Out to Play Mini-Blogs – Blog 4: Drama

Written by Saffron Gillies.

Welcome to the fourth and final instalment in our series of ‘Out to Play Mini-Blogs – An imaginative approach to outdoor play & learning in the early years’! Between August 2022 and March 2023 I worked with 18 Early Years settings across Glasgow on our Out to Play Mini-Residencies programme, following the success of this strand of the project in spring 2022.

To accompany the Mini-Residencies, I’ve written a series of Mini-Blogs designed to give early years practitioners a bite-sized introduction to the Out to Play project, and some quick, practical tips to try out in your own setting.

In this blog I’ll be sharing the benefits of drama participation, and giving some tips for trying out drama in your setting, drawing upon my time delivering Mini Residencies with St Bridget’s Nursery Class, Ivy Kindergarten, The Enchanted Tree Nursery, and Our Lady of Lourdes Nursery Class.

Why Drama?

Drama is at the heart of all we do at Eco Drama. We really believe in the potential of drama to support children to engage with the natural world and to build an emotional connection to it – we hope this will nurture the innate care and respect for our planet that exists within all of us.

Taking part in drama can also be a fantastic way for children to develop:

  • Communication, sharing and team working skills
  • Movement skills, coordination and spatial awareness
  • Emotional literacy
  • Vocabulary
  • Imagination and creative thinking
  • Confidence

And, it’s fun!

Transform your space with drama

In this block of delivery, I worked in concrete spaces, in spaces with lots of lovely new play equipment, and even in a park! Whatever your space, drama can transform it: allowing you to take the children you work with on imaginative adventures across the world!

Want to learn about trees but can’t access any? Imagine yourselves in a forest. Thinking about Creatures? If there are no animals, you can playfully become them! Turn a covered area into a cave, or make the whole playground the sea, drama makes the possibilities endless.

Sleeping Bunnies in their Burrows

Drama Games

There are lots of examples of drama games within our ‘Let’s Go…Out to Play’ Early Years resource pack. You can also use games you may be familiar with already like Honeypot, Olly Olly Octopus and What’s the time Mr Wolf? in a drama context. I’ll share here a favourite drama game of mine:

Buzzy Bees

Can you make the sound of a bumble bee?

When you call out “Buzzy Bees!” the children can pretend to be bumble bees, buzzing around the space. Then, while they’re flying call out “Buzzy Bees, Buzzy Bees, can you be a…” it could be an animal, or an object, or you could call out “Buzzy Bees, Buzzy Bees, can you be something…” and then a colour or a texture, like something blue, or something fluffy. Support the children to act out whatever you’ve said, or to make a frozen statue of it. When you’re ready to move on again, call out “Buzzy Bees!” and the children can be off flying again until their next instruction.

Tips for Using Drama in Your Setting

  • Drama is role play – you likely already do it!
    Every day in your setting you will likely be engaging in role play and imaginative play alongside the children you work with. While the words “drama” or “performance” can sometimes strike fear into our hearts, it really isn’t any different. My absolute top tip is to remember that drama is pretending! “Pretending” often feels more accessible than “performing” or “acting out”, so try to approach it from this angle.
  • Support drama with props/puppets
    For children new to drama, seeing you actively taking part yourself can support them to join in. Puppets and props can also be a fantastic way to build children’s engagement and to invite them to participate. I like to use a bumble bee puppet – called Hickety Tickety! Hickety takes part in the activities I lead at the beginning of sessions, like warm ups and drama games (Buzzy Bees is a particular favourite of hers!) modelling the way for children while they build their confidence and understanding of what drama means. At St Bridget’s, Enchanted Tree and Our Lady of Lourdes nurseries many of our Out to Play champions chose to use puppets to support their sessions, including a pirate’s parrot, a stripy fish and a sting-ray! Visual props can work well too, at Ivy Kindergarten and Enchanted Tree practitioners also used treasure maps to engage their groups.
  • Use the outdoors to your advantage! 
    Quite often I get feedback from practitioners that children who are more reserved inside at nursery come across more engaged, active, and confident while engaging outside. Personally, I believe that there’s something about removing walls around us that can help us to relax and to feel more free. When we’re outside we can be loud, we can move around, we can climb, jump and use our imaginations while being less inhibited by obstacles and lack of space.
  • Drama doesn’t have to be about working towards a performance
    Focus on process, rather than product. Through role playing, pretending, engaging in problem solving, and playing games children can build and develop so many useful skills. While working towards a performance can be a great learning opportunity, drama can be explored throughout the year and doesn’t require a performance outcome in order to be a valuable and enjoyable learning experience.

Thank you so much for joining me for this series of Mini-Blogs, we hope they will provide inspiration for you to have a go of leading outdoor, arts based drama and learning for sustainability sessions with the children at your setting. I would also like to thank all of the wonderful staff and children at the nurseries who have taken part in the Mini-Residencies, and Glasgow City Council’s Early Learning team for supporting this project.