Children Are Natural Actors—How Can We Foster Their Growth?

Recently, my husband and I taught a Sunday School class of 10- and 11-year-olds. To enliven the lesson, we decided to ask them to act out a story from the scriptures. Their eyes lit up when they found out what we would be doing, and they got really into the story as my husband narrated and I acted alongside them. When we discussed what happened in the story afterward, they were very attentive and thoughtful. They had captured the action because they had lived it!

singing-time-598909-galleryChildren are often great actors because they have no fear of looking silly in front of an audience. Even shy children will perform in front of those with whom they feel comfortable. Toddlers are constantly running around and picking up objects—props, if you will—and using them to pretend: some play house, others play cars. Older children also enjoy telling jokes, singing, dancing, describing a book or movie, playing games, and reciting poetry—all theatrical activities. For those children who truly want to become actors, parents may learn from Denise Simon’s article “Three Reasons to Support Your Child’s Acting Dream.” 

For all children, these skills of creativity and presentation are all critical to their success in school and in life. Gai Jones, in her book The Student Actor Prepares: Acting for Life, lists several life skills we develop through acting:

  • Creating imaginative, bold ideas
  • Reasoning
  • Thinking reflectively
  • Developing positive working habits
  • Being open minded and flexible
  • Conveying emotions with your voice and body
  • Listening appreciatively
  • Cooperating
  • Thinking on your feet
  • Reading and analyzing written material

What adult wouldn’t hope that a child develops these same life skills? Parents and teachers can foster their children’s acting abilities home, at school, and at church with ideas like these below.

At home

  • Provide props. Toys can invite creative and theatrical play. To avoid expensive costs of fancy toys, the National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests common household items that can double as toys, like plastic spoons and balls of yarn.
  • Provide a stage. Go to the park or the backyard for open spaces to dance and run. Move the couch and stand behind it for a puppet show. Tie a sheet on a window frame, put a lamp behind it, and learn to do shadow puppets with your hands.
  • Provide activities. Ask kids to act out their favorite movies or books with paper dolls, Barbies, dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures. Fun time guaranteed!

At school

  • Provide props. After reading a story, have students create masks with brown paper bags, etc., to use in acting out the story. Pinterest has tons of ideas on decorating masks.
  • Provide a stage. Most schools have an auditorium or cafetorium with a real stage, but teachers don’t need to get so formal. They can use the front of the classroom or move aside desks and have audience members sit on the floor. Or, the props themselves become the stage through Teaching Channel’s theater boxes.
  • Provide activities. One I like is “Fortunately, Unfortunately,” in which you sit in a circle and one person begins a sentence with “fortunately,” then the next with “unfortunately,” to form a story. Many websites have easy theater games, such as DramaResource.com.

 At church

  • Provide props. To act out stories from the scriptures, simple props like strips of cloth to tie around kids’ foreheads or waists and chalk to draw the backdrop are sufficient.
  • Provide a stage. Probably the best idea is to stay inside the classroom, but you might get permission from parents and other leaders to venture outdoors if you stay close to the church.
  • Provide activities. Act out scripture stories, as I mentioned in the beginning. SugarDoodle.net has lots of resources, including scripts. For example, here’s one script on the story of the Ten Virgins in the New Testament.

—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance

Image from lds.org. License.

Four Ideas to Give Children a Voice

Most people hate the feeling of being ignored. Whether in a classroom with a hand raised for a long time or at home with family who are busy doing other tasks, children may experience this feeling every day—not having a voice, that is. Giving children a voice is essential to their self-esteem, social development, and ability to get what they need and share what they want.

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In addition to the many methods of involving children’s voices—in family councils, as Elder Russell M. Ballard of the LDS Church recently taught, or in daily decision-making—I decided to compile a list of digital examples of children using their voices. My hope is that we can consider these examples—of children reporting the news, publishing their writing, reviewing their favorite stories, and sharing their faith—and then make changes to allow the children in our lives to have more of a say and more of a spotlight.

