How do imagination and creative expression affect children's growth and development? How do we support this process? Music, movement, and drama provide an important means for spontaneous creativity that comes from the rich and deep inner life of the child. When introducing the performing arts, our job is to encourage creative expression rather than to teach specific skills.

Children grow emotionally, socially, creatively, and cognitively through spontaneous music, movement, and drama. As we support children's innate desire to create, express, and perform, we build on their natural curiosities, spark their imaginations, and provide opportunities for verbal and physical expression. Higher-order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, are also developed through activities that promote self-expression.

Through the performing arts, children feel free to create and re-create themselves at will. They try on feelings, expressions, and different ways of being. In doing so, they learn more about who they are and about others as well. By exploring other points of view, children learn compassion for others and gain a sense of connection to the world.

Performances Large and Small

Children have a need to demonstrate what they are feeling and thinking. This is part of the natural desire we all have to be recognized. Some children are comfortable with taking center stage, while others are more quiet and shy All children, however, delight in being acknowledged for their expression, no matter how large or small. Performance art is the little songs children make up while they are working with clay, the dances they do while waiting in line to go outside, the characters they pretend to be in a play. Life is a stage for young children, and they demonstrate this in most things they do.

Children's involvement with performance is not only in the arts but also in everyday life. Jumping as high as possible, telling a joke, taking a bath, making funny faces - almost any activity has the potential for children to perform, to be seen, to be acknowledged.

Your Nurturing Role

Your role in fostering self-expression and kindling creative passion should be that of facilitator and supporter. Much like an orchestra conductor who doesn't play the instruments, you are an artist who inspires children's natural, spontaneous, creative expression. And like a conductor, rather than leading or controlling, you need to create a supportive environment: Follow the children's lead and respect and nurture their passion for the arts.

Sometimes just a smile or nod is all that's needed to tell a child that you support her creative expression. Some children are not aware of how creative they're being by making up a song or dance because it is so natural and spontaneous. Your quiet acknowledgement helps children become aware of what they are doing and helps them feel supported.

Create a Safe Environment

Make the time and space for children to share their music, movement, and dramatic creations with others-always by invitation, never by force. Some children like to "perform" and welcome the opportunity to show off their newest work. Others who are more reluctant to come forward may be enticed by an atmosphere that is nonjudgmental and where everyone's work is a masterpiece.

Provide Inspiration

Your own spontaneity with music, movement, or acting provides creative inspiration. What are you passionate about? Share your passions! Be a bit silly (go on-nobody is looking!) and make up a song for zipping up coats, passing the snack, digging in the sandbox. Walk in different ways when you go to the playground or put on a new character's voice and facial expression while taking attendance or reading a story. Your free expression invites everyone to participate and "loosen up."

Through open-ended activities and questions, you can inspire children to explore their individuality and creative expression. Here are some ideas to help you inspire children in the areas of drama, music, and movement.


There is an important difference between "theater" and creative dramatics. Theater has an audience, lines, scenery, and costumes and can be dependent on repetitive practice or rehearsal. Creative dramatics is the communication of an emotion, an impression, a character, or a story. While it does have an audience (and sometimes costumes), the expectations are different. In creative dramatics, the performance will be improvisational. Group creative dramatics fosters group process and cooperation, concentration, self-confidence, and discipline.

A Step-by-Step Introduction to Creative Dramatics

Invite children to create sound effects for a favorite story. Every time you read the story, invite children to use and modulate their sound effects.

Next, introduce pantomime. Children can use motions to act out parts of a story. For example, as you read There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly (Penguin Putnam, 1990; $3.50) children can pantomime the main character chasing, catching, and swallowing the different creatures!

Use props to inspire creative performances. A prop-such as a large key, a banana, a scarf, a funny hat-and an open-ended question such as "What can you do with this?" may be all that's needed to get a performance going

Invite parents and other adults to help you create a simple performance. Read a familiar story such as "The Three Bears" or "Little Red Riding Hood" while the adults pantomime the actions of the characters. Then switch! Invite children to pantomime the actions of the story for the adults.

