- Improves overall intelligibility
By nature, people in theater over enunciate their speech and use a loud volume to be heard and understood in all parts of the theater. These are strategies that can help children who may be unintelligible because they have difficulty pacing or marking word boundaries: e.g., their speech “mushes together” when they are speaking. Drama and theater teachers will teach this way of speaking AND likely model it themselves, which is excellent. Being on stage and having an audience motivate you to be heard and understood can be a great place to practice these skills.
- Benefits language development
When working on plays and musicals, children are exposed to various syntax forms and narrative structures. They will have concrete examples for different types of sentence structures that they may not use in their everyday life. And even more important, they will have context for these syntax structures because they know the function of the sentence within the play. Another excellent benefit is exposure to different narrative structures. Plays and musicals go beyond simple story grammar elements and incorporate twists and turns and sub plots to showcase a complete story that likely goes beyond that of stories children are typically exposed to. And the children are PART of the story which gives them a unique understanding of various perspectives within the stories.
- Enhances nonverbal expression of ideas
Many aspects of theater are expressed without words. The actor must convey that they are excited, heartbroken, scared or tired without any lines in the script to support them. This helps children grow their use of nonverbal language and stretches their problem-solving skills. In theater children must grapple with “how can I convey that I am feeling a certain way without SAYING that I am?” This is a critical skill for all children to learn as nonverbal communication makes up a good amount of our everyday communication. We’ve all had moments where we can just tell a person is upset or uncomfortable by the way they are standing, what they are doing with their hands and their facial expressions. Understanding these nonverbal modes of communication as well as being aware of our own is a great skill for children to grow.
- Builds self confidence
There’s no question that it takes courage to step out onto a stage and perform in front of others. Becoming comfortable with being on stage can build confidence from a young age. A special part of traditional theater is that the script is written for you. You don’t have to generate your own thoughts to share (unless of course you’re venturing into improv- which does have its own set of benefits!). Children with speech and language difficulties may feel less confident to engage in conversation or share language of their own due to these difficulties. Practicing in a safe space, where they are given support from a director about how to get their point across AND they are given the words to say can help improve their overall self-confidence. So maybe next time they are in a group of children and they want to share something about their weekend, it is less daunting because they already spoke to 100 people in their theater performance.