Six Steps to Teaching a Child to Appreciate Performing Arts
By Katherine Kopp
Almost everyone loves the performing arts. There are few things more enjoyable than taking a young child to a play, a musical performance or the ballet for the first time. Children’s awe at the spectacle, and the look of wonder on their faces, is worth much more than the price of admission.
For such an outing to be truly worthwhile, it's important for children to know what they can expect—and what's expected of them—when they attend a performance. With some advance instruction and a few simple guidelines, introducing your child to the performing arts, and perhaps instilling in him a lifelong appreciation of cultural events and activities, should be successful.
- Keep it kid-friendly. For a young child's first cultural experience, choose an outing that is almost guaranteed to be successful, like a trip to the public library for the weekly puppet show or a shorter concert specifically geared towards children. At outdoor events, it is usually more acceptable if kids are a bit noisy, and you have the option of leaving whenever you are ready. Choosing a show appropriate for young children will give your child an opportunity to learn to pay attention, behave appropriately and, most of all, enjoy a performance.
- Keep it cheap. You don't have to spend a fortune on a Broadway show to have a hit on your hands, and it is probably better to work up to such an event. Choose a performance on a college campus, a local high school play or a local ballet school's holiday performance. If your child’s attention span wanders after the first act, you won't have invested your whole month's entertainment budget on the price of admission. After a few successful outings, you can spring for something bigger and more expensive.
- Set the ground rules ahead of time. A week or so before you go, begin talking to your child about the performance you are going to attend. Describe what you expect to happen, and tell your child the behavior you expect of him. Say something like: Remember when we went to Mary's dance recital? We had to be quiet and pay attention so the dancers could concentrate, and the other people there could hear. We'll have to do that at the play we're going to attend.
- Set a good example. If you expect to teach your child to be quiet and respect the performers on stage, you also have to teach him to respect the audience around him. The best way to do that is to set a good example. If you choose age-appropriate plays or musical performances for your grandchild, you should be able to give a brief explanation beforehand and then explain the nuances after the show.
- Remember the essentials. Visit the restroom ahead of time with your child to avoid having to get up just as the curtain is rising. Pack a small, non-crunchy snack or treat in case your child needs a bite before intermission.
- Make it special. In planning your outing, add another element to make it extra-special. For example, combine attending a musical with a stop for ice cream afterwards. Be sure your expectations of your child's behavior are realistic since you don't want the occasion to become punitive. If your child is tiring after two acts and there are still two to go, the wise thing to do is leave early and still go out for dessert. One success will lead to another, and before you know it, your young child may be begging you to take him to the symphony.
Kopp is the editor of Carolina Parent. Reprinted from Connect for Kids, an online publication of the Benton Foundation.
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