This guest post is from Annie Klark and Katie Mann, co-founders of 4th Wall Theatre Company, a mobile operation based in the Detroit metro area for people of all abilities. In the last five years the pair and their team have taught singing, dancing and acting through camp, library, church, school and arts center programs. "In actuality, it's more about making connections, learning life skills, and becoming good friends," says Katie, a certified teacher with a masters in special education (she's the cowgirl in the photo below; Annie's the flower). Their 19 instructors have a wide range of expertise, including theatre performance, occupational therapy and American Sign Language. Here, Katie and Annie share some of the most popular activities from their program to try at home.
All the time, we hear from naysayers: “My child wouldn’t be good at performing or dancing, his attention span is too short.” Even worse: “My child is nonverbal so they wouldn’t be able to act.” Be still our hearts! And forgive our bluntness, but these assumptions are wrong, wrong, and wrong: Theatre is for everyone.
Not only can everyone participate, we have seen the benefit of singing, dancing and acting for thousands of people with disabilities ages 2 to 72. Singing is actually a fun disguise for articulation. Dancing teaches self-expression and grows confidence. And acting? It is the royalty of social skills! What is a play, if not practicing the social convention of conversation: approach someone, stop at this distance, look them in the eye, say something, wait as they say something back. Repeat.
In our theatre classes we've had our students tell us, “On the first day of class I had no friends, now I have forty!” Our personal favorite: “Everyone looked at me because I was good, not because I was different.”
Whether your child is verbal or nonverbal, shy or a ham, we can assure you that theatre has enormous benefits for them. Not only that, it is downright fun. Here are some ideas for easy games that you can play with your child, or with a group, to add excitement to the learning process.
We’re sure almost everyone has heard of the freeze dance! But to make it inclusive for everyone, and a lot more fun, we’ve added our own style to it.
What you need: Some rockin’ jams.
What to do: When the music starts, dance; when it stops, freeze. Our twist comes when people are frozen—we say, “When the music starts, pretend you are a cowboy!” The sillier the suggestion, the better. “Pretend you’re a...."
● Hippopotamus with an upset stomach
● Cat who’s had the best cat day of their life
● On a floor that's really hot, sticky, or squishy
● In a room full of full of noodles, clouds, or water
● Person who moves in slow motion
● Caterpillar—then go in your cocoon, wait, wiggle, and emerge as a beautiful butterfly!
Once your actor has the idea, have them come up with their own.
Pass the Hat
This is a 4th Wall Theatre classic! It always brings giggles and surprising moments of bravery. Try it when your child has friends over. Or use it as a prompt to talk to one another in silly voices.
What you need: 4 to 6 six different hats (such as a baseball cap, winter knit, witch's hat, etc.)
What to do: Sitting in a circle, the leader begins by putting on a hat (say, baseball cap), makes a motion (say, swinging a bat) then says a line (“It’s a home run!”). If the child wants to/can do both the verbal and nonverbal action, great. If not, great again! Have them gesture at their comfort level. The hat is then passed around the circle and everyone gets to decide what their version of the character would say, and/or what the action would be. They may repeat what the leader said, or come up with a line/motion of their own. Repeat with as many hats as you’d like. If only two people are playing the game, it can turn into a skit where they speak to each other as their characters. What a great way to explore responding to emotions!
In this came, kids copy the movements of a leader or a partner. It gives children the opportunity to explore their space and bodies, and learn about rhythm. They also practice following directions and taking turns. Plus...it’s fun!
What you need: Nothing—just two people! You can play with your child, or pair up children to play together.
What to do: The two partners should face each other. Assign one as the leader and one as the mirror. During a 30-second timeframe, the mirror must copy (or “mirror”) every movement the leader makes. If the leader raises their right hand, the mirror will raise their left. If the leader stands on their left foot, the mirror will stand on their right. The movements can get as funny or silly as you’d like! When the 30-second time limit is up, switch roles! Here are some ideas:
● Touch your nose
● Shake your head
● Wiggle your right arm
● Wiggle your right arm while touching your nose with the other
● Raise both hands up really high then see how small of a ball you can make your body
Surprisingly simple in nature, this activity has large benefits, including improving focus and attention span and learning to follow a pattern.
What you need: Two rhythm sticks or two wooden spoons. You could also use a percussion instrument, like cymbals or even pots and pans. You can even make the rhythms using only your hands or bodies. Be creative!
What to do: Sitting on the floor, have your child follow you, simultaneously repeating patterns and movements. As time goes on, the patterns can become lengthy and more complex. All students follow the leader and simultaneously repeat patterns and movements. Here are some favorite examples just with clapping.
● Hit the floor with both hands (call it "FLOOR"). Then clap your hands in front of you ("CLAP").
○ Now do FLOOR, FLOOR, CLAP. FLOOR, FLOOR, CLAP. Repeat.
● Rub your hands back and forth to make that small swoosh sound (SWOOSH), count to four and then hold hands up in the air (AIR) for four.
○ Now do SWOOSH… 2… 3… 4… AIR… 2… 3… 4… SWOOSH… 2… 3… 4… AIR… 2… 3… 4… Repeat.
● Add a high clap! One that’s over your head (HIGH- CLAP). It’s harder to do but fun!
○ Try: FLOOR, FLOOR, CLAP, CLAP, HIGH-CLAP, HIGH-CLAP, CLAP, CLAP. Repeat.
● This pattern gets tricker and shorter as it goes:
○ FLOORx8, CLAPx8, FLOORx4, CLAPx4, FLOORx2, CLAPx2, FLOORx2, CLAPx2, FLOOR, CLAP, FLOOR, CLAP, FLOOR, CLAP, FLOOR, CLAP. HUH! (We like to yell on the last one.)
As time goes on, try doing the same patterns louder and louder or softer or softer. Then try to go as slow as you can or as fast, while still keeping the beat.
Inspired by musical cake walks at fairs and events, our activity allows a sense of freedom and a chance at exploration. Your child will also practice essential skills like listening, movement, reading, and exploring the space.
What you need: Pre-made notecards with various types of movements written on them. You can also draw characters that children can write out. You'll also need some fun tunes!
What to do: Play the music. Have your child(ren) walk or wheel around a circle of cards and when the music stops, the card that they land on is the one they have to act out. Everyone participates in every turn, and there is an element of surprise as to which card the students will get. It’s fun to play with a group, and to see which cards everyone gets! Ideas for cards include:
● Meow like a cat
● Do 3 jumping jacks or 3 arms criss=crossed
● Walk like a dog
● Neigh like a horse
If you would like a quicker version of the game, put objects on the floor in the circle. When you stop at one you have to say something a person might say with that object:
● Ladle (“Would you like some soup?”)
● Soccer ball (“Let’s play!”)
● Stuffed animal (“Do you want a hug?”)
For more inspiration for theatrical games, check out our ebooks at 4th Wall Backstage.