There is a lot of emphasis on our children’s academic development in today’s society. Yet, an appreciation for the arts can play a big part in our children’s social and mental development too.
While the arts consist of many different disciplines, one of the most accessible is children’s theatre.
With imaginative storylines and intriguing characters, today’s children’s theatre is a specialised art form that caters to audiences as young as two years old. Entering into the theatre, kids get to suspend reality and get transported away to a make-believe world where anything is possible within the darkened theatre.
If you are still considering whether to bring your child for children’s shows, here are ten reasons why you should consider a trip to the theatre for your next Little Day Out.
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1. Encourages Literary Skills
Reading, writing and speaking are fundamental skills that all children need to develop. Even with plenty of lovingly illustrated children’s books around, nothing brings a story to life like seeing it acted out on stage where characters are no longer confined to the words on a page but given life by actors.
Watching a theatre performance has the ability to fire up the interest of children who may otherwise not be motivated to pick up a book. Children get to learn memorable phrases and listen to catchy musical songs that aid learning. With exposure to the spoken word through the actors, children have a chance to cultivate a love for language in its various forms, whether written or spoken.
2. Builds Up Attention Spans
Children have limited attention spans. Any parent who has tried to keep a young child focused during dinner at the table can attest to that. Distractions constantly abound in a child’s world.
At the theatre, kids are placed into an environment where they learn to focus on the action unfolding on the stage in front of them. Ranging from 45 minutes to an hour in length, children’s theatre performances are tailored to little one’s attention spans. Colourful props, energetic music and lots of interactivity keep kids engaged. As a result, children get to practise patience by following along with the plot in anticipation of the next scene and to listen attentively.
3. Introduces the World of the Arts
Children’s theatre provides an excellent introduction to the wider world of the arts. Theatre stands at the intersection of multiple creative disciplines. Actors, musicians, costume makers, set designers and scriptwriters must all work collaboratively to put up a production. As a result of their efforts, there is plenty for a child to take in, both visually and aurally, during a theatre performance.
Theatre engages multiple senses, making it more accessible to young children compared to music-only performances or a visual art exhibition. This provides a gentle pathway for them to gain exposure to the arts from a young age. Inculcated early on, this love for the arts can stay with a child even as he or she grows older.
Said Lyn, a mother of two, “When my two girls were younger, I would often bring them to children’s theatre shows. Even though they are older now, they continue to love watching musicals and have an appreciation for the arts as a result of their early exposure to children’s theatre.”
4. Nurtures Social Growth
Attending the theatre is a social affair. You have to mill around the foyer while waiting for the show to start, get ushered to your seat alongside fellow theatregoers, and watch the show collectively with the rest of the audience.
This is a chance for kids to learn correct social behaviour (“Don’t kick the seat in front of you”, “No running in the aisles please”) and an opportunity for parents to share with them social conventions (“Clap your hands to show that you enjoyed the singing”).
Today’s children’s theatre is highly interactive as well. It is not unusual for actors to rally the audience for answers, often resulting in a rambunctious response from the crowd. This makes for a wonderfully chaotic time where kids in the audience get to interact with the actors and learn to make their voices heard.
5. Cultivates Critical Thinking Skills
“Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to,” said actor Willem Dafoe.
These words are true even in the world of children’s theatre.
There are plenty of ways that parents can use the theatre experience to get their children to express their thoughts. After the show, ask them open-ended questions such as “What did you learn from the show?”, “Why do you think the characters behaved the way they did?” and “What did you enjoy most about the acting/music/set?”.
“Theatre is an interactive experience – not just when you are watching, but it can be extended out of the theatre after the performance,” said I Theatre’s Artistic Director, Brian Seward.
He went on to say, “At I Theatre, we always try to go back to the root of the stories we are telling, and open up the original message in a new way. We try not to be didactic, but we ask the audience to discover the answers for themselves.”
6. Develops Idea Producers
The roots of creativity take hold from a young age.
Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
To raise your kids to be “idea producers” rather than just “idea absorbers”, start by providing them with the room to expand their imagination and keep the walls of “it can’t be done” and “there’s only one right way” from boxing them in.
The fantastical, and sometimes whimsical, world of children’s theatre with its colourful sets and singing animals provides a safe environment for children to free their imagination and believe in endless possibilities.
One of the geniuses of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Unsurprisingly, fairy tales are a long-time staple of children’s theatre. A wellspring of imaginative ideas, in the theatre, it is possible for porridge pot to overflow and drown a village or for a beanstalk to reach up to the clouds. This reinforces the mindset of “why not?” – the very basis that spurs on every inventor, entrepreneur and artist who has dared to dream beyond the status quo.
7. Enables You to Understand Your Children Better
How children react during a theatre performance can be very telling.
Keep an eye on your child’s face while the action is playing out on stage to see how your child is feeling. Based on their reactions, it is possible to tell if the child is impressed, fearful, amused or even confused. An observant parent would be able to pick up on these cues and build upon these insights in order to nurture the child further.
Great children’s theatre goes beyond simple storytelling and involves multiple layers that go beyond face value. While often light-hearted, children’s theatre can deal with subjects as serious as death and loss, and tackle questions such as values and relationships.
While some parents may be apprehensive taking on such weighty topics with their kids, these “life issues” are often important and eventually need to be addressed – best by the parents.
“Through our theatre performances we can explore the lives, ideas, mistakes and misadventures of others in a safe environment, allowing children to explore, understand, and learn, in ways that just telling them cannot,” said I Theatre’s Seward.
As such, theatre performances can serve as a springboard to open up a discussion about important issues. Using the experience of a character in the show or a situation that occurred in the story, parents can guide their children along by sharing their own viewpoints and values with their kids.
9. Creates Bonding Experiences
Going to the theatre with your child is a chance to create lasting memories together. Make a date out of it. Plan to go for a special meal before or after the performance. If there are pre-show activities at the performance venue, arrive earlier to take part in them. After the show, bring your child to meet the cast to complete the experience. Little things go a long way to making it a memorable experience.
10. It’s Fun and Entertaining
A theatre experience is just great, rollicking fun. The spectacle of talented actors, lively music, and engaging storylines, make it entertaining time for the entire family. “My kids enjoy attending theatre performances,” said Evon, a mother of three. “My two year old can’t stop dancing to the music and he loves the bright and colourful costumes worn by the actors.”
Today’s children’s theatre isn’t only fun and entertaining for kids, but also for 50 -60% of the audience who are the parents and teachers bringing the kids to the theatre.
As I Theatre’s Brian puts it, children pick up on the bare story, but the adults pick up on the subtext and the underlying nuances and, “if you don’t engage the adults, they’re going to transmit boredom to the children and then the children are going to pick up the boredom and say theatre is boring.”
Thankfully, with professional children’s theatre companies, a trip to the theatre is never boring, but a fun and entertaining experience for everyone, from two to a hundred-and-two.