Robin Bennett
September 15, 2017

The first “rule” in every 4th Wall class is be safe. Seemingly easy, this rule can be deceptively difficult to understand. There are many ways to “be safe”: with the way we use our bodies, the way we interact with others, and even with the way we use our words. Let’s unpack the different ways that theatre reinforces how children with special needs can be safe and pick up some resources that might help foster this rule in everyday life.

4 Ways Theatre Reinforces How to “Be Safe” for Kids with Special Needs

1. “Be Safe” with Your Body—Body Awareness

4th Wall performance final bows

Involvement in theatre helps a child with special needs become more aware of how they use their body in relation to what is around them, including other people. By becoming another character, or pretending, a child can experience appropriate physical boundaries with others from another perspective.

Children with special needs can also learn more about how their body moves and works through dance and the choreographed movement of “who stands there and who goes where” on the stage, called blocking.

For more information on body awareness activities, click here

2. “Be Safe” with Your Body—Hands to Yourself

The phrase “hands to yourself” is pretty common within the special-needs community. Inclusive theatre programs, like 4th Wall’s, take a somewhat different approach to this directive. Because theatre is in its essence “hands on”, students are often given things to do with their hands and other body parts that have purpose with the character they are playing or the activity happening.

For example, each song or dance is accompanied by simple choreographed dance moves or sign language hand gestures that give purpose and expectation to every movement.

Other ways to keep hands busy and “safe”:

3. “Be Safe” with Objects

4th Wall plays “Pass the Hat”

In theatre, the primary tools used are the body and it’s unique ways of communicating. Every 4th Wall workshop starts with a big empty room and a circle of chairs. That’s it. Any additional objects, props, or tools have a specific purpose. For students, an object is treated differently when, through rehearsal and play acting, it is used in very specific ways to communicate very specific things.

For example, in a game to learn about different characters, hats may be used to explore how we might act as that hat’s “character”. Once the activity is done, the hats have fulfilled their purpose; on to the next thing!

4. “Be Safe” with Your Words—Always Be Respectful

4th Wall Instructors help with original scripts

Always Be Respectful is another one of 4th Wall’s “rules”; we will cover this rule more in a later blog. In terms of the be safe rule, how students use their words is promoted as one of the most important parts of theatre; being safe with our words and other people’s emotions. Students learn through practice and positive modeling from the instructors that the words we use with others have consequences, be it for the good or bad.

For example, students may pretend to be characters with different relationships to their fellow actors’ characters. They may be the “good guy” or “bad guy” in a scene where, in the end, everyone learns a lesson. For students with special needs, experiencing how the different characters act and learning how their character needs to react accordingly, helps them understand how what we say can affect someone else.

Other ways to keep words kind and “safe”

Like this video social story about nice words at school.

As we say in every workshop, “Be Safe, Be Brave, and Always Be Respectful!” Check out next month’s blog when we consider “Be brave”.