“To be, or not to be?” Yes, Hamlet, Ophelia, Captain Hook, and Curious George. All in one story!
Children come into this world equipped to imagine, play roles and pretend. If some of them had a choice, they could do this all day – including all night with shadows all around them! But, trust me, I am not advocating for late night role-playing adventures. A full night sleep is still a priority for any child – and their parents!
Shadow play theater offers such a rich opportunity for children to practice at life by re-enacting stories that excite them, confuse them, or scare them. When we pay attention to their dialogues, we often reassess our views of who they are, what they are thinking and how much they can do with just a few props in their hands. The best part of this type of play is that it gives us a window that we can use to climb into their intricate world of ideas, wonders and questions and gather information about what they need and how to go about providing it. We can also use that information to clear misconceptions when we model use of language, clarify values and expectations, and take trips around the universe without ever leaving home!
Exploring shadows and where they come from is always a fun scientific inquiry. We talked about day shadows and night shadows, how we can tell time with them, etc. So many wonderful questions come up from those conversations!
Creating stories like these, unrehearsed and spontaneous, also provides children with a great way to take risks in a safe environment. They make up scenarios that involve beginning, middle and end, or they might never end. The more they engage in such playful events, the more sophisticated their stories become. Whether they engage in self-talk or in creating dialogue withe others, they learn new words and revisit old ones. Role playing also strengthens their self-esteem by creating plays for an audience that will undoubtedly appreciate their creative efforts. It also helps them release roles that confuse, or scare them.
When children role play, they learn to develop perspective-taking skills – the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings and motivations of other people – which will nurture their social development as they grow. When they make decisions that affect others, children are often asked about how others feel or will be affected by their decisions. They can use play to practice taking these perspectives. Being able to develop social perspective taking also helps children understand differences in cultural values, lifestyles and choices that peers make that might be different from theirs. You might help by using a character to pose a challenge, or a problem that they need to solve, or use these as teachable moments. The most important part of this is to have fun and follow our children’s lead. The more imagination and fantasy, the better!
Set-Up for Episode #10:
- Cardboard box
- Cutting knife (for hollowing out the box – keep it away from children!)
- Translucent paper (i.e.: white copy paper, etc)
- Lamp (make sure that unused plugs are covered!)
- Materials to make puppets
The first time I introduced this to my own children I used familiar nursery rhymes as a springboard. We sang the rhymes and used our puppets to go through the melodies. Over time, and as they got older, they added scripts of their own, and we even ended up writing a short booklet about two brothers who went to the moon one day!
Making small programs and invitations can be quite the production but it makes this more fun. If your children go to the theater on occasion, they are using this opportunity to imitate life. No nearby extended family? No neighbors? Invite stuffed animals, arrange chairs like a small theater and let your imagination run free. How are your children participating in the planning?
Some productions get a bit elaborate with sound effects, or background music. It’s also fun to use household items for that: foil for rain sounds, shoes for steps, etc. When our children got tired of the limited sized box, we jumped to the large piece of paper taped between two walls and they became the main characters (along with their stuffed animals). We have happily watched dozens of performances and even took part in some of them. We even had more fun than we thought we would!
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