Music, dance and drama are also important teaching practices for language learning. This section will explore these types of performing arts as well as ideas for embedding language into performing arts experiences.
The VEYLDF sees the creative arts (performing and fine arts) as essential parts of the early childhood education framework:
Creative skills are not only linked to the arts; they are important in all areas of the curriculum and developed by the children and early childhood professional’s use of problem solving to guide teaching and learning” - VEYLDF (2016)
The benefits of performing arts
Performing arts are an essential method of communication and learning, and are strongly linked to language. We perceive the world through the senses, and the arts allows us to understand (observe), explore and experiment, and express ourselves:
Children’s] communication and self-expression take many forms including sharing stories and symbols from their own culture, re-enacting well-known stories and using creative arts, such as drawing, painting and sculpture, drama, dance, movement and music to communicate with others. They create and explore imaginary worlds through dramatic play and through artworks. - VEYLDF (2016)
The performing arts provides another outlet for children to interact with others. When combined with dance, music and drama, children can use language to understand and express more complex ideas.
Music is an essential tool and curriculum area in early childhood education, providing numerous opportunities for language learning.
Music experiences include (but are not limited to):
- playing instruments
- creating or composing music
- listening to and reciting rhymes (with or without music)
- creating rhymes or raps
- listening to and viewing live performances
- interpreting and discussing music
- performing to an audience
- combining music with movement/dance
- reflecting on and appreciating music.
Some musical concepts that can be explored include:
Embedding language in music
See the experience plans for ideas about how to create music experiences with a language focus.
Some example ideas include:
- experiment with different instruments and encourage children to find the words that describe what kind of sounds they are making (e.g. loud, soft, sharp, twangy, strong, scratchy)
- use songs with actions to scaffold children’s comprehension (e.g. “Incy Wincy Spider” and “Open Shut Them”)
- use songs and rhymes to help children learn new words and concepts; e.g. “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” for body parts, or “Going on a Bear Hunt” for prepositions (over, under, around, through)
- play mystery sound games where children are played an unknown sound or instrument, and are asked to describe what they hear
- use repetitive songs to give children multiple opportunities to practice words and phrases (e.g. “B-I-N-G-O”, “Ten Green Bottles Standing on the Wall”)
- change the lyrics to well-known songs to introduce new concepts (e.g. change “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” to “Old Macdonald Had a Ship” where he has a sail, anchor, wheel, lifeboat, and map)
Dance and movement
Dance as a teaching practice and learning mode offers further opportunities for language learning:
Dance makes meaning using the body as the instrument of expression and movement as the medium. In an educational context, dance offers children an opportunity to learn by involving the whole body in kinaesthetic exploration, cognitive processing, aesthetic experimentation and social engagement. - Deans, Meiners, Young and Rank (2017, p. 95)
Children can use the universal “language of dance” to express their ideas and make meaning.
Some types of dance experiences include:
- developing a dance/movement vocabulary (see below)
- improvisation using language, sound, and music
- creating dances
- learning traditional or cultural dances
- performing dances
- linking dance to other art forms
- appreciating the history and culture of dance.
The following elements of dance are provided as a vocabulary for educators: adapted from Laban (as cited in Dinham, 2011, p. 263).
concept development and vocabulary for explanations of word types.
What? Body Awareness
- locomotor (travelling verbs like walk, run, skip, climb)
- non-locomotor (stationary verbs like bend, shake, swing, melt)
- body base (e.g. standing, sitting)
- body shape (describing words like stretched, curved, angular)
- body parts (e.g. shoulders, head, legs, ankles).
Through dance children can learn about the parts of their body, and the shapes/movements they can make.
- level (adjectives like high, medium, low)
- direction (adverbs like forward, backward, right/left)
- range (adjectives like near, far, big, small)
- pathway (e.g. in the air, straight, zigzag)
- place (adjectives like personal, general).
