Developing a lifelong appreciation of the arts is one good reason to expose young children to the performing arts. But there are lots of other great benefits. Do you want to increase your child’s vocabulary? Help develop your child’s imagination, creative-thinking skills and concentration? Create family memories and a context for thoughtful conversation?
Children who are used to observing the world through the fast-paced imagery of television will have the opportunity to be more fully engaged and to take an imaginative journey through the magic that live performance inspires. Attending theater programs together as a family is a special experience that both children and parents can enjoy.
The following tips from the article “Great Reasons to Take Your Child to the Theatre” by Simone Gray (Child Magazine) can help you make your first trips to the theater a success:
Choose the right show
The best place to start is by taking your child to an age-appropriate theater production. While your little ones will still need a certain amount of self-discipline to get through the entire show, the theater environment will joyfully embrace the unrestrained reactions of your children, rather than frown upon it. You can be certain that child-friendly productions will have bright costumes and jolly jokes to engage and entertain young minds. You can “promote” young theater-goers as they grow and are able to appreciate and enjoy more challenging works.
Do your homework
Prepare your child in the days leading up to the show. Introduce them to the story and the characters they will meet; if there is a book about the play, read it together. Part of what makes these outings so special is the excitement and build up, so work it.
Be clear about expected behavior
Let your children know how they are expected to behave. It might help to explain that in order for the actors on stage to do their jobs, each audience member needs to remain still and quiet when it is time to do so, and join in when it is called for.
Plan for a quick getaway
If this is your child’s first time at the theater, it might be a good idea to get an aisle seat so you can, if necessary, duck out without disrupting the audience.
Cover all bases
On the day, make sure your child is well-rested. Being tired can be tough at any time, never mind in a theater. Make sure your child has eaten before the show. Make sure all have had a bathroom break before the start.
Get your timing right
A long wait before curtain call can derail a smooth operation. If unassigned seating means you need to arrive earlier to get a spot that suits your family, bring something quiet to amuse your little ones. If this fails, get somebody nearby to keep your seats and wander around the theater complex or garden and burn off a little energy. Theaters are fascinating places, so if you have extra time, explore the environment. Chat about the sets, if possible. Point out the lighting grid. As your child gets older, it might just be these inner workings that hook their interest.
Be prepared to leave
If something in the show, such as a monstrously mean witch or a particularly treacherous troll, upsets your child, take him or her out into the lobby to be consoled. Explain that the characters are only actors doing their jobs well. Don’t force your child to return to the show.
For a great way to introduce young children to local, age-appropriate, professional arts experiences, explore the JCC Magic Ark Performing Arts Series for Families at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton. Older children may enjoy participating in Showstoppers Youth Theatre or JCC Kaleidoscope Creative Arts and Science Camp. For more information, please visit bostonjcc.org.
Susan Tovsky is the children’s program and Magic Ark Performing Arts Series coordinator at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston.