The Baylor Children's Theater

The roots of Learning About Learning began in the Baylor Children’s Theater. Kathryn (Kitty) Baker and Lenora Schulz launched the program in 1941 as a Saturday morning playgroup for children ages 3-10. They focused on fostering creativity in young children with crafts, music, and impromptu acting. In 1947, two senior drama students at Baylor—Irene Lockridge and Jeanne McRae—cast their production of The Blue Bird from the playgroup, leading to the formal creation of the Baylor Children’s Theater.

A key part of the approach of the Baylor Children's Theater was to use the same standards of theater for children as were used for adults. The program would use age-appropriate materials for children, rather than the leftovers of adult productions.

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Mary Sue Jones (Birkhead) and Ruth Byers are pictured here with other Drama faculty members in the 1956 Baylor University yearbook, Roundup

In 1952, Baylor Drama department faculty member Mary Sue Jones became the director of the Baylor Children’s Theater. She developed a curriculum involving different forms of theater from throughout history. Ruth Byers, who took on the directorship after Jones, later expanded upon this approach. Following Paul Baker's philosophy of the “Integration of Identities,” the program began by introducing students to the elements of art such as line, shape, color, sound, and space, and then built upon them through physical experimentation with each concept as well as their combination and interrelation. The class simultaneously progressed through different periods of human history. In the words of Byers, the program was “comparing the history of art to the growth of a child.”

While the program had a great focus on theater, the curriculum was expansive. Teachers used field trips to place children in the eras they studied, such as recreating the experience of a Greek amphitheater by visiting a football stadium. They would work with numerous different craft materials and art projects such as mosaics or costume masks. The faculty prioritized having the students learn to work with their hands and learn to use their bodies and voices to express and communicate their ideas.

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Wagner pictured alongside other Drama Department Faculty in the 1962 Baylor University yearbook Roundup .

In 1959, Jones and Byers transitioned to the newly opened Dallas Theater Center. Jearnine Wagner, Baylor Graduate and the eventual founder of Learning About Learning, would step into the role of Director of the Children’s Theater. Wagner, originally from Houston, Texas, completed her undergraduate in 1955 and would complete her masters in 1963 with her dissertation A Departure Point for Establishing a Children's Theater Curriculum. 

Also in 1963, Wagner would follow Drama Department head Paul Baker to Trinity University, becoming a faculty member there. At Trinity, Wagner would create Ideas in Motion, a program similar to the Baylor Children's Theater.

The Baylor Children's Theater