1. Reporting the News

I came across Time for Kids a few months ago when trying to find news that would be interesting to the students I was teaching. The site includes stories of interest to children by children, under the Kid Reporters tab. I noted kids writing about other kids who have served in their communities, writing about endangered animals, interviewing celebrities, and more.

Seeing how these children were given a voice—or at least a place to publish—helped inspire me to start a classroom newsletter, newspaper, or magazine written by students. How would you use Time for Kids to help a child dream big about sharing his or her ideas?

2. Publishing Writing

When I was in elementary school, I was intrigued by the writing contest by Reading Rainbow on the PBSKids channel. I sent in several stories, and although they weren’t selected by the contest, I had fun imagining, writing, and illustrating. The contest continues today—for grades K–3. A teacher or a parent could show children these examples of contest-winning stories and then help them write their own stories. In addition to the PBSKids contest, there are many other annual writing contests for kids.

A couple of simpler ideas—though not as prestigious as a contest—are to use a blog such as Blogger or a website like Weebly to publish writing for parents and peers to access with a password.

3. Reviewing Favorite Books

I stumbled across Spaghetti Book Club on the Internet and realized what a great resource it is for parents, teachers, and children. Members of the club can post their reviews of any picture book or chapter book, getting a chance to read and write for an audience, which can be incredibly motivating for kids. Anyone—member or non-member of the club—can read the reviews, and you can search by author, title, or grade level of the student reviewers.

Children who are reluctant readers may find it cooler to read a book review written by someone their age. They might use the site as a model for writing their own book reviews, as well.

4. Sharing Faith

The LDS Church produces videos on children around the world describing their lives and their faith, a project called One in a Million. I watched a video on Kuulani from Tahiti who plays music for church, and one on Alberto from Mexico who recovered from an illness by choosing to be healthy to obey God.

I think there’s a lot of potential to use these videos in Primary lessons or Family Home Evening lessons to show children how others their age are living the gospel. They could create their own videos or picture slideshows with their own stories of faith.

Of course, adults need more support to respect children’s voices than just viewing a few websites, but these resources can provide a starting point. Children have important ideas to share, and we can help give them a voice.

—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance

Images and videos from lds.org

Harold B. Lee Library

The Harold B. Lee Library has been a part of Brigham Young University’s campus for decades. On top of providing a gateway to knowledge through its book collections, the library also has some fantastic exhibits. These exhibits change every few months, but they never fail to put some pennies in your knowledge bank.

One exhibit the library has going on right now is their Life in Happy Valley exhibit. It’s an insightful exhibit about the history of Utah County. It’s a great exhibit for a study break for students or a fun field trip for any little ones who want to know more about where they live. This particular exhibit ends this month, so make sure to check it out before they shut down.

If you don’t make it in time for this one, there are several others to check out now. You can see a list of the current exhibits here, and you can learn more about the Happy Valley exhibit here.

Happy exhibiting!

—Jazmin Cybulski, Stance

Learning from the Open Minds of Children

Recently, in the General Women’s Session of General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasized the need to reach out to serve refugees and others who may be facing significant life challenges. These challenges may include finding employment, adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language, and making new friends. As I was pondering this invitation, I remembered an experience that had taught me how to love a stranger.

little-boy-766653-galleryA few months ago, I rode in a carpool with a friend, her young son, and an older woman I was acquainted with. I knew that this woman had some irregular social behaviors, and I was worried that my friend’s son would be a little afraid of sitting next to her in the car. As time passed, she began to teach him little songs and tricks for counting, and she shared some snacks with him. To my surprise, he warmed up to her easily—acting more friendly than he has ever acted toward me.

A few days later, I carpooled with my friend and her son again, without the woman this time. The little boy sweetly asked, “Where’s my friend?” and we realized quickly to whom he was referring. In just a couple of hours, he had come to love a person that I had had trouble loving.

We can learn so much from children about accepting others and looking past their differences. I remember times in my life when I have met people and immediately begun to categorize the person, based on appearance or speech, into the type of person I believed he or she was. Most of the time, after getting to know the person, I have realized my gross mistake and misjudgment.

