The Power of Pre-school Drama

Bluebird Pre-Primary’s annual concert provides an opportunity for staff and children to co-create and script a meaningful theatrical event that fosters confidence, pride and maturity in pre-schoolers.

Watching the immense power that pre-school drama holds to engage, empower and delight children in the early childhood development space is one of my greatest joys as an educator. Drama and music play a central role in our curriculum at Bluebird Pre-Primary as they allow us to create a dynamic and transformative learning experience that nurtures children’s creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and social skills.

Building a sense of belonging and inclusion is key for us and our drama classes provide the perfect space in which children grow in confidence, find their voices and learn more about one another.

Putting growth in the spotlight

Working with the children in our pre-school drama classes throughout the year enables us to plan a meaningful annual concert that highlights and celebrates our learnings.

A child’s moment on stage provides an opportunity to showcase the growth and maturation that has taken place over the previous 12 months – for some children, it means digging deep to muster the courage to play their part, while for others it is a celebration of their passion as they embrace the spotlight. Watching this journey unfold is astounding and we take pride in celebrating these milestones with our parents, who are always amazed at what their children have achieved.

Relevant stories that resonate

In 2023, we decided to build our script around the city of Jozi. Our starting point was to explore the history of Johannesburg to offer meaning and context. Little did we realise just how powerful this journey would be. The lessons were rich and deep and the experience gave us a fresh perspective of our dynamic city.

As we began to explore the various aspects of life in Jozi, and what this looks like for each of us, many critical conversations were sparked. Staff and children spoke of their experiences of using taxis, buses and Ubers to get to school, which was our starting point for creating a scene around this aspect of life in the city. The result was a charming scene with vendors, commuters and taxi drivers all portraying the busyness of the Jozi Central taxi rank.

Pre-school drama fosters tolerance and belonging

Drama as a tool to foster tolerance and belonging

This exercise provided a wonderful platform from which stereotypes, biases and discriminatory attitudes could be challenged in an age-appropriate way. Many parents reported that these discussions made their way home, and we were delighted to hear of rich conversations, which provided a vehicle to bring greater insight and develop empathy.

Historic video clips of Jozi’s early years were used to enhance the children’s understanding, and the visuals of shanty towns, gum-boot dancers, gold mines and Sophiatown’s music halls provided context. That was all that was needed to get our children moving to the beat of Shosholoza, Baby Baby and Pata Pata, dressed in all their finery. Knowing the story behind these dances helped to build empathy and understanding and it was wonderful to see the children throwing themselves into their parts.

Stepping into the shoes of characters from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities fosters a sense of belonging and empathy in children, as young as they are. Even the audience could not resist jiving to the beat.

Experiential learning for confidence

Ensuring that our thee-year-olds had a meaningful and positive experience meant bringing their scenes to life in a tangible way. For those who were enjoying a braai round the pool, making a fire at school and experiencing the power of matches and blitz was key.

For those who were the Jacarandas and the bees in the garden, it meant looking for purple petals and watching bees in flight. It is always such a joy to observe the growth in this particular age group as the little ones blossom practice after practice.

The growth in their confidence is profound and their joy and pride as they step onto stage is quite magical. The reciprocity between audience and actor is never more electric as both parent and child connect during this moment of triumph.

Play to grow

Having fun on stage is our magical ingredient to success when creating scenes for children to workshop and explore. The children eagerly embraced a scene around The Checkers Sixty60 bikes and we were overjoyed to receive a loan of the life-like versions of these scooters to use on stage, thanks to our parent body. The cast loved writing their own lines to the well-known jingle and some of the favourites were:

“Need some Fanta while you banter? Just call Sixty/60”

“Got the munchies, need some crunchies? Just call Sixty/60”

Bikers share love and light

Knowing that these bikes were then donated to a children’s home was a great opportunity for further discussions around sharing and caring. Building on this theme, we explored the enormous goodwill which exists in Johannesburg and told the children about the Harley Davidson annual Toy Run.

Children loved learning more about this charitable tradition and chose their favourite teddies to tie onto their bikes. They brought the house down as they rode around the stage on their “Harleys” dressed in biking gear. Our audiences were deeply touched when the leader of the gang challenged them by saying:

“So next time we pass you on the highway at night, Remember our mission to share love and light”

Participating in pre-school drama as part of the ECD curriculum

Learning to create unique narratives

Another exciting aspect was co-creating specific scenes and storylines for each class group. The collaboration between staff and children allowed a deep sense of ownership for their unique storylines which included gum boot dancers, Harley riders on a toy run to Harties, families braaing round the pool, Jacarandas on display, exquisite stars in the night sky, rugby and soccer and Sixty/60 drivers.

Choosing props and costumes for each scene was a also collaborative and the sense of agency and ownership that shone through was wonderful. Rugby World Cup fever added an extra punch to our Ellis Park scenes and the collective sense of pride and patriotism was evident.

The responsibility of weaving the golden thread between each scene fell on our incredibly talented narrators, the four hadedas, who told the story of Jozi’s magic from their birds-eye (point of) view. The success behind this process lies in co-creating the script by adding lines to enhance a scene or tweaking those that don’t flow.

Using the script as a guideline and building on the ideas from the children during rehearsals results in a deep sense of ownership for all players. Their quiet confidence, their focus and commitment to their roles, their ability to memorise all their lines and their stage presence blew us away, especially considering they are only five-years old!

The magic of stagecraft

After four weeks of rehearsals at school, our children were ready for the next step in the journey. Introducing them to the world of theatre with a real live audience which enabled them to transfer their learning and see it all come to life.

Every performance showcased the enormous growth in the childrens’ confidence, resilience, ability to focus, memory recall, creativity and talents. Watching their delight in the audiences’ response was heart-warming and deeply rewarding.

In the closing words of Harry the Hadeda and his wife, Ladida:

  • HARRY: We’ve seen it all in this city of gold Alive and vibrant – BRAVE and bold
  • LADIDA: There’s joy everywhere – it shines out of your hearts. Everyone helping and doing their part
  • HARRY: You’ve got it my friends, that’s Jozi for you. Growing and changing – always new
  • LADIDA: So, let’s clap and cheer for Jozi delight. A home for us all – our future so bright!