Public school students across the five boroughs returned to school last week, and we at NYC Children’s Theater have been reflecting on our education programs. Led by our superb Education Department, Education Director Brooke Boertzel and Associate Education Director Sara Hunter Orr, NYC Children’s Theater is able to use theatre and music to inspire and educate children with residencies, workshops and touring shows. Of course none of this would be possible without our amazing team of talented teaching artists. Read more
NYC Children’s Theater Education Department is proud to partner with schools in District 75, the Special Education District within the New York City Department of Education. Our arts programs for students with disabilities support language and social development with a focus on emotional literacy. This blog post chronicles NYC Children’s Theater Education Associate Sara Hunter Orr’s recent site visit to a District 75 school in Queens. NYCCT teaching artist Matt Mazur is currently leading a Literature at Play residency there for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. Read more
I remember babysitting a young boy and his sister when I was in college. We were on a walk and we spotted a nest with a colony of thousands of ants. They sped up and down their small domed hill, weaving in and out of one another with carefully choreographed precision.
The young boy seemed unimpressed by our discovery, but his sister was quite fascinated. She asked me what the ants were doing and I told her that they were practicing a new dance, which they were all going to perform at their annual colony barbeque. Her eyes widened with interest and she bent down to get a closer look at the dance practice. Her brother, on the other hand, thought my answer was ludicrous.
As the Director of Education at New York City Children’s Theater, I have the task of creating age-appropriate curricula for both elementary and middle school students. In creating these programs, I’ve had to pay close attention to the developmental difference between the ages of these children so that I could address relevant and interesting topics that appealed to these specific ages, and respect (yet challenge) the inhibiting social/personal barriers that develop and strengthen with age. Read more
With our current educational system placing an enormous emphasis on children’s ability to perform in a variety of standardized tests, it is no wonder arts-based curricula, which are harder to assess, are getting pushed out of the schools. Children can learn the history and theories behind each artistic medium, and sure, you can test them on their ability to memorize those facts, but when it comes to creativity, there are no tiny ovals that a child has to blacken in order to get the answer correct.
The arts provide an outlet where imagination, playfulness and inspiration rule. Within this right-brained centered medium, there are no right or wrong answers. Children are encouraged to think outside of the box, to take creative risks, to dance wildly and sing at the top of their lungs. From an outside eye, one that places importance on test scores and statistics, this practice might seem chaotic and void of educational value…but they would be wrong. In our attempt to prepare our children with all of the right answers, we are forgetting to encourage them to play. In classrooms, I have seen many children who are frightened to raise their hands and offer up an answer for fear that their answer might be wrong. Those same children light up with utter joy when the silly, nonsensical lines they suggest for the chorus of an original song are praised by their teaching artists.
In his article, Considering the Underlying Rationale for Using Interactive and Improvisational Drama, Dr. Adam Blatner, a psychiatrist, explored the importance of providing children with a well-rounded education.
“Since the emergence of science in Western culture–and before that, even, with the development of the technology of writing, the left-brain functions have been increasingly emphasized and the right-brain functions relatively neglected. Research in creativity in the last century has shown that both left- and right-brain functioning is needed for optimal mental flexibility, especially that which has to include considerations of human relationships, morale, motivation, and a sense of team spirit or community.”
With schools currently unable to afford quality arts programming, I fear what will happen to those children who don’t get an opportunity in their school day to balance the test prep with creativity—left with right brain learning. Are the lack of art programs in our schools training children to be only literal thinkers? Are we ignoring the definition of multiple intelligences by serving up only one option for learning? How can we reshape our curriculum in order to value children’s imaginations as much as we value their logic? If we can appreciate the delicate, necessary balance of engaging both sides of our brain, we must then support various methods for learning. While the arts, particularly theatre, engage the right side of our brains creatively, they also support and challenge the left. Dr. Blatner also speaks about this exchange in his article.
“(Theatre provides a platform for) thinking about thinking–questioning assumptions, the meanings of words (semantics), the emotional power of images (semiotics), the way language and arguments are structured (rhetoric), looking at forms of personal and cultural self-deception (psychoanalysis and propaganda analysis)–this is an unending challenge.”
The beauty of the arts is, while they have merit as enrichment programs, they can also be integrated into our core curriculum as educational tools to extend and deepen the learning experience. They are at our disposal, beckoning us to find creative ways to inspire learning.
In New York City Children’s Theater Residencies, our teaching artists lead students in acting, playwriting and songwriting workshops to adapt a children’s book into an original play.
Before the teaching artists step foot in a classroom, we prepare them with the tools necessary to use our curriculum in professional development workshops. In this professional development, we encourage the teaching artists to use the student’s own original language as they create the script and lyrics in the playwriting and songwriting workshops. In this process, students are prompted to activate their prior knowledge and be the sole creators of their work. This sets up a “mantle of the expert” tone for the classroom, where the students will hopefully feel ownership over the finished product.
Catch Up on the Latest
- Highlights from our 2019 Middle School Playwriting Competition!May 16, 2019 - 10:00 am
On Monday, May 6th, New York City Children’s Theater presented a reading of four short plays written by middle school students from NY! Take a look at some highlights from the rehearsal and the reading!
- Boogie Woogie (Mother’s Day) BooksMay 9, 2019 - 9:00 am
Celebrate Mother’s Day early when you and your loved ones play, sing and boogie woogie to some of our favorite books about moms!