If you’re a parent looking to liven up education for your child at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, drama games and exercises offer a way to fire up their imagination and curiosity, says Samantha Marsden
Teaching drama helps students with acting, communication skills, confidence, verbal reasoning, empathy, storytelling, literacy, presentation skills, focus and imagination. Normally there is space for children’s imaginations to develop naturally when they play with friends, but under the current lockdown, parents need to create a new space for children’s imaginations to grow. Drama is the perfect tool for the homeschooling parent.
Many drama games and acting exercises are designed to be taught in a large group. However, some can be taught by parents to one, or more, children. Often the simplest drama exercises work best, especially if you are a parent new to drama.
One of my favourite acting exercises to practise with my five-year-old, but is suitable for all ages, is to put on a piece of music (film soundtracks work well). Then I ask my son to walk around the room imagining he is in a different space – a forest, for example. I call out a new location every one, or two, minutes. Ideas include: a fairground, a beach, an enchanted castle, a dark cave, in the jungle, on the moon, at monster school or in a beehive. There are no limits. Normally, I spend five minutes preparing, coming up with a list of pieces of music that go well with a setting. Composers that work particularly well are: John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat and John Powell. For each location, I find a fitting piece. Music has a way of changing a space and allowing a person to explore their imagination.
You can go further with this exercise by adding motives and given circumstances. For example: you are in a forest on a spring morning, you are lost, looking for a fairy you just saw, and you’re not wearing any shoes.
There are many simple improvisation exercises that you can practise at home. For example, you could transform household objects into other objects: a tennis ball into a dragon’s egg, a pen into a magic wand, or a watch into a magic compass.
Older children and teenagers may not want to explore their imaginations with their parents. Try giving them acting exercises to practise on their own with the door closed.
A simple one, for example, is to ask them to pack a bag with given circumstances. Ask them to come up with a character, and a motive, for packing a bag. They can either mime packing the bag, or actually pack one. Examples of characters and motives include: packing a bag for a travel trip, where you will climb Mount Everest, and you are determined to prove yourself. Maybe packing your bag to start a new school as you were bullied at your last one. Or packing a bag to go to Hogwarts.
If improvisation feels a bit overwhelming, try script work. Many monologues, duologues and scenes are available online and in books. Choose scripts carefully as there is a lot of poorly written work out there. The better written the piece is, the more the student will get out of it. Although Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of all time, be careful handing a child or teenager Shakespeare if you are not confident about how to teach it. Badly taught Shakespeare can do more harm than good. However, if you are keen to explore Shakespeare I recommend looking at Teaching Shakespeare, a collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company, the British Museum, the BFI, Into Film, the Victoria and Albert Museum and teachers: tes.com/teaching-shakespeare.
When handing your child or teenager a script, read it through with them slowly first, answering any questions. Chat with them about the character, the character’s feelings, relationships and motivations. If possible, read the whole book, or play, that the scene or monologue is from. Whenever I work on scripts with young people, I try not to be too heavy-handed with my point of view: the real learning comes from the student’s own discovery of the character. Try to spark curiosity instead of handing them the answers. If you want to take learning to the next step, look into Constantin Stanislavski’s work and encourage your child or teenager to explore given circumstances. Studying literature through character is one of the greatest literacy lessons.
For presentation skills, you can ask your child or teenager to come up with a sales pitch for a product. Alternatively, you could role-play a job interview, or ask them to devise a TV advert. Accept all ideas and go with it. Never block an idea when teaching drama, unless it is actually harmful.
Drama can help students of all ages with literacy, even early readers. With my five-year-old, we’ve been playing a simple drama game to help him read. We look at a written word, ‘rabbit’ for example. I read the word out loud and ask him to read the first letter ‘r’ and then we hop around the room, saying: “R-R-R-R-Rabbit!” We act out many words, saying the first letter over and over. His favourite is “D-D-D-D- Dinosaur!”. Drama has turned learning to read into a fun experience for him, whereas before, when I was asking him to sit down and read letters, he was disengaged.
During this time of confinement, it can be easy to lose touch with some of our most valuable skills: social, imagination, and human connection. Drama can be used as a lifeline during this time of isolation, allowing us to hold on to the fundamentals of what it means to be human.