Kindergartners Construct a South Campus Community Theater to Enhance Their School’s Learning Environment

By: Lisa Davis, Xani Pollakoff, Vasilios Pournaras
from Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation's Capital (formally JPDS-NC)

Learning Environment

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Engineering, English/ Writing/ Language Arts, Math, Science

Design-Thinking Model, Experiential Education, PBL - project based learning, Wholebrain Teaching, 21st Century Skills

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
K, Elementary school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Elementary school

In Kindergarten at MILTON, the theme of community guided our work and was woven into all aspects of our curriculum. Over the course of a semester, we explored the concept of community through the lens of theater. Our multi-disciplinary curricular approach to learning culminated in the creation of the South Campus Community Theater.

Entry Narrative

Kindergarten students engaged in an in-depth, multi-disciplinary project to create a South Campus Community Theater. Throughout, they honed skills including research, writing, design thinking, math, science, art, and design, along with deepening their knowledge of Jewish holidays. The students’ work was guided by the theme of community as they explored essential and guiding questions like, “How does theater give us a voice and promote dialogue in our community?”, “How can theater be the vehicle to help us represent our community?, and “How can we learn more about our community by studying theater?” The semester-long project culminated in the physical construction of the South Campus Community Theater by the children and in three separate productions. The plays debuted at the Kindergarten Bayit Patuach (Open House) when the students performed the plays they had scripted with energy and joy.

In order to gain background knowledge about theaters, the children learned from a variety of experts. These experts included JPDS-NC parent Sarah Gershman, one of the JPDS-NC Lion King musical directors; a puppeteer; JPDS-NC parent, Zac Borovay, a Broadway projector designer; and Melissa Davis, a former High School theater teacher, who taught the students about different types of stages. The children also went on field trips to the National Theater and to Highwood Theater. They saw different kinds of stages and costume areas, looked at various types of curtains, lighting and sets, and learned how each theater operates in order to put on a show.

The children then used the Design Thinking Process to build and create a South Campus Community Theater. Each class began by interviewing users of the Kikar in order to empathize with and understand the needs of the community. Next, each class defined the characteristics of each part of the theater they would create. Gan Anavim worked on the curtain, Gan Rimonim constructed the stage, and Gan Tmarim made the costume closet. Each class had an ideate session where children and teachers brainstormed all of the possible solutions to the problem they defined. The children constructed prototypes to represent their ideas individually and in small groups. This process helped the students finalize their designs and work with the adults in the community to build the final stage, curtains, and costume closet.

Through the experience of constructing prototypes, the children tinkered with materials to test their ideas of how to design functional curtains, a costume closet, and a stage. This process of prototyping and experimenting helped the children understand the intricacies of their designs and ways they could improve their plans.

Through the different Foundations classes children engaged in projects across the disciplines. In the Sadnah (art studio), the children collaborated in mixed groups from all three classes to draft sketches of backdrops and transfer these images onto canvases. The children were then challenged to create three dimensional representations of flats (set pieces) using various materials. These skills came in handy during Project Work as each child created their own costume for the play.

In Science, the children learned about simple machines such as pulleys, which theaters often use to open and close their curtains. After experimenting with various strategies, the Kindergartners decided to use a different kind of curtain for the theater but to use pulleys to fly their props across the stage. At the same time, the students used foundational math skills involving 3D shapes, coins, and measurement to design and create a concession area for the theater.

In Language Arts, the children learned about biographies and wrote biographies for themselves in the third person to include in the theater’s Playbill. These skills were reinforced during Project work as each class wrote the script for their plays. Then in Mischak (purposeful play) the students practiced their acting and explored how it felt to take on the perspective of many different characters as they reenacted chagim (holidays) and Bible stories.

After months of researching, designing, writing, and building, each Kindergarten class staged their original class play that they debuted for the parents at our Kindergarten Bayit Patuach (Open House). The children shared their voice by basing their scripts on a message or value they wanted to share with the parents. Along with enjoying the play, the highlights of the Bayit Patuach included reserving tickets from South Campus Community Theater’s website, an autograph session with headshot photographs of each actor and crew member, a red carpet photo opportunity with a step and repeat backdrop, and displays showcasing this semester’s work.

We are so proud of our students for undertaking this creative and exciting project.


Note about our Community Theater:

Since we began this project in February of 2017, the space where our Community Theater resides has become a laboratory for learning, not only for the kindergarten class, but for the entire school. Our Community Theater continues to be a place we use for Kabbalat Shabbat, performing chagim plays, during Mischak (purposeful play), and for various other times, such as when 5th and 6th grade student performed “You’re a good man Charlie Brown.”

Children using the Community Theater at Kabbalat Shabbat in September 2017

Documentation Examples:

1)     Additional photos from the Community Theater project that includes field trips to a variety of theaters, ply rehearsals, theater exploration (including puppets), costume and set design, prototypes of the theater, and our unveiling of the Community Theater to the parent community-

2)     We presented our Community Theater project as a professional development opportunity for visiting educations. We have included that presentation in the “Entry Document Attachments.” That file is called: kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-community-theater-presentation_20171110120500.pdf 

You can also find the files on google drive at:

Since Community Theater Presentation videos could not be added to the pdf, we are providing web links to these videos connected to their corresponding pages:

3)     Each of the three classes wrote their own original play scripts based on a Jewish Value. You can find the scripts below in the “Entry Document Attachments.” The files are called:

  • a) kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-tikkun-olam-super-hero-play-gan-anavim.pdf,
  • b) kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-the-pond-gan-rimonim-derech-eretz-play.pdf
  • c) kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-gan-tmarim-script-kehilah-pdf

You can also find the files on google drive at:

4)     Each of the children wrote their own bios in 3rd person for the Playbill. You can find a copy of each bio below in the “Entry Document Attachments.” The file is called: kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-playbill-bios.pdf

You can also find the file on google drive at:

5)     As we plan our daily, weekly, monthly, and general project lessons, we use a planning guide and weekly notes to help see what we have done and plan next steps.  You can find a copy of each below in the “Entry Document Attachments.” The files are called:

  • a) kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-weekly-notes-for-k-community-theatre-unit.pdf
  • b) kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-planning-guide-for-community-pdf

You can also find the files on google drive at:

6)     As part of the Design Thinking process, each class created a prototype of the part of the Community Theater they were making. You can find an example of the curtain prototype process below in the “Entry Document Attachments.” The file is called: kindergartners-construct-a-south-campus-community-theater-to-enhance-their-schools-learning-environment-curtain-prototypes.pdf

You can also find the file on google drive at:


Teacher Reflections:

Through this project, our goal of strengthening our community was achieved by creating a school-wide environment for students to share their voices, ideas, and learning. This space has been regularly used since we began the building of a Community Theater, and will continue to be a part of our school for years to come. Students are proud of what they built and you can see the joy of learning on their faces when they perform on the Community Theater stage.


Entrant Bio(s)

Lisa, Vas, and Xani have been working together as a General Studies kindergarten team for three years. Over the course of these three years, they have adapted the way they teach from having separate projects in their homeroom classes to creating grade wide projects as a team. Through their collaboration that capitalizes on each of their expertise, they have seen their student thinking deepen and the richness of their student’s work enhanced.