What are some of the best practices for teaching children acting?

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Answered by: K. C., An Expert in the Acting Basics Category
Children are natural actors. Imaginative play is organic theater, utilizing many of the same skills that adult professionals spend years cultivating. Teaching children acting ought to be a fun-filled, fabulously creative experience for both the students and the teacher. Often, however, if the acting program in question is an after-school or parent-run organization, the teacher may be at a loss as to how best to cultivate their students’ natural talents.

There are two basic elements to acting: imagination and discipline.

Theater games are the most popular method of teaching acting to children, and they are invaluable. Games such as Bus Stop, where each child comes up with a character and then enters the scene to interact with the character who entered before them until that character catches their bus and exits the stage, allow children to explore their natural bent toward the imagination element of acting. Games such as Telephone, where children listen to a phrase whispered in their ear and then whisper it into the ear of the next child in line, teach diction—or they are supposed to, if the game doesn’t devolve into a giggle fest of silliness.

There are a wealth of resources on theater games online and in the local library. It is up to the teacher to assemble a curriculum that cultivates a wide range of skills in their young pupils. When choosing theater games, it is helpful to be aware of what skills children often require assistance in developing. Here is a short list of those skills that will benefit children in theatrical productions and can be easily nurtured in classroom play:

     Projection and diction

     Being attentive to other actors

     Character-based improvisation

     Theater terminology (upstage, downstage, left, right, etc.)


     Being still or silent for an extended period of time

Encouraging young actors to play is vital. The element that often is neglected when teaching acting skills to children, however, is discipline. Do not underestimate children. Certainly, everyone can have a prize for participating, but that is no reason to settle for mediocrity.

The entire point of an acting class is to prepare students to take part in a theatrical production.

Giving children short scripts to memorize and rehearse can be immeasurably beneficial for them as well as rewarding for their teacher. However, the child of ten who will go home and diligently study a script is a strange and glorious creature. As a general rule giving children scripts early and working with them often is the best practice. Set aside part of each class session for rehearsal time. Skills developed in classroom games are no good if the child does not understand how to apply them in performance.

Bring the game portion of learning into the rehearsal section, melding the two skills to give students a rounded understanding of the theatrical process. Give each child an opportunity to perform. Casting one large scene with several extras only gives the few children with featured roles the chance to apply what they have learned. This format may mirror that which children will find when they take part in an actual stage production, but it does not serve them well beforehand.

Remember, when teaching children acting: Play games with purpose. Apply the skills learned to a scripted or otherwise performance-geared activity. Most of all, however, keep things fun. The most important thing any young actor learns is the love of theater; anything else can be developed afterward.

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