Education Through Theater
Brought to you by the National PTA®.
Theater, the imitation or representation of life performed for other people, exists in every culture in every era. Although it's frequently thought of only as entertainment, the imagined and enacted world of theater is also one of the primary ways children learn about life: about actions and consequences, about customs and beliefs, about others and themselves.
Although outstanding theater education programs exist in numerous elementary and secondary schools around the country, few people understand the importance and power of drama in education and life.
From birth, children instinctively use pretend play as a means of making sense of the world. They observe and respond to their environment. They imitate words and actions. They create situations to play and assume roles. They interact with peers and arrange space and objects to bring their stories to life. They direct one another to bring order to dramatic play. And they respond to one another's dramas. In other words, children arrive at school with rudimentary skills as playwrights, actors, designers, directors, and audience members.
Students in every classroom can claim the power and promise of theater today. We don't have to wait for expensive equipment and facilities. Given the chance to create their own dramas and attend plays presented by others, students can be transported to worlds past, present, and future --- the ultimate in "virtual reality." Students are intuitively equipped with the skills and imagination to walk in others' shoes, developing understanding and empathy as they explore complex realities and limitless possibilities.
What Can You Do to Help Realize This Vision?
Following are actions that parents and families can take to support theater education:
- Examine your children's class schedules and report cards to see if theater and the other arts are included among the core subjects. If they are not, then work with administrations and teachers to provide discipline-based theater and arts education programs for all students.
- Regularly attend quality plays and films with your children and discuss and evaluate your experiences afterwards.
- Learn more about the art of theater and the power of theater education.
Learning Through Creative Drama
Theater education in elementary school is anchored in creative drama, a structured form of pretend play that capitalizes on drama as a natural developmental process. The teacher bases improvised dramatizations on stories and concepts from literature, history, current events, and students' imaginations.
A typical creative drama lesson begins with warm-up and motivational activities. Acting as a guide, the teacher tells a story or presents an idea. The students discuss the dramatic action, who will play what roles, and how the classroom space will be used. Once this is planned, the students act out the drama either in segments or from beginning to end. After analyzing and evaluating each drama, they may replay some scenes one or more times with improvements and extensions.
Creative drama continues as an integral part of the secondary school theater curriculum, where it is more commonly referred to as improvisation. The learning processes of perceiving, creating, and evaluating expand in scope and complexity as students refine their communication skills and focus on interpretation and performance of dramatic texts.
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