Theater For Children

Kids Performing Art!

Theater is one of the most exciting and most educational projects you can to do with kids.

Developmentally, it’s hard to top theater. Drama can teach word skills like reading, writing, imaginative composition (fiction they call it, or drama), plus a feeling for the spoken music of words and poetry. Not to mention a smattering of history and literature.

Socially, drama teaches both cooperation AND independence, recognizing and dealing with emotions, empathy, plus the practical skill of speaking in front of an audience. Public speaking is a skill many adults wish we had developed. Music. Dance. Magic tricks. Almost any skill or interest can find a home onstage. There’s a whole branch of theater called improvisation: always useful to learn how to think on your feet. And as children get more involved in what’s called “technical theater” – all the props, costumes, sets, lights, sound etc. – math skills, visual and spacial skills, and handicrafts all come into play. Plus innovation. There’s a LOT of problem-solving in theater.

There’s also a great deal of comradery and joy.

Start small and easy: goof around with puppets, make masks, recite a poem, act out the Three Bears – – – Have fun onstage.

The picture? A set from a children’s production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Since I happen to have an abundance of factory-themed children’s sets to decorate this Lens, let’s think of it as a big Drama-Fun Factory! I’ll point out some of the gears and levers that will help you make your own at-home theater. It’s also a factory-in-progress (as all my Lenses are), so please visit again to see what new gears have been added.

Puppet Theater

Always popular with kids
There is something fascinating about puppets. They combine the make-believe and miniature joy of dolls with the expression and story-telling of people – while, best of all, shy performers can hide behind them like a mask. (More on masks later.) Any child can say more, a lot more freely when using a puppet. (As psychologists know.) Puppets are freedom and wild improvisation.

It’s most fun to build your own puppets and puppet theaters, but store-boughten is fun too.

Do It Yourself Puppets

Punch. Where’s Judy? PAPER BAG PUPPETS – Maybe the simplest puppet is the paper bag puppet. Take a plain brown lunch bag and have your child draw the puppet’s eyes and nose on the bottom, so that the fold (where the bottom folds flat) becomes the inside of the puppet’s mouth. Colored markers or poster paint (not too wet!) will look bolder and more effective than crayons or pencils. Adding cut paper elements will make the puppet more exciting: a red construction paper tongue for a snake maybe or great big ol’ cow licks; the cow’s horns or moose antlers; arms and hands; or perhaps a silly mustache or paper wig. Scraps of fabric or fur can be fun. Anything, really. Go to the movies and watch the crazy puppets in the Fandango ads.

Now, how about adding a huge grocery store bag puppet to play the giant?

SOCK PUPPETS – Just as easy to make if you’re up for a little simple sewing: buttons for eyes, scraps of fabric for tongues, ears, hands; wool for hair.

GLOVE PUPPETS – One woolly glove becomes a quintet of actors. Or cut the fingers off (roll-hem the cut edges) and create five separate prima donnas. You could experiment with wool versus cotton versus rubber glove fingers (rubber for aliens maybe? add little teeny antenae) or roll your own finger tubes from any fabric or even stiff paper.

POPSICLE STICK PUPPETS – Almost any picture can be either printed onto stiff card-stock paper or mounted onto cardboard and glued to a popsicle stick. I suggest either adult-applied spray mount (flattest most permanent) or child-applied glue stick for the picture to cardboard gluing, then white glue like Elmers or hot glue (adult again or old enough child) for the picture to stick attachment. Try cutting out arms or heads separately and attaching these to the puppet’s body with old fashioned brass brads so you can change their poses. Suddenly they can emote!

OTHER “STICK” PUPPETS – As with popsicle sticks, almost any stick-like object can turn into a puppet. Try decorating wooden spoons or toilet paper tubes (which make finger puppets). Or how about – new! clean! – toilet plungers? Or spatulas or decorated pencils or pool noodles with drawn-on permanent marker faces?

SHADOW PUPPETS – These can be cut out cardboard shapes very similar to popsicle stick puppets. They needn’t be decorated with color unless you want to, but “decorations” made by cutting holes can be fun. Bring out the hole punch! I imagine you might be able to cut out small areas and then fill these with colored tissue paper or translucent plastic for a stained glass effect. Obviously you’ll need a shadow screen – stretched white fabric or paper – and a strong light to make these work.

MARIONETTES – These are more complicated puppets, but all you absolutely need are two flat sticks fixed together in an X with strings from the four ends that tie to the puppet’s arms, head, and legs or rear (whichever is funnier). The “puppet” could be any loose jointed doll – made of cloth or wood or cardboard tubes.

For older kids with advanced skills and a LOT of patience – and an interest in video – you could try making your own short film. Film puppets in action! (Watch a Muppet movie. Like that.)

Or if VERY patient and motivated, try making clay “puppets” to shot-by-shot act out a brief Claymation film. (Watch a Wallace and Grommet movie to see how masters do this!) But this stop motion filming technique is only for the extremely motivated and patient!

Puppet Videos

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre – Romeo and Juliet Part I
Rated PG – Extra Silly
Meant for older kids as it gets a bit, slightly, um, vulgar as the Bard and Scottish Sock Puppets are so apt to do. Make a nice antidote to classroom reading of this classic! The other vids are suitable for younger children.


Using and making masks for children

Poof! You’re someone (or something) else. Masks seem magical – a natural development of the baby’s game of peekaboo.

Masks can be made from almost any material: a paper grocery bag; a paper plate plus string; cut cardboard, felt, or craft foam plus elastic; paper mache (lots of goopy fun); or, if you’re ambitious, leather etc.; or there are lots of mask kits, where you start with a pre-formed face shape and decorate and add to it.

PAPER MACHE – Amazingly cheap and simple, though time consuming. Tear or cut newspaper into strips, the thinner, the more detailed you can get. Mix flour and water to make a thick paste, soak the paper in this till sticky but not soggy, then slowly build up your shape. It’s easier if you have a shape to lay the strips over. A kid’s-face-sized balloon can work or a plastic mask. You can add in cardboard to reinforce protruding pieces like ears or tusks – make sure these are well integrated into the face proper so they won’t rip off easily. Allow several days for the paper mache to dry before trying to paint or decorate it.

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