When and How? Time and Energy
- time: tempo (adjectives like fast, slow, increasing, decreasing)
- time: duration (adjectives like long, short)
- time: rhythm (adjectives like steady, irregular)
- energy: weight (adjectives like firm, light, weak, heavy)
- energy: flow (adjectives like free vs. bound)
- energy: quality (adjectives like sudden, delicate, sharp).
With Whom or What? Relationships between people, objects, and the environment
- prepositions (e.g. through, towards, besides, around, in/out, on/off)
- adjectives (e.g. simultaneous/successive, connected/separate)
- verbs (e.g. copying, mirroring, gathering, linking, contrasting).
Using different tools and props, children can experiment with movements and relationships between their own space and others’.
Embedding language in dance
The experience plans below give ideas about how to create dance experiences with a language focus.
Some example ideas include:
- introduce specific vocabulary for describing body positions and movements
- use concepts and words from other situations/contexts (e.g. nature, home, cultures, literature, science, working life) and work with children to “dance” how these words look and feel
- use musical instruments, sound effects, or recorded music to help children improvise movement to auditory stimuli:
- using music/sounds that have a certain mood, you can encourage children to explore different emotions through dance (e.g. happy, sad, angry, or worried movements).
- re-tell familiar stories whilst children dance their responses to certain parts of the story
- use movement and poses to make shapes of objects, people, places, or feelings; use language to describe what sort of pose/movement you are looking for. For example:
- move your body like a petal caught in the wind … you are lifted up and down, side to side, and float slowly down to the ground
- you are making a very tall building, with straight, flat windows, and a big door at the bottom that opens and closes.
- use dance as an opportunity for children to develop a sense of self and others, by focussing on social skills including:
- turn taking
- joining in and copying
- body awareness and awareness of others in space
- sharing spaces and objects.
According to the Victorian Curriculum F-10:
Drama is the expression and exploration of personal, cultural and social worlds through role and situation that engages, entertains and challenges… Drama enables students to imagine and participate in exploration of their worlds, individually and collaboratively. Students actively use body, gesture, movement, voice and language, taking on roles to explore and depict real and imagined worlds - Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA)
Like music and dance, drama is powerful because of its multiple purposes as a tool for teaching (pedagogy), an artform, and as a socio-cultural experience (sociodramatic play) (Bird, Donelan, & Sinclair, 2017).
Some key dramatic elements that can be explored and learnt through drama experiences include:
- role: different parts that performers take, such as parents, children, doctors, teachers, construction workers, sailors, scientists, kings, and queens.
- character: the identity of the parts that are played, including their characteristics, motivations, desires, histories, and cultures.
- focus: the ability of the performer to concentrate and channel their energy into the performance.
- tension: how conflict or suspense is communicated through the performance.
- climax: the highest peak of tension/conflict.
- transformation of spaces and objects: how spaces and objects can be transformed from one thing to another through the actors’ use of voice and body language.
- symbolic use of spaces and objects: how the actors pretend that spaces and objects are representative of something else.
See Dinham and Chalk (2018) for more information.
Embedding language in drama
Below are some ideas for dramatic tools or games that can be enriched with language learning opportunities (adapted from Dinham and Chalk, 2018).
Social role playing
This approach is similar to sociodramatic play but includes more guidance from educators.
Dramatic play areas are spaces set up for different places or scenarios (e.g. home, zoo, garage, lab) with appropriate props, costumes and scenery:
- follow children’s role playing and model the language needed to describe objects, places, and people
- provide examples of the language used by different roles (e.g. ordering at a café, researching in a lab, fixing machines at a computer store).
Puppets are a wonderful opportunity to use language to bring characters to life.
Puppets come in many forms (finger, sock, shadow, paddle, hand puppets, and marionettes).
Puppets allow children to bring different characters to life, and interact with other players to create drama:
- have fun when naming puppet characters, demonstrating to children how to be creative in naming puppets (e.g. Mrs Stripy Face, Snooty Fruity)
- demonstrate difference voices and movements that can be used to animate puppets
- model example words and sentences that the puppets might say, for children to hear, imitate, and build upon
- provide stage directions to help children improvise and tell their story using puppets prompt children using the components of a story: Who is in the story? What happened next? How did the character feel? But what can they do? How did the story end?
Freeze frame: children are asked to freeze in the middle of an improvisation, and the educator provides props, asks questions, or prompts children what to do next. For example:
- give a new prop or costume to change the scene: the children might be looking for buried treasure, and you give them each a key to a chest
- provide a word that children have to use in their scene: children might be pretending to order at a restaurant and they have to use the word slimy in the next moment
- ask children to describe their actions or plans for what they will do next
- prompt children to change the location of their scene: the children might be climbing a mountain, and suddenly they are told they are now in space.
Soundscape: the educator provides background sounds or music for children to respond to; the educator models relevant vocabulary and sentences and asks children to describe what they are imagining. For example:
- play the sounds of the jungle and ask children to figure out what it sounds like, and who (or what) might be in the jungle
- play soft lullaby music and ask children to figure out if it is music for a sleeping baby, and if they would like to become a parent, sibling, baby, or teddy bear.
In this approach stories provide the stimulus for the drama.
After hearing a story (from a book reading or a storytelling experience), children can act what they remember from the story, and take it further. For example:
- ask children to explore what might have happened before the story started or after the story finished, or to create alternative events or endings
- help children to take on different characters, and provide props, costumes and scenery as needed
- remind children of the language used (and rhymes/songs if included).
Another approach is to set up dramatic play areas based on particular stories. For example:
- create an area with the characters from Little Red Riding Hood (e.g. girl, wolf, grandmother), and some scenery (e.g. house, wood)
- model to children how some of the characters interacted in the story, and scaffold their re-enactment or dramatic play in new directions.
Use elements of process drama to help create new stories together (see storytelling):
- become a character or narrator in the story, and ask the children to come up with ideas about how to solve the problem, and move the story forwards.
Using story drama, children can explore different characters and events, taking their understanding of a story to another level.
See Dinham and Chalk (2018) for further information.
Theory to practice
Bruner’s concept of scaffolding (see Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976) is important to understand the power of embedding language in performing arts. In this case, scaffolding is where children learn new language and/or the elements of music, dance, and/or drama, by collaborating with more capable peers or adults.
Along with aspects of physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive development, language skills can be explored and learned through performing arts experiences, when we work to extend the craft and skills of children through scaffolding.
Slade (1954, cited in Bird, Donelan, & Sinclair, 2017) defines two kinds of dramatic play:
- projected play, where children’s dreams or fantasies are projected onto objects (like dolls, toys, and puppets), as the child gives them voice and action
- personal play, where children become heroes (or villains) in their own drama, and act out their imagined story themselves.
Both kinds of dramatic play can be explored and facilitated in drama experiences.
Growing research is demonstrating how the use of musical experiences in early childhood settings has benefits for language learning (e.g. Gillespie & Glider, 2010).
For dance, research is emerging showing improvements in language skills following language-enriched dance experiences (Giguere, 2011; Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi, & Ideishi, 2007).
There is also some preliminary research showing the benefits of drama experiences for the teaching of language skills in early childhood (Mages, 2008; Smith, 2010).
Links to VEYLDF
Outcome 1: identity
Children feel safe, secure and supported:
- explore aspects of identity through role-play.
Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities:
- explore different identities and points of view in dramatic play.
Outcome 2: community
Children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active civic participation:
- cooperate with others and negotiate roles and relationships in play episodes and group experiences
- build on their own social experiences to explore other ways of being
- understand different ways of contributing through play and projects
- are playful and respond positively to others, reaching out for company and friendship.
Children respond to diversity with respect:
- become aware of connections, similarities and differences between people
- listen to others’ ideas and respect different ways of being and doing.
Outcome 3: wellbeing
Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing
- combine gross and fine motor movement and balance to achieve increasingly complex patterns of activity, including dance, creative movement and drama
- respond through movement to traditional and contemporary music, dance and storytelling of their own and others’ cultures.
Outcome 4: learning
Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity:
- use play to investigate, imagine and explore ideas
- initiate and contribute to play experiences emerging from their own ideas.
Children transfer and adapt what they have learnt from one context to another:
- use the processes of play, reflection and investigation to problem-solve.
Children resource their own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies and natural and processed materials
- explore ideas and theories using imagination, creativity and play.
Outcome 5: Communication
Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes:
- interact with others to explore ideas and concepts, clarify and challenge thinking, negotiate and share new understandings
- use language and representations from play, music and art to share and project meaning
- contribute their ideas and experiences in play and small and large group discussion
- exchange ideas, feelings and understandings using language and representations in play.
Children engage with a range of texts and get meaning from these texts:
- listen and respond to sounds and patterns in speech, stories and rhymes in context
- view and listen to printed, visual and multimedia texts and respond with relevant gestures, actions, comments and/or questions
- sing chant rhymes, jingles and songs
- actively use, engage with and share the enjoyment of language and texts in a range of ways
- recognise and engage with written and oral culturally constructed texts.
Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media:
- use language and engage in symbolic play to imagine and create roles, scripts and ideas
- share the stories and symbols of their own cultures and re-enact well-known stories
- use the creative arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, drama, dance, movement, music and story-telling, to express ideas and make meaning
- experiment with ways of expressing ideas and meaning using a range of media.
Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work:
- use symbols in play to represent and make meaning
- develop an understanding that symbols are a powerful means of communication and that ideas, thoughts and concepts can be represented through them
- listen and respond to sounds and patterns in speech, stories and rhyme.
Children use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking:
- identify the uses of technologies in everyday life and use real or imaginary technologies as props in their play
- engage with technology for fun and to make meaning
- use information and communications technologies as tools for designing, drawing, editing, reflecting and composing.
Experience plans and videos
For age groups: early language users (12 - 36 months); language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months).
For age groups: language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months).
Links to learning foci and teaching practices
Bird, J., Donelan, K., & Sinclair, C. (2017). Drama: Social dreaming in the 21st Century. In C.
Sinclair, N. Jeanneret, J. O’Toole, & M. A. Hunter (Eds.), Education in the Arts. Third Edition. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press Australia.
Deans, J., Meiners, J., Young, S., & Rank, K. (2017). Dance: Art embodied. In C. Sinclair, N.
Jeanneret, J. O’Toole, & M. A. Hunter (Eds.), Education in the Arts. Third Edition. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press Australia.
Dinham, J. (2011). Delivering authentic arts education. South Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.
Dinham, J., & Chalk, B. (2018). It’s arts play: Young children belonging, being and becoming through the arts. Sydney, Australia: Oxford University Press.
Giguere, M. (2011). Dancing thoughts: An examination of children’s cognition and creative process in dance. Research in Dance Education, 12(1), 5–28.
Gillespie, C. W., & Glider, K. R. (2010). Preschool teachers’ use of music to scaffold children’s learning and behaviour. Early Child Development and Care, 180(6), 799–808.
Lorenzo-Lasa, R., Ideishi, R. I., & Ideishi, S. K. (2007). Facilitating preschool learning and movement through dance. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(1), 25–31.
Mages, W. K. (2008). Does Creative Drama Promote Language Development in Early Childhood? A Review of the Methods and Measures Employed in the Empirical Literature. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 124–152.
Smith, H. (2010). The Effects of a Drama-Based Language Intervention on the Development of Theory of Mind and Executive Function in Urban Kindergarten Children.
Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016) Victorian early years learning and development framework (VEYLDF).
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1967). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Soviet Psychology, 5(3): 6–18.
Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Applied Disciplines, 17(2), 89-100.