How Children Learn Theatre, Kindergarten–Grade 4

Theatre, the imagined and enacted world of human beings, is one of the primary ways children learn about life — about actions and consequences, about customs and beliefs, about others and themselves.

They learn through their social pretend play and from hours of viewing television and film. For instance, children use pretend play as a means of making sense of the world, they create situations to play out and assume roles, they interact with peers and arrange environments to bring their stories to life, and they direct one another to bring order to their drama and respond to one another’s dramas.

In other words, children arrive at school with rudimentary skills as playwrights, actors, designers, directors, and audience members. Theatre education should build on this solid foundation.

These standards assume that theatre education will start with and have a strong emphasis on improvisation, which is the basis of social pretend play.

In an effort to create a seamless transition from the natural skills of pretend play to the study of theatre, the standards call for instruction that integrates the several aspects of the art form: script writing, acting, designing, directing, researching, comparing art forms, analyzing and critiquing, and understanding contexts.

In kindergarten through fourth grade, the teacher will be actively involved in the students’ planning, playing, and evaluating, but students will be guided to develop group skills so more independence is possible. The content of the drama will develop students’ abilities to express their understanding of their immediate world and broaden their knowledge of other cultures.

Source: National Standards for Arts Education, published by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Copyright © 1994 by MENC. Used by permission. The complete National Arts Standards and additional materials relating to the standards are available from MENC, The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191, telephone: 800-336-3768.