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Art to Heart

Drama Basics and Terms

Children of all ages love to pretend. Even toddlers mimic things and people they see around them. Storytelling, role playing, mimicry, pantomime, and acting out a written play—all are part of drama, an activity well suited to children in the early years of life.

Elements of Drama

Drama includes literary elements, technical elements, and performance elements.

Literary elements have to do with the plot. They include

  • storyline—what happens in the story or play.
  • story organization—the beginning, middle, and end.
  • character—who is in the story.
  • script—a story written in the form of dialogue and directions for movement.

Technical elements help a dramatic performance come to life. They include scenery, costumes, props, and makeup. A dramatic performance may include very minimal technical elements—many storytellers, for example, use no scenery, props, costumes, or makeup. Other performances may have very elaborate scenery, costumes, makeup, and props.

Performance elements relate to how a performer uses speech, movement, and gestures to create characters and tell the story.

Exploring the Elements of Drama

  • Encourage children to play and be imaginative.
  • Read a variety of stories to your child. Have fun with the reading; use different voices and movement. With toddlers and older children, encourage them to move like characters. As language ability develops, encourage children to make up their own endings or stories.
  • Even very young children engage in dramatic play in nearly any setting. Provide opportunities. For example, as you cook, give your toddler or preschooler a wooden spoon and plastic bowl so he or she can pretend to cook as well.
  • Provide props and dress-up items—hats, scarves, jewelry, old clothing.
  • With younger children, focus on creative dramatics and creative movement—pantomime, body gestures, moving to music, pretending to be animals or machines.
  • As children’s language ability develops, books and stories are a natural tie-in to drama. Encourage your child to pretend to be a character in a storybook. Act out the story together. Ask your child to retell the story to you—or to a favorite toy.
  • Provide puppets for your child to play with. These can be simple stick or paper-bag puppets.
  • Look for opportunities for your child to attend age-appropriate performances. Storytelling sessions at the local library can be a good place to start. Local children’s theater companies usually do a variety of plays for a variety of ages. Afterward, discuss the elements. What was the story? Did the child learn something? Was it funny or sad? Were there costumes and props? What did they add to the performance? How did the storyteller or actors move and talk? Did the child like the performance?

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