Leah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. She will be blogging every Thursday throughout the 2014-2015 season.
Just a few days ago, I began teaching our pre-kindergarten theatre class. Ever since our pre-K class was announced, I’ve been fielding the same question over and over again: “But why—and how—do you teach theatre classes to 3 year olds?”
It’s a great question, and one I never tire of answering! Anyone who has ever asked me about my teaching philosophy will know that I am a huge proponent of what is called creative drama, which the theatrical form in which our early childhood classes are based. By definition, creative drama is a process-centered and improvisational form of theatre in which the participants are introduced to theatre basics, both by engaging in familiar topics and encouraging creativity and self-expression.
To place this definition in reality, take for example our pre-K class “STAR Superheroes”. In this class, our littlest STARs—we call them our “Twinkling STARs”—are some of the biggest Marvel and DC Comics fans I have ever met. At 3 years old, they can spout off lists of Batman’s most nefarious adversaries, and describe with ease the web-shooting mechanisms that Spiderman uses to fly through the air. To outside observers, our weekly classes might look like a giant session of “playing pretend”, as our STARs use their imaginations to transform themselves into crime-fighting superheroes.
But what if I told you that the little girl leading the class in a Jell-O bomb attack against the evil General Zod suffers from debilitating shyness, and just 15 minutes earlier wouldn’t even tell me her name? Or that the little boy piloting an imaginary hovercraft across the room and giggling with glee struggles with being separated from his parents even for a short time, and just 15 minutes earlier was screaming and crying as his father left the room? These young children—our Twinkling STARs—are experiencing the benefits of creative drama, right before my very own eyes.
It might seem like magic, and in some ways I believe that it is, but there is more to creative drama than meets the eye. Creative drama activities, such as improvised role-play, actually engage and exercise each and every one of the senses, from speech and hearing to kinesthetic movement. These activities encourage social and emotional development in our STARs, as they learn to respect and share with one another as they work towards a common goal. Communication and language skills are built as our STARs create improvised stories using their words and actions.
And, of course, our STARs are learning the basics of theatre, from characterization to collaboration!
This skill-building and higher order thinking, such as problem-solving, evaluating, and concentrating, is all taking place within the growing minds and bodies of our STARs while they are having fun! As they crawl through the sewers of Gotham (reality: under some folding chairs) or battle their evil twins on Krypton (reality: the studio’s mirrored wall), our STARs are developing mental, physical, social, and emotional skills—and a love of theatre which we hope they will carry with them throughout their entire lives.