“Drama can give you the tools to be brave!”
Step 1: Make it special.
The first trick to making drama accessible is to make it enticing. For children, the more attractive the icing on the cake, the more delicious it must be and the same is true of drama. In our workshops, we transform your space into a wonderland of colourful fabrics, bright costumes, and creative props. This ensures that the children understand that this space is for something special.
For some children this can feel intimidating, so it’s important that amid this transformed landscape, there is an oasis of calm.
Step 2: Create a safe space.
Before you attempt any group drama with your children, sit them down in the middle of the area you have created and discuss what is about to happen. Often, it is the fear of new things that causes anxiety. I once taught a Circus session where a three-year-old boy had previously refused to wear costumes of any kind but since our sessions always begin with mat time and a careful introduction of each costume before any drama begins, when it came time to dress up, he embraced his tiger costume with relish!
Creating safety can be as simple as practising movements before trying anything more ambitious – just get the children up as a group and have everyone swinging through trees like monkeys or flying in the sky like parrots – the younger the children, the simpler the movements should be.
Step 3: Repetition is your friend!
I find that the more repetition you have in your movements for each character, the more confident the children feel; in our Under the Sea session the octopuses like to hide from sharks, that’s an action you can practise while the children are still sitting in their safe space. Turn it into a little game! One, two, three, SHARK – quick octopuses, hide!
The earlier you introduce the actions you would like the children to create, the easier they will find the task. This gives a wonderful sense of accomplishment to young children, allowing them to feel an ownership of the actions they are taking. The more power they feel over the task, the less intimidating it becomes.
Step 4: Safety in numbers.
Shy children are often nervous around strangers and new experiences. By introducing new actions to the entire group, you are carefully not shining a spotlight on those who may not feel brave enough to be seen. This again, reinforces the idea that this is a safe space in which they can experiment without feeling scrutinised.
Groups are much safer for shy children than individual tasks, especially if they are unsure of what’s expected of them. At The Drama Toolbox, we put all our characters in groups for this reason; a shy child in our Dinosaurs session might desperately want to be a roaring T-rex, but they will feel more comfortable surrounded by three or four of their friends when attempting the activity.
Step 5: The audience is part of drama.
Sometimes, the activity is just too scary to attempt and that’s okay. In that case, it’s great to have a special item or prop for the child to sit with so they can feel a part of the performance, even if they’re not willing to sit with the other children.
In our Jungle Animals workshop, we introduce our characters through puppets while the children are sitting in the safe space. Puppets are a wonderful tool for getting children involved, they’re less intimidating than costumes but they still allow a child to interact with a character who is separate from themselves.
My favourite way to engage with a shy child is to give them my Princess crown in Fairy tale Fiasco, making them my Prince or Princess in training, it never fails!
The Drama Toolbox