Outdoor Classroom: The Importance of Drama Play in Cognitive Development!


Photo from Carolyn at Magical Movement Company 

Sometimes the drama play that children really love is most appropriate for outdoors. It is often loud and requires lots of big movement on the part of the children. 

I like to offer props for dramatic play outdoors that satisfy the child's need for large motor activity and that are also based on real-life experiences. One activity that is usually a big hit is pretending to be in a marching band. This is when you can bring out the drums and the cymbals that are a bit loud for the indoors, but are perfect for an outdoor marching band! Add some rainbow ribbons and pompoms and it might easily turn into a parade!

This marching together not only helps children develop a sense of steady beat, but also gives them practice in the cognitive skills of working together as a group to keep themselves in a line and individually to march, play instruments and even sing all at the same time! The teacher can add to the authenticity of the experience by counting out: "March, 2-3-4...March 2-3-4..!" And, before you know it, the children are leading themselves in a wonderful and somewhat organized and orderly fashion all around your outdoor environment.

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I got the bright idea of marching band drama play one Spring when the nearby Middle School would take their marching band outdoors and march around the neighborhood. When they marched by our Preschool playground the little children excitedly lined up along the fence and watched (and listened) for a very long time!

You can embellish this activity with a little Music Appreciation by playing one of John Phillip Sousa's marches on your sound system. Bring out the flags to add to the authenticity and you can play various national anthems from all over the world to extend your Cultural Studies curriculum to the Outdoor Classroom. Great way to honor the 4th of July, too! 

Likewise, after we had our annual Autumn visit from the local fire department, I discovered that a great extension for this learning experience was to supply the children with sturdy firefighter costumes for their loud & boisterous outdoor drama play.

The following photos are from Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

An added benefit to having firefighter costumes in the Outdoor Classroom is the wonderful Montessori-style Practical Life skills that the child is practicing. The cloth costumes with suspenders on the pants and the latch hooks on the jackets  give the children plenty of practice with small motor activities associated with self-care. and, in our group, the Firefighter costumes were worn EVERY day! You can start out with 2 costume sets and gradually add more. I found that 4 sets was about right. And, they come in different sizes too. Here's the link at Amazon: Kids Firefighter Costume at Amazon. You can also keep a look out at specialized children's stores for sales on these after Halloween. 

Putting on the Firefighter boots is a great exercise for learning about left and right, and these add immensely to the reality aspect of the drama play. I often find these on sale after the rainy season or Halloween has passed.

Another helmet costume that is great fun for the children is a space helmet and I found some a few years ago that are light weight and fairly sturdy! Here's the link at Amazon: US Toy Child's Space Helmet. Another great extension to go along with your Solar System/ Outer Space studies curriculum!

One year, our group was really enjoying the study of European painters and their favorite was Marc Chagall. I collected props (thrift stores!) for the children to dress up as the "painter" and the "model" and they really got to experience "The Fiddler on the Roof" based on Chagall's painting titled, The Green Violinist. You can learn more about this famous painting at this link: Chagall Green Violinist at the Guggenheim. What a great enrichment to Art Appreciation and the study of Europe in the Montessori classroom!

If you set up the easel and give the children some paint on a paint palette, they will really have a complete "Chagall painting experience"!

This group even created a "Chagall style" backdrop of a whimsical "town" with wrapping paper, tape and a giant opened out cardboard box. Building skills in art and creative thinking!

Another classic from the Language Arts curriculum that works well for drama in the Outdoor Classroom is the children's book, Caps for Sale. Here's the link for purchasing at amazon books: Slobodkina, Caps for Sale. This little story about the peddler whose caps got stolen by a band of monkeys up in the tree is perfect for outdoor play since the story happens around a tree! I found the various colors of caps at the thrift store and that was all it took for the children to create this well-known story almost on their own! It's fun to have someone read the story as the children act it out, and it takes lots of coordination and balance on the part of the "peddler" who starts the story by carrying all the caps stacked upon his/her head! 

Our group got so enamored with this little story that they began to set up a makeshift "stage" with large size snap-together foam squares placed on the ground. (Home Depot with lots of uses for Outdoor Classroom!) They carried over some low step stools so that the "monkeys" could be a little off the ground and up in the "trees" when it came time in the story to throw the caps back down to the ground. They even lined up the outdoor chairs for an "audience" area. More large-motor & collaborative problem-solving skills developing! This activity lends itself to many extensions, like creating "tickets" for the audience. (Art & Language skills) If you provide some play money, there is a wonderful outdoor Math experience! 
All of these costumes and drama activities I've mentioned in this article are for both girls and boys, which is very important of course! Here's a great photo of a little "Firefighter" all dressed up and ready to fight fires OR fold the laundry!

I am always so happy to have you visit my site and I hope you have gotten some new ideas for developing your Outdoor Classroom and Drama Play that are based on real-life experiences for the children in your group. I love reading comments (there's a section just below) and learning about your experiences & ideas!

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