LIFE IS AN IMPROVISATIONAL DRAMA

All the world’s a stage,
 And all the men and women merely players;
 They have their exits and their entrances,
 And one man in his time plays many parts

Shakespeare

A newborn baby is thrust on to a stage. The setting, language, traditions, customs, environment, are already in place. The task of this new little human is to fit into a play that is in progress.

The drama is an improvisational one. We can’t go back and do things over. No matter how much we protest, ask forgiveness, try to make amends, it is impossible to erase the event or conversation. We can’t predict, with certainty, what will happen in the next moment. We can be forced to make an exit that is totally unplanned and unprepared for at any time.

As infants assume their roles, they hear Words and have Experiences. They begin to match words and experience very early on. We can’t see what is taking place but we know it is happening. Lullabies relax and lead to sleep. Smiles acknowledge our words of love. Words begin to be vocalized and attached to Experiences and we are all excited.

The next step is to vocalize Words to create Experiences. All of this is totally oral and controlled by environment and other players. The only requirement of the child is to learn to function on the stage no matter how impoverished or elaborate.

All of this happens through conversation and dialogue. The child with the largest store of Words and the broadest Experience wins. This is why reading to babies and young children is so critical for optimal development. Reading builds vocabulary and extends experience to the past, the future and takes one on trips around the world.

The most beneficial results from reading to a child resides in the dialogue that surrounds the reading. This is where learning is expanded and placed in permanent memory so it can be accessed for further use. The more fun and enjoyment the reading engenders, the more valuable it will be as a foundation for life and learning. A love of reading and learning is the best possible preparation for school and life.

As readers make meaning of the text for children, they learn to expect to get meaning from books and print. They use this to become a successful reader, often without any formal instruction. Word knowledge is the defining factor in what we can think about and create.

There are two basic stages of childhood — before school and school entry. School is a very different stage with conventions and expectations that the child has never encountered. Those who come with strong experience with words fit in quickly and enjoy success. Those who don’t encounter their first experience with failure in the eyes of this new world. No matter how poor the child’s family has been or even what difficulties they have faced, most children feel connected in their family.

The problem is that many children, on school entry, have no idea of what to do to be successful actors in the new play. They just know that they are not succeeding and are being judged, separated out and labelled for qualities they simply have not yet developed. The rejection suffered can leave a lasting impression and affect their academic success for all their years in school.

Many adolescents who drop out of school point back to a negative experience in kindergarten or first grade. Beginnings are intimately related to endings!

Recognizing this pattern, I developed the Story Circle Model of Education. It is an open-ended model that provides a structure for delivering education in any culture or situation. One basic premise is that all children who enter kindergarten be treated to a huge diet of story, oral language and creative experiences for as long as it takes to build up the Words and Experience that children who have been given these at home bring to the stage. This is accomplished with no judgement or classifying. They are simply given Time and Opportunity. What purpose can possibly be served by labelling as failures young children who don’t know what to do to succeed?

Finland recognizes this by not beginning any formal education until children are seven years old. The world looks to them as a model for success and this is a large part of their students being able to rank at the top of international tests.

In conclusion, I make these observations so we can realize that we are all living in an improvisation. Every conversation is unplanned and each utterance must be connected to the previous one if the conversation is to proceed. Schools should recognize this and provide much more training in oral language. Improv drama and public speaking should be required courses!