Taking children to live theater, music and dance performances can ignite their imaginations, arouse their curiosity and spark their interest in the performing arts. Today there is an abundance of entertainment options for youngsters, from toddlers through teens. To foster your child’s love for the performing arts, follow these 10 steps:
- Set the Stage
There’s no set age to begin taking children to live performances. What’s important is to begin with age-appropriate programming that caters to your child’s interest and attention span, and build from there. Start with shows based on familiar stories or characters at local or regional children’s theaters and other family venues. High school productions are a good option too. As your child gets acclimated to attending, take in performances with more detailed plots. Also consider attending Broadway or off-Broadway classics, such as Beauty and the Beast, as a special treat.
- Determine Details
Call the box office and ask for details regarding the performance. Is it family-oriented? Age-appropriate? Are there frightening scenes? Is there spectacle: colorful costumes and sets, slapstick comedy and/or special effects? These will keep your child engaged, as will shows that involve audience participation.
- Seek Out Special Events
While you’re on the phone with the box office, ask about special activities associated with the program that can enhance the experience. For example, some family concerts offer instrument petting zoos, where musicians offer an up-close look at instruments and demonstrate how to play them. Children may even be encouraged to test some of them out. Other venues may offer backstage passes so families can see the sets and lighting, meet the characters and learn interesting tidbits of information. Shows sometimes offer Q and A sessions after certain performances. Kids may even be able to get autographs from the cast.
- Lowdown on Logistics
Find out about program length and whether there is a break for intermission. Then consider if your child can stay focused that long. Also ask about the theater’s policies about bringing drinks and snacks into the auditorium and leaving during the performance. If your child has special sensory needs, seek out shows that offer sensory-friendly performances. Among other accommodations, these shows may offer pre-show booklets, alter lighting and sound during the performance, keep house lights up during the show, and give cues in advance of certain characters appearing on stage.
- Select the Right Seats
Choose seating that will keep your child’s attention directed on the stage. Sitting front and center or in the balcony may be best. If you think you may have to slip out during the performance, opt for seats near the aisle for a quick exit. Consider bringing a booster seat so your child gets a good view.
- Primer on Preparations
If the show parallels a book or movie, read or watch it together. If there’s familiar music, let your child experience that beforehand. Explain the plot and discuss the characters. Even though the live performance will be a bit different, your child will know what to expect.
- Explain Theatre Etiquette
Before you go, discuss your expectations regarding your child’s behavior at the event. Tell him he will have to walk, rather than run, to and from his seat and use an indoor voice. Depending on the performance, he may need to hold questions until intermission or whisper if he has something important to say. Live performances are not television; the artists can see and hear what is happening in the audience. Loud noises can distract the artists, but clapping at the right time is always appreciated.
- Day-of Details
Make sure your child is well-fed and rested before leaving home. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Find your seats, then take your child to the restroom. Bring along a small bag of quiet items she can play with while you wait for the performance to begin. Consider bringing a blanket or jacket for added comfort, in case the theater feels chilly.
- Share Impressions
After the show, take your child out for a special treat as you share thoughts and impressions about the performance. What was his favorite part or character? Was there a character he didn’t like? Why? Did he see a transformation in any of the characters? What did he think of the sets, costumes and special effects? Can he retell the story to you? If there were songs, can he sing any for you? Does he remember the instruments or concepts taught during musical performances?
- Extend the Experience
At home, have your child draw a picture of her favorite scene or character. If you did not rent the parallel movie or read the book, do so now. Was the storyline presented differently in this format? If she enjoys pretend play, have her act out her favorite part.
Denise Morrison Yearian, the former editor of two parenting magazines, has three children and four grandchildren.