Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.
Expressive Play and Performance
A young girl yells in rehearsal: 'No, no, NO!! I can't come to the party because I am asleep for a hundred years, and won't wake up until I eat the poisoned apple!' The dramatic young actress may have mixed up her fairy tales a little, but she more than makes up for it with her grand gestures and wonderful vocal flair.
Expressive play is a natural function of childhood development, as the creative minds of children find their outlet in telling stories dramatically. Expressive play refers to the child's immersion in an imaginary world, complete with characters, setting, and dialogue.
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Benefits of Expressive Play
The various Toy Story movies emphasize this wonderful aspect of the relationship children can have with each other, and with their toys. In the classroom, this natural ability of children to invent stories, create characters, introduce remarkable dialogue, and imagine settings can have a powerful impact on childhood development.
Expressive play can provide a medium by which a child can communicate, free of challenge or risk, what may otherwise be very difficult. Shy children can create very outgoing, gregarious characters. Timid children may become brave heroes. Tough kids can suddenly find their sensitive side. Through drama and expressive play, children can safely explore (and learn about) a much larger world.
When the child willingly enters into a fantasy role - complete with new personality, new opportunities, and new reactions from others - he or she is now experiencing expressive play. Performance refers to expressive play that is openly offered for the view of others, whether in the classroom, the home, or even on the stage. When children publicly express themselves in this way, they reap a remarkable host of benefits that are almost unavailable from any other quarter in the child's life.
Help Students Express Themselves
Although children are natural story tellers and performers, their willingness to openly express themselves can be curbed by criticism, judgment, excessive controls, or limited environment. Here are some ways to help them - even the shy ones - to express themselves in creative and dramatic play:
- Inspiring environment: Children thrive and play naturally in an environment that is filled with colors, shapes, and ideas that inspire them to be creative. This includes how they treat each other. Detail the expectations of the environment you offer. If you say that in your classroom everyone tries to help everyone else express themselves, and that being negative or overly critical of each other is not appropriate or allowed, children will feel free to explore their imaginative worlds.
- Acted-out stories and stage opportunities: It's common to use the cutest children, or the ones who do the best job memorizing their lines, for key roles in classroom productions. This encourages a few and discards the rest. If you will discard your own expectations and help the children find their own interpretation of the stories, expressing in their own way the stories you offer them, you will find that their imaginations and expressions come to life.
- Puppets and role-playing: Puppets allow children to express themselves when they feel shy about appearing in front of others, acting as a sort of mask. They can use their voices and their puppets' motions to express what they're thinking about a subject, which can enable every student to speak out. Combining puppets with 'what if' situations can create revealing insights into what the students are thinking and can enable even the quietest one to have a 'voice.'
Children express themselves by being creative and dramatic. With expressive play they can explore sides of themselves that often don't have much of a voice or chance to act. Expressive play is a natural function of childhood development and refers to the child's immersion in an imaginary world, complete with characters, setting, and dialogue. In a classroom rich in environmental stimulation and free from judgment and censure, children can learn early how to explore and express who they are.
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Encouraging Expressive Play & Performance
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