A Case Study of Drama Education Curriculum for Young Children in Early Childhood Programs

By Wee, Su Jeong | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

A Case Study of Drama Education Curriculum for Young Children in Early Childhood Programs


Wee, Su Jeong, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. This is a case study of drama education curriculum for young children taught by a drama specialist. Specifically, to understand unique drama teaching practices employed by a drama specialist, 9-week-long drama programs for one kindergarten and two 1st-grade classes were observed and the drama specialist was interviewed. Regular classroom activities taught by the classroom teachers were also observed to understand drama taught by the non-specialists. The findings indicate that the drama specialist's curriculum highlights specialized drama knowledge and techniques that the classroom teachers do not address in their drama activities. Within a well-defined structure of a lesson composed of warm-up, main activity, and ending segments, children's kinesthetic exploration and representation, as well as expressivity, are emphasized. How the drama specialist's teaching content and methods contribute to children's learning and what is needed for staff development to improve drama education are discussed.

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Early childhood educators commonly teach all subjects to their students, including math, science, and the arts. However, not all teachers are trained in the variety of subjects they teach. Each subject has its unique essential forms of cognition and disciplines (Efland, 1990). Drama education is no exception, in that the discipline of drama education consists of extensive specialized knowledge and holds its own ways of knowing. A drama specialist is assumed to have special knowledge and experience in the field of drama that classroom teachers (generalists) may not possess, and as a result of this knowledge, can teach drama in a different way.

In this educational context, this research explores what a drama specialist teaches and how she teaches it at a private school in a metropolitan area. I highlight the structure and content of the specialist's drama lessons and her specialized knowledge that are not found in the general early childhood classroom teachers' practices, aiming to understand what early childhood educators can learn from a specialist. Thus, although the main purpose of this study is not a comparison between a drama specialist and general classroom teachers, classroom teachers' methods of teaching drama is juxtaposed to the specialist's in order to highlight the specialist's unique teaching content and methods. I then discuss how the drama specialist's teaching contributes to children's learning, and make suggestions for classroom teacher's professional development through collaboration with specialists to improve drama education in early childhood programs.

Review of the Literature

Drama Education

Although the terms "drama education" and "theater education" have been commonly used interchangeably, there is a technical difference between them. Theater education deals with an actor's formal performance in front of an audience, whereas drama education focuses on participants' process of exploration and meaning-making (Schonmann, 2000).

The definition of drama varies among scholars, and its curriculum is different depending on the instructional goals, teachers' philosophies, cultural and institutional contexts, and other elements. Types of drama activities also vary, including extra-curricular activities in school musicals and promotional events; in drama clubs, speech training, self-expression, emotional development and confidence building; in the early childhood play corners; and as a part of syllabi in English classes (O'Toole & O'Mara, 2007). Among these diverse types of drama activities and drama education, this research focuses on an operational drama curriculum taught by a drama specialist at a school.

Drama in the Curriculum

Drama is usually marginalized or absent from the curriculum (O'Toole & O'Mara, 2007) in the current school climate that emphasizes academic accountability. Even when the arts are included in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, it is primarily music and visual arts, although it could be argued that drama and dance are better suited to the physical nature of early childhood learning (Cazden, 1981; Kolb, 1984). …

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