The most valuable skill preschoolers possess is imagination. As an adult I just cannot seem to look at a box and pretend it is a space ship. I can pretend that I am pretending, but in all reality I simply have lost the ability to completely create something out of nothing. This is not the case with children ages 3-5. That is why the art of pantomime (or mime) is an AMAZING outlet for this age group. It gives credibility to their minds and allows them to use this skill in a focused manner. In the last ten years I have been teaching children’s theatre, pantomime has always been the most effective skill in helping students understand the fundamentals of creative play and theatre without even realizing that they are doing so.
But what is pantomime? And how do you explain it to preschoolers? I always tell my students that pantomime is telling stories with your body. Below are 3 introductory activities that I like to do with my students who are all 3-5 years of age.
(DISCLAIMER-When I am explaining these activities, it is all in mime. You will not ACTUALLY be handing students balloons to fill with pudding, nor will you be pulling an elephant across the room (sorry, but the explanation is for my literal readers.)
Have students sit in a circle. Make sure it is really quiet. Then say “What is this in my pocket?” Pretend to pull something out of your pocket. Look at it, stretch it out, take a deep breath and blow it up, using one hand near your mouth and the other getting further and further from your face as you blow. Ask the students what it must be. Then pretend to tie it and hand it to a student. Pretend to hand each student a balloon. Guide them into blowing up their balloon. Then ask, “What would you like to put in your balloon? I think I’m going to put pudding in my balloon.” As you put pudding into your balloon, use your hands to show the balloon getting heavier. Ask the students to do the same. They will mimic you. Then count to three and have everyone throw their balloons up in the air. Splat! Act as though you have gotten very messy. Grab a pretend towel out of the middle of the circle and wipe yourself off. Watch as the students mimic you.
Pushing and Pulling Shirley
You will need an open area for this activity. Explain to the students that you have been asked by your boss to make sure that Shirley the elephant makes it to her cage. She is a HUGE elephant, and very stubborn. You have to try and pull her into her cage. Using a lasso, pretend to lasso this giant elephant. Showing pressure and resistance, try your best to pull her across the room. Once you get there, you must look very very tired and breathe heavily. Shocked, look at the kids and say “She ran out! Can you help me lasso Shirley?” Let the students help you pull on the rope and pull her across the room. Then, stop and make a phone ringing sound. Pull out your cell phone (mime it) and then hang up. Explain that your boss said that Shirley needs to go back to the other cage. Then pretend to push the heavy elephant back across the room. Allow the students to help out. You can go back and forth all day. This is a great exercise that will help students to explore what their body actually looks like when there is pressure put on it. OBVIOUSLY as preschoolers, you don’t need to explain that because they will have NO idea what you are talking about.
For this activity, you will need some ACTUAL bubbles to begin with. Allow students to spread out around the room. Blow the real bubbles and allow the students to pop them. This will get them warmed up and will take only a few moments. Then put the real bubbles away and pull out the “pretend” bubbles. Blow the pretend bubbles and have the students pop the pretend bubbles. You may have to guide them vocally at first. “Oh look I just blew a huge bubble over there go catch it!”. Then ask the students if they would like their own bubbles and hand each of them pretend bottles of bubbles. Allow them to pantomime the act of blowing and catching bubbles. You can switch out the real and fake bubbles every few moments to keep the pace up.
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