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Early Stages

From “Why Children’s Theater Matters” by Danielle Wood of

Want to boost literacy? Teach your child to imagine the unimaginable? Cultivate curiosity? Get thee to the theater, and bring your kids.

The children’s theater movement is led by Europe, but the US is not far behind. And we’re not just talking about the bustling theater town of New York. The third largest children’s theater in the world is tucked away in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Other mid-sized cities from Dallas, to Tempe, to Nashville, are also cooking up kids? fare in full-time children venues. [...]

No one would argue the importance of literacy or fractions, but study after study has shown that the arts are more than fluff. Longitudinal data of 25,000 students involved in the arts, conducted at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education by Dr. James Catterall, shows that consistent participation greatly improves academic performance and significantly bumps up standardized test scores. Students who make time for the arts are also more involved in community service, and less likely to drop out of school.

Wood goes on to explain that while live performances “work to jumpstart the imagination, they also lengthen the attention span,” plus “there’s a better chance that your child will develop creative gifts.” Some young students are energized by solving equations and some by painting portraits. For the latter, the traditional academic classroom may be the antithesis of a creative space — and that is why theater, music, and arts education are so critical. Education works best when everyone is engaged in a meaningful way. And education through performance can, in essence, offer new and diverse paths to that engagement.

Moreover, a performance can communicate any number of lessons without actually feeling like a lesson. Plays written for children often feature dilemmas familiar to them: telling the truth, making new friends, feeling confident. But it goes beyond that. Through theater, children and adults alike unconsciously start thinking about how to tell stories and formulate opinions about them. Even the youngest audience members know what they like, what they don’t like; they have favorite characters and least favorite scenes; they can fill in character backgrounds and imagine what happens next. Through live arts, they can become more active observers, increasingly more critical thinkers.

Finally, plays and concerts and dance classes are about being active and getting messy, about having fun and sharing an experience. And that experience can be had at any age. And here in DC, we are lucky to have an array of children’s theatres: Catalogue non-profits Adventure Theatre and Synetic Theater’s family programming, along with Imagination Stage, Discovery Theatre, and the Kennedy Center’s Theater for the Young Audience.

So let us know, what is your first theater memory?

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