Imaginative play is the favorite activity here in Grrrlville. It is even more popular than television (maybe because we have no cable or reception?!).
When Pearl and Carrie were toddlers they liked to "tell stories." At first they used plastic animals and human figures as characters. They would tell the stories, and we would all move our characters according to what they said. Papa Pig gives birth to baby T-Rex? No problem. Little girl celebrates her birthday inside of a tea cup with Alice? Sure.
Their favorite stories when they were young were:
- character has a birthday
- character has to go to the doctor
- first day of preschool
- trips or adventures
We like to incorporate into the stories messages that our children might resist otherwise. Perhaps the mouse should try using his words before devouring that lion? It also gives us a chance to help them expand their vocabularies and knowledge without actually instructing. As we run from the ottoman to the door, our characters "dash" or "flee" or "gallop" or even "fly."
Now that they're older, Pearl and Carrie have graduated to "acts." We did not initiate the transition. Pearl started it, and of course Carrie followed close behind her. Many of these acts start with characters from books or movies that they know well. Instead of using the toy animals as the characters, they act out the parts.
A great way to start drama with your preschoolers is to offer them the chance to act out some favorite books. Let me warn you, however, that when it comes to acting, all books are not equal. Sometimes a favorite book is a real dud on the "stage." Our girls loved Time for Bed by Mem Fox when they were young, but it didn't work very well for acting because there's no plot.
This is how we do it. Read the book once. Ask "Who are the characters?" Once this is determined, reread the book. Then ask, "What character would you like to be?" Then reread the story pausing after each sentence or page so that your kids can act it out.
Here are a few books that have worked well for us:
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
Buster by Denise Fleming
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
For younger children or children who are hesitant about this kind of play, some good books might include:
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
Here are a few guidelines that have worked well for us:
* no props or costumes unless they're made by your child
* let your child be the director and ask him/her where to stand and what to do
* instead of making suggestions, model
* no corrections from the parent, unless safety is involved
I learned the core elements of this activity from my work with Rice University's School Literacy and Culture Project. If you're interested in the pedagogy, it comes from books by Patsy Cooper and Vivian Paley.
Your feedback is welcome!
[illustrations are from Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats