This spring, thanks to a grant from the Ohio Arts Council, the Smith Elementary PTO’s Arts Council was thrilled at the opportunity to partner with Candace Mazur-Darman of Dramatic Impact to bring a theater component to the rich fabric of existing arts initiatives at our school. From April 9 to May 25, 2018, the kindergarten and first grade at Smith Elementary was honored to welcome Ms. Candace to our school for a theater and science integrated residency.
In March, Smith kindergarten and first grade students had begun their study of spring as well as plants and animals of Ohio to meet earth and life science objectives in the Ohio Content Standards. This laid the groundwork for the introduction of Ms. Candace as “Mother Nature” on the very first day, setting the stage for imagination and dramatic play in the classrooms. On that first day, children used what they had learned about animals to move around the classroom as those animals. Together, with their teacher as their scribe and Ms. Candace as a guide, they wrote a script based on the text of the book, “This is the Nest That Robin Built” by Denise Fleming. Students met with Ms. Candace twice a week throughout the residency. To extend the lesson and meet literacy objectives, Ms. Candace set up a mailbox in which students could express their love of nature with letters and drawings in the times that she wasn’t there.
At the request of the Smith kindergarten and first grade teachers, Ms. Candace guided each class as they chose a different way to retell Denise Fleming’s story, focusing on different aspects of the tale. Each student was assigned a speaking role. Then the students led the way in choosing classical music to complement their retelling, choreographing movement for their roles, and building sets, puppets, instruments and costume pieces from recycled materials.
On the day of the performance, over 150 parents and community members gathered to watch. Each class watched the other classes’ perform as well. The show began with Ms. Kress’s first grade class retelling the story using dance and movement on an empty stage.
Next, Mrs. Brandum’s first grade class took the stage to retell their story, building the set with their hand-crafted pieces to be used for the remainder of the shows. Ms. Bruestle’s kindergarten class used instruments to enhance their retelling in sound and motion. Ms. Tilden’s kindergarten class made masks and added considerable detail to the basic story in their retelling. Then Ms. Kantzer’s kindergarten class took the stage in elaborate box costumes.
The show ended with a parade to the stage through the audience by Mrs. Chiles’s first grade class, who made and operated large rod puppets in the style of Broadway’s The Lion King to retell the story in their unique style.
On the last day of the residency, students re-purposed the nest set piece as a piece of garden art. With the help of Shannon Brewster, a parent volunteer, a site at the school was selected. Parent volunteers donated ribbons, yarn, dryer lint, dog fur, and other recycled nest building materials. Students collected twigs, and then attached all of the materials to the metal frame. Now every bird has material to make their own nest.
It is absolutely of critical importance that our students learn how different creatures need different habitats to live, how the language and rhythm of Denise Fleming’s story communicates images, and how to write a letter. But through the act of producing a show, Smith students extended their learning of these essentials and also learned how to work together as a team, how to construct what they need from what they have, how to speak on a stage, and why we learn what we do about our natural world in school.
Smith Elementary hopes to be able to welcome Ms. Candace back to our school next year for a theater residency which will extend throughout all of the grade levels, giving every student the opportunity to reap the benefits of theater arts integrated learning.