Exposing Kids to Arts Helps Them

There are a lot of good reasons to take young children to live theater.

Arts advocates and educators such as Edie Demas, director of education for the New Victory Theater in Manhattan, often stress the practical and educational benefits.

In her two-part post "Anytime's a Good Time to Introduce Your Child to the Arts" on the company's website (newvictorytheater.blogspot.com), she cites numerous positive side effects of involving youngsters with any of the creative or performing arts.

• Supports language development by building vocabulary and stimulating conversation. That's particularly true when kids are encouraged to talk about the show they've just seen and how it surprised them, made them happy or sad. Getting them to describe their experiences -- what they saw, how the story was presented onstage or was different from the book version -- also makes more interesting dinner-table conversation than everyday subjects such as whether or not they can wear flip-flops to school tomorrow or have ice cream after dinner.

• Builds empathy by connecting a child's feelings to those expressed by the characters. For youngsters who connect to Cinderella's misery at being pinched, poked and made fun of by her stepsisters, it becomes clearer why it's not nice to treat your own sister that way. It's also good for kids to know that adults also have feelings, a fact that emerges when Dad agrees that the monster was a little scary or Grandma admits that the story made her feel sad, too.

• Increases learning skills. Mysteries encourage careful listening and can generate intermission discussion on who did the crime or what's likely to happen next. The farmer's dilemma and stubbornness in "Click, Clack, Moo" is a good jumping off point for a post-show analysis of possible alternate endings on how to handle the rebellious cows.

• Develops decision making and the ability to express preferences and dislikes. Telling someone what you liked or didn't and why allows children an opportunity to assert their individuality in an arena beyond domestic everyday tussles over bedtimes, toy cleanups and clothing.

That the discussion inevitably will force them to reason and use concrete examples to defend their position -- what it was they liked about the princess' costume or why the king was funny or the witch scary -- is yet another benefit.

In her eagerness to prove the educational and social merits of art, Demas omits the best reason of all to take children to theater -- bonding.

Ask any theater lover about the first play or musical he or she saw and you'll open a flood of fond and vivid memories. Interestingly enough, those memories are not limited to the show seen but extend to the person who cared enough to introduce that now-grown child to their favorite art form.

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