The Play's The Thing: Theatre and Early Childhood Education
by Mariel Eve Berlin-Fischler
My name is Mariel, and I am both a preschool teacher and a playwright. To the naked eye, I have two passions, two degrees, two careers, and two realms in which I gather expertise. However, this is not so. Those who peruse my website may be struck by the unconventional marriage of these two fields, as well as my choice as a practioner to align them and to view them as intrinsically related. What I hope to explain here, as I relaunch this blog in the service of early childhood education, is why the blog of a playwright may be just the place to learn how to talk to children, and why teachers who spend their days entangled in the behaviors of young ones may be just the people to bring humanity to the stage.
From a very early age, I held a love of the performing arts that kept my parents grimacing and clapping on the sofa for hours on end, enduring "show" after "show," improvised on the spot. Even when I had rehearsed, I toiled in real time, starting the performance again and again in the hopes of creating the experience I intended for my (exasperated) audience. In a parallel timeline, though still a child in school myself, I was always drawn to the youngest children and often spent my breaks in Pre-K classrooms and gym periods helping with transitions and getting students involved. I had an insatiable fascination for discovering what I could do, what I could say, that might create the experience I intended for my (fellow) children.
Through young adulthood, I acted in plays and musicals and junior-counselored summer camps. As adulthood loomed and tracks began to be chosen, I earned my bachelor's degree in Theatre, only to take on a full-time preschool position while I wrote and served as a teaching artist for regional theaters and drama programs. Only as I concluded a Master's of Education, along with my first full-length stage play, did I begin to recognize that it would not be my job to swing between the two worlds of theatre and education, but rather to explore the deep relationship that exists between them.
The single most valuable reckoning of my career has been the blinking and refocusing it took to see the art of theatre and the art of education for what they are to me: one in the same. When it comes to finding our individual purposes in life, it sometimes serves to notice the underlying and unifying mission of the various things we love. This is how I found mine. I have two careers, but they both serve one mission in life: finding the right words.
The need to find the "right words" is one deeply embedded in us all. The right words to express our wants, the right words to secure our relationships, and the right words to argue our perspectives are greatly sought-after by each of us from a very young age. As we grow and change, the need to find the right words only deepens. The right words to create safe spaces, the right words to advocate diplomatically, the right words to bring about our goals, and the right words to call forth the world we hope to build are constantly being edited and rephrased as we search for ourselves and question the society we inhabit. Some of the most profound frustrations experienced at any age stem from not knowing what to say, or even more commonly, not knowing how to say it. This, in short, is why people need playwrights, and why children need teachers.
The right words are honest, simple, and productive, and the search for them spans multiple careers. With mine, I hope to serve my community by sharing my own words, helping the youngest among us learn to speak for themselves, and fostering the right words within and between families to build a better world using better language. Moving forward, I will use this blog to explore new framings of early childhood experiences, as well as new words to use and to give our children as we help them become agents of their own growth and happiness. Share away, and never hesitate to ask your own questions for me to address!