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Weekend drama can be great for the kids

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My two daughters rub the backs of their ears to retrieve some magic dust, which they then use to summon a pile of pizza and ice cream, before tucking into the newly created feast with arm-waving gusto.

This sounds like the stuff of dreams for any imaginative young child, but in this instance, it’s not just fantasy play — it’s a scene that recently unfolded during a drama workshop for kids in Tokyo.

The benefits of drama activities for children are well documented — from boosting confidence and physical development to honing emotional intelligence and communication skills (not to mention providing a much-needed outlet for runaway imaginations). When I first heard about weekend drama workshops, I was not only curious as to what such a workshop would involve, but also how children as young as mine — aged 2 and 4 — might react.

Keen to find out, I took them to take part in a drama workshop one recent Saturday morning at Tokyo Children’s Garden, a new international preschool that opened its doors in April in the Higashi-Gotanda district of the capital.

Drama is one of a string of weekend workshops open to the public at the friendly school, which is set in a spacious apartment-style setting that is as stylish as it is intimate and homely. Other workshops there range from children’s cello concerts to kids-style English rakugo comic storytelling.

In a classroom alongside around 10 other children and their parents, the scene-stealer is undoubtedly the drama teacher, the charismatic Ellen Fryer.

With her animated voice, dramatic gestures and large pink hair bow (plus a treasure trove of props — both imaginary and real), Ellen immediately enchants the children around her (the class is designed for 3- to 5-year-olds, although younger siblings are also welcome).

And so the fun begins. The next hour passes quickly, with a string of imaginative exercises, games and role-playing. There is the magic-dust-behind-the-ears game, which produces all sorts of delicious foods for the children to pretend to enjoy eating; there is Freddie the flea, an invisible jumpy friend who visits several times and sits on the tips of Ellen’s fingers; there is story time followed by an animated role-playing session inspired by characters in the tale; and there is a moment when the children curl up into the tiniest balls on the floor before pretending to be baby chickens hatching slowly from eggs.

My two children are cautious to start with, slowly warming up as the class progresses, until they are happily jumping up and down with an array of props, including a large silver key and a red star fairy wand.

Ellen, a teacher at an international school in Tokyo who has 17 years in education under her belt, explains after the class: “Drama allows young children to get out of themselves. It gives them freedom and direction, and the ability to interact with other students. It can also enhance their reading comprehension when they explore a story and think about what the characters are thinking and feeling.”

Ann Nishigaya, a warm and friendly co-founder of Tokyo Children’s Garden, adds: “We want children to have fun, experience new things and be inspired to think and create for themselves.”

As my children continue to play with the magic dust behind their ears while I cycle them home, it becomes clear that this particular drama workshop was an imaginative source of inspiration to them — and that it’s never too young to start exploring the world of drama.

Weekend drama workshops for children aged 3 to 5 cost ¥1,500 per family. For more information about schedules and other weekend workshops, visit www.tokyochildrensgarden.com.