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Drama in Unit Study

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #2, 1993.

Jesica Hulcy says dramatization helps education three ways.
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Jessica Hulcy

"Lights, camera, action!" Those words conjure up an image of Hollywood, not home school. Historically the Christian Church has viewed the theater as a den of debauchery. Small wonder when one looks at what is showing at the local cinema today. Likewise, role playing has recently been used in classrooms across America to enact unwholesome behavior and reshape our children's values. Why in the world then would home schoolers choose to use drama in their education process?

Three reasons come to mind:

  • To teach children attentiveness
  • To improve communication skills
  • To internalize academic material

Dramatizing Teaches Attentiveness

Imitation is the earliest form of dramatizing. It is natural. My five year-old (now seventeen) watched a man come to fix the sewer line in our backyard. Immediately after the man left, Jason became the sewer line man re-enacting the entire scenario. When Jason started to go out the back door, he turned to me and added his own "sewer-man" talk, "Ma'am, do you have any dogs in the backyard that are likely to bite?" How many times have you heard workmen ask that question? Likewise Jordan, my second son, was playing grocery store with a friend. As he was bagging the groceries he turned to his friend who was checking and asked, "What time do you get off?" Isn't that what checkers always say to baggers in the real grocery store?

These simple incidents tell me how attentive children can be to the people around them. Attentiveness is such an important character trait, because attentiveness carried a few steps further can translate into sensitivity in hearing what others are really saying and discernment in recognizing and sifting details and differences. When a child dramatizes, he must pay strict attention to the nuances and fine details in order to imitate. This builds attentiveness.

Dramatizing Improves Communication Skills

Presently, I am helping two men run for our local school board. My kids are in and out of the room as I help the men prepare for debates. Later, my kids offer suggestions. "Mr. Toon needs to take his jacket off and sling it over his shoulder to look more like the 'common man'. Mr. Stone needs to uncross his arms. He looks too stern, like he's already made up his mind." Another child suggested several hand gestures, facial expressions and one-line zapper remarks. How do my kids have this knowledge? From dramatizing.

My children read biographies and absorb the character of the people they are going to dramatize. They see Lincoln and Lee as humble men and Noah and Washington as men of faith. After creating their own costumes, they assume the role and character of who they portray. My children don't realize bath towels can be used for drying. Doesn't everyone use them for shepherd headdresses? Great thought is given to script writing and dialogue. Just how would Washington say these lines? By dramatizing characters, children learn not only to use words, but also facial expressions, hand gestures, voice inflection, eye contact and their whole body language to communicate.

Dramatizing Helps Children Remember Their Lessons

I am convinced that dramatizing increases retention, because it appeals to all senses. After studying a unit on states and regions the children put on a play entitled "Hats Across America," which grew into "full-costume and quick-change across America." Each region had a two-minute, costumed vignette complete with accent and dialect. To this day, Rhett can quote his New England whaling dialogue. "Aye mate, it was a hard life at sea. We spent three long years huntin' and a-search'n for them whales. Then the look out calls, 'Thar she blows'. We scurry to our boats. I jumps into the bow. 'Pull ye laggards. Break yar backs. Hang on for a Nantucket sleigh ride.' . . . " Because of the costume, the dialogue, the acting, Rhett will never forget about whaling.

Our aim with drama is not to create little Hollywood stars who constantly seek center stage. Rather drama should add breadth to our teaching, increase attentiveness, improve communication and internalize information. We as Christians must distinguish our drama from Hollywood's drama, however. On the method we agree; on the content we diverge. I encourage you to fill your children's lives with drama of history and HIS STORY, the Bible.

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