Our smallest charges have a lot to teach us about acting and creativity, according to Sam Marsden. Here are three Early Years drama games to try in your setting…
I’ve taught children, and young adults, drama for many years. But it’s the Early Years students I find the most fun to teach.
They approach the subject of Early Years drama with no inhibitions, full imaginations, and with heart and flare. Many professional actors strive for the freeness this age group possess. This young age group have a lot to teach us about acting and creativity.
Here are three drama games that you can use in your classroom. But before you get started, here is one thing I can’t get by without in my drama classes.
When I meet a group of children for a drama class, one of the first things I do is establish a signal for silence. The best signals are those where the teacher says (or sings) a short phrase and the children finish it.
For example, you might say “strawberry” and the class says “ice cream”. Or you might say “abra-” and they say “-cadabra”. You can add a little movement too, if you like, but it’s not necessary.
You can use these back-to-back for a 30-minute ready-to-go drama lesson plan, or use one of these activities as a five-to-ten-minute game between other lessons, or maybe at the start or end of the day.
In my book Drama Games for Early Years (4 – 7 Year Olds) you will find 30 drama games divided into four chapters – Games, Focus, Imagination, and Story.
This is an easy game to pick up without much instruction. It is great to play if you’re waiting for students to arrive at the start of the class. It’s like musical statues but with a bit of drama thrown in.
How much time? Five to ten minutes.
The space: A space big enough for students to move around in.
Materials needed: Something to play music on and a great playlist for students to dance to.
How to play: Explain to the children that when the music plays, they dance, and when the music stops, they stop. You will call something out, and they’ll freeze like a statue of that thing.
Do a little practice first – play the music, dance around with them, then stop the music and call out “monster”. Freeze into a monster pose. Most of the children will copy you, but if some don’t, ask the whole class to become statues of monsters.
Tell them they can create their own poses and they don’t need to copy you exactly, then pick out some of the best monsters.
Encourage students to use their faces and bodies. Play the music again, dance, stop the music, and call out something new. Here are some ideas that work well:
Once students are familiar with this game, choose different students to call out what people freeze into.
It’s likely that some students won’t freeze and will start acting out what you’ve called out. You might need to remind them that with this game, they need to freeze.
I often comment on what’s working well with individual freezes and sometimes ask the class to gather round and look at a particularly strong freeze. I check first with the student to see if it’s OK with them if everyone comes and sees their statue.
This is a popular imagination activity where the children react to different types of weather.
How much time?: Five to ten minutes.
The space: A space big and clear enough for the students to walk around in.
Materials needed: You can do this with nothing, or you can add music or sound effects to match the different types of weather you call out.
How to play: Ask the students to find a space in the room. Explain that you are going to call out different types of weather, and the children will react.
For example, if you call out, “It’s freezing cold,” everyone walks around the room imagining that it’s very cold.
You can add music if you like, but it’s not necessary. After about 30 seconds to one minute, call out something different (and change the music, if you’re using it). Here are some ideas that work well:
You can boost confidence and morale if you sprinkle in positive feedback as the children act out the weather conditions. Occasionally, students might get overexcited and run around with no focus. If this starts to happen, you can adjust before it gets out of control.
This is a storytelling activity inspired by a picture book of your choice.
How much time? Ten to 20 minutes.
The space: A space big enough for the class to move around.
Materials needed: A picture book and a few props to enhance the storytelling.
How to play: Bring in a picture book that can be made interactive. Ask the children to sit in front of you on the floor while you sit on a chair and start reading the story. Tell the children that when you clap your hands once, they are going to get up and act out the page you just read.
Then, when you clap your hands twice, they will sit back down and continue listening to the story. Give about 30 seconds to a minute for them to act out part of the story.
One of my favourite books for this is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. In this book, the children get to walk through thick mud and long swishy grass and finish up by running away from the bear.
If you prefer, instead of asking the children to act out a page from the story, ask them to create a tableau (freeze frame). When you clap your hands once, they’ll make a freeze-frame of what’s happening in the story, and when you clap your hands twice, they’ll sit back down. The second version is better for a livelier class.
If the children act out every page, things can get a little chaotic and overwhelming. I find that with most picture books, it works well to act out every fourth or fifth page.
Early Years drama is great for helping young children with their imaginations, teamwork skills, listening and talking. It’s also a great way for them to let off steam and have fun.
Sam Marsden teaches drama and writes fiction and drama teaching resources. She is the author of 100 Acting Exercises for 8 – 18 Year Olds, and the Pocketful of Drama book series, which includes Acting Games for Improv, and Drama Games for Early Years. Follow her on Instagram at @pocketfulofdrama and Twitter at @SamMarsdenDrama.