“Welcome super scientists!” Elizabeth Bruce exclaims as children file into the classroom. A table on the side of the room is lined with props: lab coats, stuffed dogs, q-tips, and more. This is a common scene for Elizabeth’s classroom. She is not the typical teacher, but an Arts Educator who uses theatre and acting to shape the lives of young children.

For today’s lesson, the children in her classroom are all doctors, healing the broken bones of a puppy. At the beginning of the lesson they sit in a circle and practice verbal and physical warm-ups, meanwhile choosing what imaginary gear they’d like to bring with them on their upcoming journey. The answers range from a skateboard, to cookies, to money—there are no wrong answers!

Just as they are getting comfortable, the children receive a desperate call from the veterinarian—there is an injured puppy and only they can help! They all rush to the table and put on their lab coats, ready to save the puppies. The young vets go through a detailed process: examining the dog’s body, taking x-rays and inspecting them, applying a cast, and finally singing their tired puppies to sleep. They then check back at a later date to take more x-rays and ensure the puppy has healed fully.

What these early learners just experienced is a lesson from Elizabeth’s Theatrical Journey Project which she has implemented in Pre-K classrooms at CentroNía.

The Theatrical Journey Project blends the creativity and imagination of drama with scientific concepts and methods. Being able to think creatively and understand S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts are important in today’s classrooms, so fostering these skills at a young age is crucial. Each class is half an hour long and involves different scientific scenarios that children must partake in and solve. Children step into the shoes of the scientist and through their own process must solve the “problem” at hand. Elizabeth creates props and costumes for children to use allowing for her students to fully immerse themselves in each scenario and embody their character—whether it’s a doctor or a scientist. Some examples of scenarios include: Healing the Sick Teddy Bear, The Volcano, The Water Cycle, and Why the Leaves Change Colors.

Aside from being really fun and engaging, the project teaches important skills to young children! The class uses fun vocal warm-ups to enhance student’s’ articulation skills, and they are consistently introduced to new vocabulary. Problem-solving during different scenarios builds critical thinking skills like reasoning, predicting, and analyzing. Children are encouraged to think “out-of-the-box,” and the more creative the better! Children also develop motor skills during the various journeys, using fun physical exercises and both real and simulated hands-on science tools during different scenarios.

Elizabeth is a valuable resource at CentroNía and her innovative Theatrical Journey Project is a noteworthy and impressive milestone in her career. Elizabeth strives above and beyond her role as an educator and her love for the arts can be seen in the passion and hard work infused into every journey. She always fosters creativity in CentroNía’s community. We are excited for the next phase of this project, as Elizabeth’s prepares to release the Bilingual Theatrical Journey Project Playbook—a toolkit for early childhood educators and parents interested in replicating the project with their own early learners. This next phase is supported by a fellowship from McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation.

Originally published to The DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities Art202 blog.