CAT's Early Learning History




An ongoing collaboration with classroom teachers has been a vital part of the Early Learning: NYC Wolf Trap program’s growth and evolution. Created in 1993 to take CAT’s issue-based drama work into the early childhood classroom, the program initially worked with a few NYC DOE schools and then partnered with New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to offer five-day residencies with citywide Head Start programs.

Drawing on the child development theories of Piaget (Theory of Intellectual Development) and  the subsequent critiques of those perceptions by authors such as Margaret Donaldson (“Children’s Minds ”), a core group of actor/teachers used feedback from teachers and education directors to create a successful drama structure.

Guided by two actor/teachers, the children were put “in-role” as members of a community with important responsibilities. The stories unfolded over four or five days; at some point something would put that community at risk. The children were challenged, in role, to decide how to address the problem, and the drama’s resolution reflected their choices.

For story synopsis of our two-person, interactive dramas, click below:

Alphabet  Keepers – a drama about a group of elves in the Land of Letters

Magic Drum – Set in Nigeria, this drama explores the issue of inclusion and exclusion

The Tail of the Tancho – A ground-breaking drama that examines the responsibility of a community in the face of a bully

Who Stopped the Rain? – A story that explores the impact of litter on a family of rabbits’ farm



Because Head Start teachers had such strong, positive reactions to CAT’s student-centered strategy and its impact on childrens’ cognitive and emotional development, EL began to shape a new professional development thread. CAT piloted Interactive Storytelling, that could be led by a solo actor/teacher who would highlight the drama techniques and artistic skills of EL’s earlier work.

Interactive storytelling is the process of taking the text of a picture book, turning it into a storytelling, and then adding specific call and repeat points of participation that invite listeners to participate physically and verbally.

The points of participation serve three purposes.

  • they actively engage the audience, essential for the early childhood student.

  • they support emergent literacy skills such as fluency, vocabulary acquisition, recall, and sequencing; and

  • they allow the actor/teacher and, by association, the young people, to embody multiple roles throughout the storytelling, utilizing different attitudes and physicalities that allow the students to explore different points of view and emotional dimensions.


The actor/teacher uses questions to add details and engage participants in creative problem solving. For instance, in Kevin Henkes’ book, Kitten’s First Full Moon, a kitten thinks the moon is a bowl of milk.

The actor/teacher is seated on a chair; students are clumped around his feet.

A/T: …and still the kitten couldn’t reach the milk. (In a loud, reedy voice) “I won’t give up!” He was so frustrated! Let’s all say that. All repeat. So again he said, (Finger pointing to the sky) “I want that bowl of creamy, white milk!” Let’s all say that. All repeat, fingers pointing to the sky.

A/T: So, how else could he get up into the sky and get that bowl of milk?

Child 1: Use a rocket!

A/T: That’s an idea. Would it be a big one or a little one?

Child 1: BIG!

A/T: Is there another way?

Child 2: Wings.

A/T: Where would she get the wings?

Child 3: From a bird.

Child 2: Or she could take some big leaves.

A/T: How would they stay on?

Child 2: Glue!

A/T: So the kitten said, “You know what I need?” Let’s all say that. All repeat. “Some wings!”

Even a simple exchange such as this captures what we want to do and, through our professional developments, what we want to encourage teachers to do: access the imagination of young people, ask open-ended questions, and incorporate -- even indulge in -- creative suggestions.

After a storytelling, the actor/teacher often shares the original storybook. They will “picture walk” through the book, inviting students to compare and contrast the book to the story they co-created. This reinforces literacy skills such as prediction and recall, but it also underscores the concept that story is changeable, and the power to change it is in the children’s hands.


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