceful tribes (in this case, Native Americans) live in harmony with nature and people, until modern life, with its cars, fast food, and abundance of plastic bags, brings drastic changes. At first, both tribes enjoy this new lifestyle. One morning, however, they come to recognize the destruction brought by the new lifestyles their land is covered with paper, glass, and plastic trash, and the river is polluted. As a result of the joint decision-making process, both tribes start cleaning the river and Collecting and recycling the trash.
An Appropriate Introduction
Although drama activities are naturally embedded in everyday preschool activities, young children need to clearly recognize the move from reality to an imaginary scene and back. Brown and Pleydell (1999) recommend such simple routines as "dusting the heads of the children with [an] imagination duster, sprinkling some magic sparkles into the air or having children mime putting on their imaginary shoes" (p. 22). In addition, Little Snug House preschool teachers include an extensive multisensory introduction to creative drama. For example, the teacher (the lead magician wearing a big black hat) pats each child on the shoulder with her magic wand, and offers a "drink" or "potion" to empower them with magic power. At another time, the teacher invites children to sit on an imaginary covered wagon to travel to an "as if" world, while singing a song about a journey. Furthermore, to create the drama atmosphere for the "Agency of Smiles," children are given a photo ID badge to wear. These activities and props clearly indicate that children have left reality--the classroom--and entered into an imaginary world. (A. Kunne, personal communication, July 5, 2008).
Drama Activities in Scenes
Creative drama is made up of scenes in which a specific dramatic activity is used to initiate preschool children's meaningful involvement. In the theme-based drama on environment protection discussed above, the following drama activities were implemented:
1. Talk through: Teachers of young children can use a narration to take children into drama. The more experience the children have with drama, the less narration they need to use creativity as they pretend to be characters, improvise actions, and make decision (Somers, 1994).
2. Freeze frame: When a signal is given, children freeze and hold a particular moment in the drama until a different signal is given. A variation of this freeze frame technique is the "mobile statue," in which children use small movements to change their posture after the "freeze" moment. The "sound statue" is a freeze frame in which the child is allowed to say one sentence. Similar to freeze frame, tableaux require children "to form a tableau on a particular theme by gradual addition of individuals to it" (Somers, 1994, p. 72). For instance, each tribe was asked to create a tableau depicting what the tribe across the river did when they found the trash and pollution on their land. The children use body posture and facial expressions to convey their emotions.
3. Miming action: Children practice their creativity, imagination, and spontaneity while being involved in "as if" actions. For example, children pretending to be tribe members mime "as if" they were truly fishing, hunting, and cleaning the river. They also mime the communication with the other tribe across the river, using hand gestures and drum signals.
4. Creative movement: Children use movement as they become "fish" or "buffalo," or as they personify cars and trucks. To create the environment, children often use their own bodies as building blocks or to create a group statue.
5. Thought-tracking: Given an agreed-upon signal, children speak their inner thoughts. For instance, as everyone sits at an imaginative camp fire, the light falls on a child, and he/she expresses the feeling of the character in terms of the benefits and damages of "modern life." The teachers, acting as tribal chiefs, also express their thoughts, such as "We will not need the river for fishing any more if we eat ready-made sandwiches" and "For centuries, the river provided us with fresh water, food and transportation; without a clean river, we will be unable to continue our life."
6. Gathering: With the chiefs' facilitation, a meeting between the two tribes is called to discuss the conflict. During this meeting, children are encouraged to express their thoughts verbally and visually (e.g., with mimes, freeze frame, and creative movement).
7. Improvisation: After a short discussion, children develop dialogue and related action (e.g., the meal after a hunting trip, a friendly and peaceful relationship with the other tribe, and a family meeting about how they felt when they realized the extent of destruction on their land). One tribe might improvise how they collected trash from the river, while the other tribe enacts how they took all of the trash from their side to the other side of the river.
A clear closing of drama ensures that children return from the world of fantasy to reality. This transition is calming when closing activities smoothly fit into the flow of drama. Often, the final drama activity invites children to lie down on the floor, pretending to fall asleep and then waking up to find themselves in the classroom (Brown & Pleydell, 1999). To strengthen this sleeping and waking-up experience, the Little Snug House teachers sing lullabies while darkening the classroom; as the light gradually re-enters the room, they sing children's songs about morning. The teachers believe that multisensory experiences, such as kinesthetic movements, music, poetry, and visual experiences, facilitate children's imagination and comprehension (Kerekgyarto & Kunne, 2007). Furthermore, taking off a prop symbolizing the character, such as a magic hat, the badge in the "Agency of Smiles," or Indian headbands, indicates that children and teachers have left the role behind and returned to reality (A. Kunne, personal communication, July 10, 2008).
Processing Drama Through Reflection
The closure allows participants to enter a new activity, preferably a reflection on the experience they gained in drama. In addition to verbalizing experiences, young children use numerous other ways, including drawing, painting, and play dough construction, to cognitively and emotionally process the drama. For instance, as a follow-up activity of the creative drama on environment protection, the children and teacher at Little Snug House visited a recycling center. A teacher recalls, "While walking there and back and disposing of plastic, paper, and glass in the recycling center, children vividly reflected on their problem-solving process in the imaginary world of drama" (A. Kunne, personal communication, July 10, 2008).
Creative drama is not only enjoyable and age-appropriate for young children, it also offers many opportunities for them to experience various situations, problems, and characters. Through various drama activities, children become empowered with knowledge, skills, and attitudes about themselves and the world around them. Teachers, by acting as facilitators of drama, can further enhance the experiences with these innovative and creative drama strategies to ensure the most optimal learning and development of young children.
Brown, V., & Pleydell, S. (1999). The dramatic difference: Drama in the kindergarten classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. (n.d.). National standards for art education. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/teach/standards/ standards_k4.cfm#03
Kerekgyarto, C. I., & Kunne, D. A. (2007). Drama jatszasibol. (Playing drama.) Jaszbereny: Varosi Ovodai Intezmeny.
Lottridge, C. (2001). The little rooster and the diamond button. Toronto: Groundwood Books
Mages, W. (2008). Does creative drama promote language development in early childhood? A review of the methods and measures employed in the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 124-129.
National Program of Preschool Education. (1996). Magyar Kozlony, 71, pp. 4511-4516.
Podlozny, A. (2000). Strengthening verbal skills through the use of classroom drama: A clear link. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3A), 239-275.
Somers, J. (1994). Drama in the curriculum. Trowbridge, UK: Redwood Books.
Ward, W. (1969). Stories to dramatize. New Orleans, LA: Anchorage.
(1) Prior to 1st grade, Hungarian children, ages 3 to 7, attend universal preschool, which is equivalent to a mixture of American preschool and kindergarten.
(2) Last summer, I visited the Little Snug House preschool in Hungary. To explore the unique drama techniques and strategies, I spent hours with the teacher who developed and implemented this curriculum, documenting it with thousands of photos.
Tunde Szecsi is Associate Professor, College of Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers.…