Fine Arts Programs in Elementary Schools
Theatre is a fundamental way of exploring and knowing the world. Young children learn to walk and speak primarily through imitation. They learn their personal histories and group identities through family photographs, videos, and stories. Children integrate this information with data from other sources in their environments to form their own self-identities through activities such as dramatic play. In many ways, theatre and the other arts are among children’s first languages. Rhyme, rhythm, color, texture, movement, and sound are among the ways young children first learn.
The focus of elementary theatre is creative drama, a form of theatre in which teachers guide learners to imagine, enact, and reflect. Creative drama uses literature, history, and current events to spark students’ imaginations and original thinking. The success of creative drama depends on the teacher’s choice of relevant, appropriate resource materials and how the improvisations are introduced and structured. In kindergarten through grade 5, teachers and students may use printed materials and current or historical events as resources to stimulate creative thinking. For example, a children’s trade book may provide the basis of a re-creation or improvisation of the story.
The skills and knowledge of creative drama are carefully structured throughout the elementary curriculum. To build perceptual and communication skills, young students:
- Imitate and re-create the world around them
- Develop body awareness and sensory and emotional perception
- Gain deeper understanding of themselves, others, and the environment
- Explore sound and space
- Use expressive, rhythmic movement.
Instruction in beginning theatre techniques can also involve:
- Unison play in which the teacher provides a stimulus and each child plays the same role simultaneously, yet independently of the other children
- Pair playing, the basis for a dramatic plot, wherein two students work together to decide how to stage a scene
- Group playing, similar to pair playing, in which 3-5 students work together
- Warm-ups to help students focus and express themselves
- Theatre games to develop engagement and other theatre skills
- The teacher plays a character to engage students further in the drama or intensify the problem or conflict
- Side coaching begins with the teacher suggesting actions or ideas from the sidelines.
Following the Theatre TEKS continuum, students advance from teacher-directed activities to projects in which they demonstrate independent thought and action within the structure of a peer group.
Theatre provides excellent opportunities for children and young adults to explore and experience connections to other historical periods and cultures. The Theatre TEKS can be taught in conjunction with other related subjects in the elementary school, such as English Language Arts/Reading and social studies. Teachers, then, have opportunities to teach theatre processes and knowledge while developing students’ understandings of the world around them.
Alternating as players and observers in creative drama lessons, students begin to learn appropriate audience behavior. Classroom conversations that include critiques of drama experiences builds the foundation for independent reflection about dramatic events. Scaffolded, or sequenced, theatre instruction helps children develop the concepts, techniques, and skills that serve as the basis for evaluating productions.
Students achieve their highest potential in theatre course content when there is adequate time for teachers to teach and for students to learn. Scheduling theatre instruction in an already-crowded elementary schedule may be challenging; however, as part of the enrichment curriculum, school districts must provide instruction in creative drama. Chapter 74 gives districts the option of flexible arrangements and class setting, including mixed-age programs, as long as the instruction is appropriate for all students. In theatre, as in other content areas, students learn and develop skills through regular daily instruction.
While the standard classroom is suitable for many creative dramatic activities, an alternative facility, such as a clear space, accommodates large group activities and minimizes distraction to neighboring classes. A formal theatre is not necessary since students engaged in creative drama activities do not generally perform for a formal audience.