The contribution of drama in education to discourse-making and language development in the Foundation Stage curriculum
The importance of early childhood education in children's social, emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual development is only recently gaining coinage in the formal education system in the UK, despite the fact that extensive research has been conducted in the fields of child development and child psychology for many years. Such studies reveal the importance of a child centred, humanising education in the development of the young child, and pay particular attention to the role and value of language acquisition and meaningful language use in the holistic education of young children. Against the background of a newly introduced early years curriculum in the UK (2000), this study traces the historical origin of early childhood education and the socio-cultural, political and economic factors that impact upon its delivery and implementation in various curricula, both nationally and internationally. The recent Foundation Stage curriculum document (2000) identifies language, play and human interaction as tools not only for the development of personal, social and linguistic skills but also as key processes of learning and teaching in early childhood education. However, in the absence of a well developed methodology and with insufficient Early Years training for the Foundation Stage Curriculum (2000), language teaching and learning is generally regarded more as a preparation for the formal school curriculum rather than in the context of discourse and communication for the development of personal and social skills. This situation has led to a considerable degree of professional conflict and insecurity amongst Early Years practitioners about the aims of the new curriculum and its implementation. The thesis argues that young children develop holistically (cognitively, personally and socially) through the medium of 'speech' and 'discourse', and that language is a social construct and a product of human culture. Therefore in early years, language and literacy development cannot be separated from the child's social world and the focus, in terms of teaching and learning, should be on discourse-making: the making, negotiation and development of rules, terms and conditions of the child's social world. This can offer children the linguistic resources they need to be confident and secure in familiar and unfamiliar environments and to problem-solve, organise and maintain their social worlds. The thesis argues that play and well structured Drama in Education activities can provide opportunities for meaningful communication and discourse. Drawing from the research findings, a model to structure and develop children's play for personal, social and linguistic development through Drama in Education is proposed. It will be shown that drama contains interactive tools and meaningful forms of learning which can assist teachers to create living contexts and fictitious worlds with the children within which the different functions of language can be identified and developed.