Creating Theater

By Rebecca Sadler

Watching children in dramatic play as an educator is one of my favorite ways to understand and learn from children.

When I observe, I’m trying to notice: What roles do they choose? How do they use their imagination? What emotions come up? Most importantly, what do these stories tell me about who they are and how they process their thoughts about the world? This helps me create a new plan where we can have a focused group to talk about these ideas while still being the author of our stories.

I took a group to our library so we could talk about our ideas for a story about birds. This is a topic in our classroom that has been an interest for many. We got started by thinking about where this story could take place. Some ideas were shared, and Grace had the idea for our story to take place in Australia. She has a lot of information about the wildlife in Australia. She even had some ideas about what types of birds live in that area. When Grace said that, Zelda stood up and told us some information she had about Australia. Zelda calmly told us that right now, in Australia, there is a big fire, and animals might die.

We sat down together to process this information. The children know about death, we even read a story called “The Dead Bird” earlier this year. That story was an inspiration for us to express something that is really happening in Australia. Roshan wondered, “Where did the fire come from?” We thought about that together and shared our ideas. We were talking about fire, bringing up the facts we already knew as a form of research. This is so valuable for children to do. It is through sharing information that helps children find their voice. Zelda told the group that lightning can spark. From their concept of a spark came a big storm with thunder and lightning. We explored the sounds and feelings of a storm, we thought how birds would feel, and we put these ideas in our story.

One of the ways I help is by showing them how I take an idea and turn it into a sentence, or sometimes the lines in the script that they will say. When the fire burned down their home, the idea was that three birds died. We checked in with one another to see if there were actors who would be okay with this: we were able to come to an agreement. Sometimes we have a spontaneous ending, I like to leave space for that, just in case something comes up or changes when we start acting it out. I was surprised Mazzy thoughtfully incorporated new life into a story that dealt with the loss of life. Eventually, they built a new nest in a new tree, and when the community woke up, three eggs hatched. After we performed this story, I asked them how they felt. Each person said they still felt sad; even though it ended with something positive, it did not take away the sadness. I told them we created a drama.

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