Creative Drama in Preschool Curriculum: Teaching Strategies Implemented in Hungary

Article excerpt

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. …