In contrast, most children are unassuming when they meet new people—they seem to see everyone as equals, including strangers. They don’t jump to making comparisons or casting judgment as some adults are prone to doing. For example, when I have taught children for the first time in church settings and public school settings, they have usually welcomed me with loving hearts, not caring what my background was or how well I delivered a lesson.

The little girl in this video from October 2015 General Women’s Session of General Conference shows another example of childlike acceptance of another who sometimes feels left out. If only we could all be that open-minded toward others and their circumstances!

Accepting others, seeing people as equals, and being open-minded are qualities that I know will help me better reach out and help my neighbors. I hope to follow the example of children who see others with such genuine love.

—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance

Image and video from lds.org

 

 

Sister, Sister

Nikki 174

We had just taken second place at a volleyball tournament

Alright…

Thus far in our voyage through the waters of society and the family, we have looked at the family’s role as a whole: the reasons, both small and large, that society is essential for the benefit of society. Of course, there are numberless reasons why the family is critical to our civilization, but for now we are leaving those shores and journeying to a smaller island, in which we will consider the family in parts. By parts, I mean we will consider the family by each of its members.  May we first consider the role of sister. As with my other posts, the sister’s role
will be based on my own experiences. If you have others, please share.

The Spirit of Contention

Experience 1: In my youth, I religiously went to bed by 9:30 pm. I must have had a phobia of fatigue or something, because what normal child would ever go to bed that early? Anyway, I shared a room with my older sister, Nikki. Night after night, after I had already been snuggled in my covers for at least half an hour, Nikki would barge into our room, flip on the light, and cry, “Jessica! Wake up! It’s time for school! You’ve overslept! Get up!” She apparently thought it was really funny to try to make me think it was the next morning, when in reality I still had eight hours to sleep. Never did this deceitful ploy work (well, maybe once or twice). Because she did this so often, I remember these encounters vividly from our childhood. I did not particularly enjoy them.

Experience 2: My sister and I never argued…well, except about clothes. In fact, it’s the only thing we ever argued about: if I could wear her clothes, if she could wear mine, why didn’t I ask if she had caught me wearing them without her knowledge. It was the main source of our contention. It was a blessing when I grew too tall to wear most of the things in her wardrobe. Because of its regularity, fighting about clothes is something I can recall vividly from my youth, just like my sister’s waking-me-up-for-school pranks. These roles—as mischief maker and wardrobe withholder—shaped had an influence on how I viewed my sister’s role. She was someone to roll my eyes at and also someone to fear.

However, as we grew older, the influence for good that Nikki was in my life has greatly eclipsed the bad, as you will see with the following experiences.

Love One Another

Experience 3: My sister always looked out for me. We had the opportunity to play volleyball together in high school. When some of the older players didn’t include us lowly freshman in their activities, my sister wielded her power as Senior captain and invited them to change.

Experience 4: My sister, who worked all through high school, would always treat us to shakes or hamburgers. She showed me what it meant to be generous.

Experience 5: Once when I was in elementary school, I got hurt on the playground. Fortunately, my sister was at recess at the time. She and her friends made sure I was okay. I don’t think I’ve ever told her, but I really appreciated that.

Experience 6: On my eighteenth birthday, Nikki insisted that I do something crazy. I am pretty reserved, so I didn’t really want to do anything out of the ordinary. But with seemingly no effort at all, she rounded up some friends, and we were headed to jump off a nearby bridge at midnight. My sister helped me break out of my shell.

Nikki 143

Back when we were Aggies together. (Don’t worry, I’ve converted to the Cougs.)

Experience 7: I am most grateful for my sister, however, because of the trail she blazed in serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If she had not chosen to serve, I am not sure if I would have had the courage to do so. Serving a mission helped me become the person I had always wanted to become.  It has given me the tools to know how to continue to reach my potential. I don’t know if I would have felt empowered enough to step so out of my comfort zone if it hadn’t been for my sister.

I am really grateful that I have a sister. Even though our relationship isn’t perfect, she has really changed me for the better. Her role has been to empower me, push me, and protect me. What a blessing to have a sister.

—Jessica Neilson, Stance