Books Plus Theater = Literacy Excitement

The Almost Librarian (now at Cozy Up and Read) talks about story extensions as a way to enhance the literacy component of reading. One of my favorite extensions that has developed a life of its own is doing simple theater with kids based on kids books. With the librarian (or mom or teacher or dad) as narrator and the kids as the actors, children's books are brought to life in an immediate way that is fun, satisfying and enshrines the books in the players' hearts. At the same time, the kids learn basic stage craft and are empowered as actors on a stage.

The books we've chosen to present are all simple and have few lines but allow the kids to play parts. We've put on Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom; Where the Wild Things Are; Wise Monkey Tale; Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock; The Very Hungry Caterpillar as well as other plays over the years based on picture books. We read the book with the kids, then talk about what is happening: how the characters feel; what they might look like, and how the kids can play the part. We go over basic stage directions (how to face the audience; learning to use their faces to show emotions; staying quiet if they are off-stage; etc); rehearse a few times and off we go.

When I first started doing these "Preschool Players" programs, we would have the kids make costumes and have three weeks of rehearsals. Over the years we have streamlined and condensed. The costumes were actually more of a distraction for the kids so we don't use much. Kids can come as they are and become the characters. Scenery can be as simple as cut-outs pasted on the wall or crepe paper hung to simulate vines - or often, nothing at all. We can now have practice, put on the play and throw a cast party all in an hour.

There is always an improv element to the process and kids and parents (and grandparents and friends who make up the audience) love to see their kids as "stars". And in a very deep and satisfying way we extend the book into these children's lives. Break a leg!

1 comment:

  1. Marge, how wonderful to meet a kindred spirit! I am writing a series of posts about reader's theatre, similar to what you describe here. I taught improv in my drama classes for many years and I can't let it go!

    Love these ideas for enriching the literature experience. And totally agree about streamlining. It's so easy to get caught up in a Ben Hur type attitude, but then you have to ask yourself is that actually for the kids or for the parents?