Introduce verbalization and characterization. Invite children to improvise a part of a story or a character's voice. You might read a book up to a crucial point in the story and then ask children to create the ending. Judi Barrett's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Scholastic Inc.; $3.95) is a good example. When everything in the town of Chewandswallow gets covered in food, you might ask: "What would you do if you lived there? How would you get out?"

Share a "character bag" with children. This is a pillowcase or tote bag filled with an ever-changing array of puppets and stuffed animals. The teacher can pick an item from the bag and begin by saying: "Once upon a time ..." Children then take turns choosing something (eyes closed!) from the bag and continuing the story as that character.

Making Music

Music is a strong force in our lives and the lives of children. Music invites us to listen and respond and often leads us to create. In planning musical experiences, it is important to consider a balance between children's spontaneity and the open-ended activities suggested by the teacher.

Spontaneous music experiences can come from environmental sounds. Weather sounds, air conditioners, construction workers-anything can become the basis for rhythm and song. One class had a leaky faucet that created a rhythm and sound that pervaded the classroom. Instead of ignoring it, the children decided to join it! They got out the rhythm instruments and reflected the beat of the drip, drip, drip. This led to an impromptu "dripping" verse-- and a song was made!

Have you ever felt so good that you felt like singing? Children do all the time, and often they don't even know that they are doing it! Impromptu musical performances can come from the exhilaration of gliding high on a swing or the rush of feeling about an upcoming party. Children make up songs to go with these events that reveal what they are thinking, seeing, or doing.

Marvelous Musical Events

Start with a story. While reading a story, invite children to create a rhythm for a character or event. For example, what would be the rhythm of the littlest billy goat tramping over the bridge in Ellen Appleby's Three BillyGoats Gruff* (Scholastic Inc.; $3.25)? How would the rhythm be different for the middle goat or the biggest goat?

Involve children in "orchestrating" a story. Introduce familiar, repetitive stories such as "The Gingerbread Boy" or "The House That Jack Built." Invite children to make up verbal or rhythm-instrument sounds for each character. As the story is told and retold, remind children to listen for the mention of "their" character and make their own original sound.

Take your cues from the children. Listen to the songs they are creating or humming from familiar tunes. Reflect these in your choice of new songs to introduce.

Find the right songs. The best songs are short and have few repetitive words or lyrics and a limited note range.

Select songs that invite children's input. For example, "My Hand Says Hello" (sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell" ) asks children to demonstrate different ways they can use their bodies to say "hello." Children can add different body parts for other verses: My ... (foot, head, ear, and so on) says hello ...

Exploring Movement

Music leads to movement. It's hard to listen to music without moving in some way, even if it's just moving your toes, head, or fingertips! Movement is how we interact with our environment and define the space we occupy in the world. We move to explore. Crawling leads to walking, and walking leads to hopping, skipping, and jumping.

How do we support and encourage children's exploration of movement and space? Start with the spontaneous and expand from there. Observe children's movements. Children might create a movement to go with a sound, to decorate a song, or to express how they feel as they move from place to place. Remark on what you see: "I noticed you made an interesting motion with your arms when you were walking across the room." Ask to try the movement yourself, moving "their" way This often leads to an exchange of movements as different children join in and create new ones for you to try. Celebrate all children's movements and recognize the diversity in the group. Help children see how each of us has our own ways of moving that are "right" for us. Remember to use the word movement and not dance. For many children (and adults!) the word "dance" creates an image of structured steps that have a "right" way to be done.

Extend Movement Activities

Use a variety of music styles to inspire movement. You might put on a selection and say, "Let's see how this music makes us feel." Then invite children to move their bodies freely to the music.

Encourage variation and experimentation. Ask children: "Can you move another way?" Encourage them to explore moving with just their arms, their feet, or their eyes.

Add props. Sheer scarves, balloons, paper fans, and feathers make great movement props. You might ask: "How does this object make you want to move?"

Remember that all people are singers, dancers and actors, just as they were when they were babies. Rhythm is as natural as your heartbeat, and the sound of your own breathing is a song. Approaching the arts from a place of creative self-expression helps us all feel successful. When we remember that there is no right way, we can look inside and find the child who loves to pretend, who makes up songs and moves "her way" around the room-- who knows how to make performance an expression of joy and life!