Long gone are the days when parents or teachers worried that a child’s imaginary friend was proof that they had no ‘real’ friends or that they were displaying signs of psychological trauma or social deficiency. It’s now accepted that it is not uncommon, nor in itself worrying, for young children to have an imaginary pal.
But how about actively encouraging them to have one?
The first time I saw a Pyjama Drama class in action, I watched as a highly skilled teacher presented an imaginary caterpillar to a group of children (my then four-year-old son among them). The caterpillar was terrified (shaking in his boots no less), because out in the dark, dank woods lived a witch whose favourite food was caterpillar soup. What were the children to do? How could they help little Sue to turn into a butterfly so she could escape the clutches of the evil witch?
What followed was far more than a lesson in the life cycle of a butterfly. I watched as each and every child began to ‘find’ their own little caterpillar. No one told them to – it happened naturally, instinctively, in fact. The children were well and truly invested in their new-found friends; determined to keep them safe, feed them up and protect them as they formed their cocoons to eventually break free and flutter away from danger. And as they lined up to leave at the end of the session, every single child cradled their new friend in his or her palm, or eagerly encouraged their butterflies to fly out of the door with them.
It was an absolute joy to watch. The children were developing empathy, practising conflict resolution, experiencing a range of emotions, and honing their interpersonal skills and problem-solving – without realising that they were doing anything of the sort.
I had to learn more, so I went straight to founder Sarah Owen who, luckily for me, happens to be my sister. The teacher who I’d watched deliver the caterpillar session had never worked with children prior to running her franchise and she wasn’t an actress – she had the raw skills and desire to play and pretend with children and this, along with the training and support she had received via my sister and Pyjama Drama, had resulted in an incredibly skilled professional. Sarah and I soon after joined forces and I became a director, helping to support Pyjama Drama franchisees run their businesses around the UK and abroad.
Fast forward and we now also offer online and in-person training for preschool practitioners, helping them to use drama to transform social and emotional learning in their settings.
'But I can't do drama!' I hear you cry. Well, let me tell you, neither do I!
I’m a secondary school art teacher by trade, and whilst I don’t mind the odd song on karaoke if the conditions are right, I do not feel comfortable ‘acting’ and I do not want to look a fool. But here’s the thing – I do like reading to my children and putting on the characters’ voices, I do like hearing them laugh when I make their toys talk, and I do like singing songs with my children. Ultimately, if you can do this – and what early years educator can’t? – you can ‘do’ drama with young children!