Weird & Wonderful: A Montessori-Inspired Approach to Incorporating Theater Arts in the Classroom
If one was given the opportunity to observe children working together on the production of a musical number, they might remark to themselves, “How weird and wonderful!” In fact, this was the exact reaction experienced children’s playwright and Montessori teacher, Carrie Peckar, has had time and time again as she has witnessed students literally coming to life through theater. These experiences prompted the title for Carrie’s new book, Weird and Wonderful: One-Acts and Musicals for Kids Ages 6 – 12.
Over the years, Carrie’s students have loved the ability to express themselves through theater and have thrived in these environments. With more than fifteen years in the classroom as a certified Montessori guide and vast experience as an art and drama teacher, Carrie is well-positioned to ensure that the works she produces naturally coincide with the Montessori curriculum. Carrie explains, “I wrote my shows with a Montessori heart in mind in the sense that all characters have roughly the same amount of lines and everyone is featured in a fairly equal way.”
She recognizes that finding this type of content can be challenging since most productions for children feature a few main characters and the rest with only one or two lines, so she set out to ensure a collection promoting equity was developed. Carrie accounts that, “This feeling of community [that is created, where each student feels that they belong] brings out a child’s true potential as they rise to the occasion and find a profound sense of pride in their performance and the work behind it. This is at the very heart of Montessori!”
Carrie also wanted to ensure that each piece within her collection allows children to harness their creative power, much as they do within a Montessori classroom. She uses non-descript character names such as “Penguin 1” and “Penguin 2” to provide the students the opportunity to go through a visualization exercise where they develop their character. This process encourages the child to be creative and insert themselves within the experience as they determine their character’s name and their likes and dislikes. Perhaps most importantly, Carrie notes that, “Just as we “follow the children [in a Montessori classroom],” a similar mindset can be applied to these stories and can be tailored to “follow the group.”
Carrie is eager to share the culminating product of years of directing her own shows and musicals with other educators in this special compilation which contains twelve original musicals for children ages 6 – 12 including amusing renditions of well-known and loved musical numbers. Carrie enjoys taking familiar movies such as March of the Penguins and songs such as David Bowie’s Space Odyssey and making them into musical and educational pieces that captivate the students’ interests. Carrie’s stories not only appeal to students, but make it easy for educators to introduce the theater arts in their classrooms. She hopes that her unique collection will fulfill her desire for schools all around the world to easily and effectively incorporate theater arts into their curriculum.
How Can Teachers Use This Resource to Introduce Theater Arts in Their Classroom?
Teachers can easily implement these productions into their classrooms. According to Carrie, “Each show included in the collection gives a break-down of everything an educator may need to be successful; from suggestions for props and costumes, to scenery and simple blocking. There are even exercises and tips for getting students to project using [their arm as] a “Sound-O-Meter,” [a concrete-visual way to show primary and Elementary-aged students how well you can hear them].” Carrie adds that, “The great thing about the theater arts is that any school can create a performer space. It costs nothing.”
Originally debuted at the Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre in Alexandria, VA, where Carrie serves as director, these whimsical one-act performances are sure to delight students, families, and teachers alike. According to one of Carrie’s former students, “The stories created can make any kid have fun on stage, with the creative concepts and fun musical parodies. It’s the reason I love theater.” As Carrie’s publishing company, Unpublished, says, “Each one of these unique gems [she has developed] is truly Weird & Wonderful!”
Practical Tips for Teachers
Much like the content of her own productions, Carrie shares some helpful tips for incorporating theater arts in the classroom in practical ways.
- Choose a script with more than a few main characters. When looking for a script, she encourages educators to look for content that has more than just a few main characters to ensure each student feels included in the performance. For plays that may only have a few main characters, Carrie suggests breaking these main character’s lines into smaller pieces and creating a group of heroes/heroines allowing everyone to participate equally. Students can also be empowered to add, break up lines, or even take them away to help them feel ownership over their character.
- Allow students to personalize their roles. Looking for shows that have non-descript names like “Car 1” or “Shark 3” can also help students take ownership of their character. While practicing for her shows, Carrie has each group of students do a visualization exercise to create a name for their character as well as their likes and dislikes (which may be similar or different from their own), helping them get excited about their role in the play, no matter which part they get. Another great way to allow students to get creative with personalizing their roles is to allow them to change the gender of their character. Carrie notes, “If a child is offended by being an ‘aunt’ and is happier being a cousin or a sister, let them! This gives them control over their character and, in turn, [helps them] feel like they have created it.”
- Make an agreement with students before casting. Before casting for a show, it can be helpful to make an agreement with students that there will be an effort to give everyone their first choice, but that it may not be possible. With that in mind, just like it is the educator’s responsibility to do their best to give each student the part they want, it is the student’s responsibility to do their best no matter which role they receive. Some classes may wish to sign an agreement that can be a visual reminder at all times, while others may choose to “seal the deal with an air handshake” like Carrie does with her performers.
- Use “V-Line” blocking. “V-Line” blocking is a great blocking technique, especially for younger students. It is an inverted “V” taped on the floor of the stage or show space. In these formations, students stand in their numerical order for many parts of the show. This consistent arrangement not only allows each character to be seen, but also prompts younger students with their cues, taking the guesswork out of when to say their line, and can be helpful for students who may have a hard time staying still.
- Keep materials simple. As Carrie states, “For props and backdrops or scenery, cardboard is your friend. That, and that big ol’ roll of white craft paper. You can pretty much make anything you need with just these two items.” Involve students in the scenery making process using the white craft paper. It can be made long enough so that everyone can participate. Keep costumes simple as well by encouraging students to “shop in their closet.” Some time can also be set aside in class to allow students to decorate t-shirts as their costumes or make a simple paper cut-out of their character that the children can make into a necklace.
Feeling inspired to introduce Theater Arts to your students? Get started by ordering your copy of Weird and Wonderful: One-Acts and Musicals for Kids Ages 6 – 12. AMS members are invited to view a special, free resource from Carrie at the AMS Resource Library.
For more information about the book or its contents, please contact Carrie Peckar at email@example.com.
About the Author
Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori coach and consultant, content creator, and educator for adult learners, as well as a moderator and manager for the Montessori at Home (0 – 3 years) Facebook group. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, in-home caregiver, Lower Elementary coordinator, and associate head of school. She also has experience as a school psychologist intern. She is AMS-credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I) and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in writing a guest post for our blog? Let us know!
The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.