Play and drama
Role play is play where the children are imitators, actors and/or instructors. Acting out a role and drama are trained theatrical play with the children as actors and where the instructors are usually adults. The distinction between the terms is significant.
Ward (1930, 1952 and 1957) and Siks (1958) make no distinction between role play and dramatic play. Both authors in fact call role play “dramatic play” and see adult participation as an important factor in developing the play through dialogue and play, including hints and ideas, songs, music, stories, sketches, visual and aural impressions through which the children gain new nourishment for developing their fantasy and imaginative capacities. Play between adults and children is intended to give mutual development and inspiration.
By contrast, Slate (1965) describes play as a special and original art form which is deeply moral and aesthetic in expression and which some children master better than others. According to his theory, there are two basic forms of expression in play, personal and projective:
In the personal form, play is a physical, completely personal expression of the different, at times artistic, forms of expression, such as the ability to sing, act, dance, play, master equipment and props, move the body, etc.
In the projective form, play is the use of socially and environmentally oriented impressions gained from outside oneself and these remain external but - through improvisation and fantasising - the child attempts to internalise them.
Developments within play and drama over the past 20-30 years have, however, reduced role play and drama to the state of trained performance or demonstrative (total) theatre or circus games with children as actors and the adults as instructors: The theories often have strong political, pedagogical undertones.
In particular, the theories developed by Boal & Magner, who, according to Ebert and Paris (1979), show how teachers, by studying children at play, can come up with new ideas for role play through which to make children aware of the injustices in (capitalist!) society and in everyday problems.
Bolton (1979) makes a direct connection between his drama theory and Vygotskji’s because role play can demonstrate how the child’s personal relationship to his environment can be changed by giving him knowledge and abilities in relation to actions and practise which are organised by an adult.
At the end of the 1980’s, this strongly politico-pedagogical strain has been partly supplemented and partly substituted in particular by new romantic children’s drama with both classical and modern fairy tales, myths and children’s literature as its text basis - but that too is staged by adults.
Beyond the sphere of instruction and theatre, children continue to play their traditional role play with themselves as directors, actors and audience, principally inspired by many TV series for children and adults, comic books, PC games and toys.
From time to time, adults are allowed to participate, most often as the audience but under the influence of the family’s lifestyle and way of life.