Drama encourages playing with others. Even when the audience is only those with whom you are sheltering in place, using drama in ordinary moments will refresh, rejuvenate and remind children that daily living can be filled with wonderment and joy. The drama activities listed below provide much needed centering, and will help family groups deepen relationships. The following are easy, non-tech ideas and only require materials already around the house.
READ ALOUD TO ONE ANOTHER
- Use character voices. (Gandalf is distinct from Bilbo, right?)
- Build tension by speaking faster or slower. (Remember when Hermione is trapped in the ladies room with a troll?)
- Speak in a high or low voice. (How does Miss Honey sound, compared to The Trunchbull?),
- Laugh together at the rhymes (“…I will not eat them in a box/I will not eat them with a fox…”) or silliness in a story. (“[Pippi] could lift a whole horse if she wanted to. And she did.”)
- Focus deeply on the emotional meaning of a story. (Remember when Charlotte stays up all night to weave “Some pig!” to save Wilbur? )
- Let imaginary worlds take over. (Remember Lucy’s first glimpse of Mr. Tumnus the faun, in snowy Narnia?)
During times of steep uncertainty (like right now!), familiar stories become friends of comfort, and new stories become joyous distractions. Most homes have books on the shelves just waiting to be revisited. Anne (…of Green Gables), or Percy Jackson (The Lightning Thief), or Meg Murray (A Wrinkle in Time) or Klaus (A Series of Unfortunate Events), or Stanley Yelnats (Holes) are hearty characters that can be discovered and re-discovered at all developmental stages (adults too!).
Don’t hesitate to include tweens, teens and adults in read alouds! Remember that even little ones can comprehend the spoken word far beyond their reading level. Take turns, having one person read two pages and then passing the book to the next reader. Make reading aloud part of a comforting routine: just after lunch or dinner, right before breakfast or bedtime, whenever. Don’t worry that you don’t sound like a voice-over artist or movie actor. Reading with commitment and energy will engage listeners of all ages.
PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR DRAMATIC PLAY
Inspire children to play dress up with grandma’s old things or clothes you saved from high school. Let each child choose a style decade and create fashion shows. Hand out scarves, wigs, old jewelry, hats, or the old Halloween costumes you’ve tucked away. Create weekly theme days like Pajama Day, Old Folks Day, Artist Day, Book Character Day, or Superhero day.
Encourage children to make zoos, create puppet shows, or have tea parties with stuffed animals. Challenge them to create new and different worlds with Legos: what if Batman visited Middle Earth? Children learn through play and choices: imaginary and creative play situations do not need to be formal performances. Dramatic developmental benefits result from pretending alone or collaboratively.
Doubtless it is tempting to maintain a focus on order, calm, and cleanliness in living spaces especially while sheltering in place. However, creative play often results in disarray and mess. Set a few reasonable clean up rules, but avoid creating shameful feelings. Embrace the process. To you it may look a mess, but to them it looks like a vast jungle, a broad desert, a wizard in a magical castle, or an impenetrable ancient fortress. Engage and celebrate with your children as they create.
Storytelling is different from reading aloud. A story can be a family tale, story song, a fairy tale, a fable, or a funny family incident. Storytelling is always done from memory, and includes anything without a written text between the teller and the listener. Telling stories is easy, engaging, and creates generational belonging in children. Requiring zero physical materials, storytelling can be done anywhere and anytime: while eating dessert as a family, riding in the car, at bedtime, over weekend breakfasts, or during family devotionals. Story prompts are limitless. Here are a few:
- Did you ever get into trouble and not tell your parents what happened?
- Tell us about your favorite pet.
- What is the most exciting place you ever visited?
- Did you ever save up for a special toy or activity?
- What is your favorite story your mom or dad used to tell you?
- What is the most surprised you’ve ever been?
- Who is the funniest of the older generation in your family?
- Did you ever get a Dear Jane/John letter?
- What is a fairy tale your grandma told you?
See what other prompts come to mind, and make a list to put on the fridge for easy reference during witching hour.
Collaborative stories are often fun. One person starts a tale, and at a certain point of their choosing (e.g. “When suddenly…”) the story is passed to the next person. Group sizes can range from two to ten people. Creating different rules as the story develops adds depth: “You always have to include a color in your part of the story before you pass it along.” Or, “You can’t deny what someone else has built into the story.” Or, “Nobody can include dogs, zombies, dinosaurs or guns in their part of the story.” Or, “Each person gets five words per turn.”
CREATE AND PERFORM PLAYS
Often a natural outgrowth of previous drama activities, plays can be improvised, developed from a written script, or memorized to create a more formal performance feeling. Costumes can be created or puppets can be made to take on all or some of the parts. Furniture can be rearranged to accommodate a performing space, and/or sets can be constructed from cardboard boxes or other bits and pieces found in garages and sheds. Music and dance can add to the performance. Plays can also use pantomime, creating dialogue and expression without words. Or, plays can be pantomimed with sounds. Like silent movies, plays can also be pantomimed to music.
Plays can be performed by those sheltering in place to family members. Because plays are meant to be shared, safe performance ideas include following social distancing guidelines, sharing behind picture windows, or outdoors on patios or sidewalks with people watching from yards or balconies. Using a tiny bit of tech, plays can be recorded at home and sent to grandparents, teachers, extended family and friends, or broadcast on a social platform. Regardless of how the play is shared, experiencing the creative moments of the play’s development and performance offers the greatest level of excitement and connection.
Written by Teresa Love, drama educator and member of the BYU ARTS Partnership Leadership Team. Find more resources for drama activities and more at Drama/Home | BYU ARTS Partnership