Public speaking benefits people of all ages including children. It instills confidence and enables people to become better communicators, and generally more successful in all aspects of life — personal, social, business and in the field of learning.
For kids public speaking can take many guises, in terms of how it is taught and how it is used. For example, children may be given:
o drama lessons where they are taught how to act,
o speech lessons where they are taught how to speak correctly and effectively,
o mime and movement lessons which also help with self expression,
o debating lessons which teach critical thinking, and
o public speaking lessons where they learn to present speeches of different sorts.
Many of the benefits of teaching children how to speak and present themselves in public were recognized more than a century ago. In the 19th century there were many great orators and statesmen who made speeches, and their influence led to the study of oratory becoming part of many school programs.
Apart from the importance of speeches themselves, educators also recognized that public speaking was an important part of education.
However, initially the focus of public speaking classes for children was basically recitation, even though the aim was for them to become interesting, forceful and even powerful speakers. They learned what it was they were required to say and then were required to say it by heart. The Kids Public Speaking teacher would then give constructive, positive and encouraging criticism. Negative criticism was considered destructive — which it still is.
Gestures were not considered important in those early days, and voice culture and training (which is what children learn in speech training lessons) was considered to be a separate study. The focus was more on the expression of thought and feeling specifically to give meaning to the words that were being spoken.
The funny thing is that if kids are not forced to learn and recite, they are generally much more spontaneous speakers than adults. Given the chance, they can often express themselves more easily as well. But they do need training when it comes to the structure and presentation of speeches. This is one of the reasons that debating is such a powerful training tool for kids.
In addition to formal training, kids can also be encouraged to speak in public during regular classes, without them even realizing that they are learning public speaking. For example, the teacher might ask members of the class to stand up and explain what they have learned. Or they may be required to read from a textbook. While this is not actually making a speech, it does help children to get used to hearing their own voices in a silent environment. After all it is one thing to talk while other people are also talking, but quite another when everyone around you is listening to what you are saying.
Speech training is also invaluable because it teaches kids how to breathe correctly while they speak, as well as how to modulate their voices. It also helps them consciously and effectively project their voices for occasions when a microphone is not available.