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Raising the Curtain: Theater with Kids

By Jillian Finkle, Education Programs Coordinator, Providence Children’s Museum

This summer, Providence Children’s Museum debuts a new original theater production — After the Beanstalk: Jack, Jill and the Giant. The 20-minute interactive show expands upon the classic tale to explore ideas presented in the Museum’s newest exhibit, ThinkSpace. After Jack is kidnapped by the giant, he and his sister Jill enlist audience participation to solve spatial puzzles and challenges that the giant has invented to prevent their escape.

After the BeanstalkAfter the Beanstalk will be offered multiple times most Mondays in July and August, so families can see the performance more than once. This helps develop children’s understanding of the story and appreciation of the art of theater — as well as their attention spans! Children are invited to participate in several different ways and can also interact with the actors after the show.

Attending a performance at the Children’s Museum gives families a chance to sit down and rest and also expands opportunities for fun learning. Often performances relate to exhibits, programs or other play activities. For the youngest visitors, Museum performances provide a no-stress way to see if they are ready for theater-going — if they can’t sit still long enough yet, it’s no problem to leave in the middle of a show and then come back in again!

Beyond the Museum, theater provides many enjoyable educational opportunities for children. By its very nature, theater is about stories, and theatrical performances give children the chance to experience a story live in front of them. Children naturally pretend when they play, taking on different roles to explore their own identities and the world around them. Therefore children innately understand the idea that the actors and the story are pretend, happily connecting to the story and the characters. This is easier to do with live theater than TV or a movie, where images on a screen are enhanced with special effects and look so realistic that even adults might forget that it is all just “pretend.”

Because of the connection audiences feel when witnessing a story performed by live actors, theater helps children develop empathy. This is especially important in today’s increasingly technology-driven world, where interpersonal connections may be more superficial because of the vast amount of electronic mediation. Many experts cite a lack of empathy as a major contributor to societal ills such as the rise in violence among young people.

Theater has also been shown to contribute to the development of imagination, curiosity, literacy and creativity — all skills our children need to become the idea generators in workplaces of the future. And children who attend theater performances are more likely to grow up to become patrons and supporters of the arts.

If I’ve said enough to convince you, come by Providence Children’s Museum this summer to see our new show! If your children enjoy it, try taking them to another local performance intended for children. When you do, consider these tips:

  • Choose a show that your children will enjoy and check with the theater for age recommendations.
  • Review the plot ahead of time to avoid confusion during the performance. If the show is based on a book, read it first.
  • Discuss appropriate audience behavior beforehand.
  • Arrive early to use the bathroom and explore the physical space of the theater.
  • Talk about the show afterwards. Read or tell the story again, or look for reviews in the local paper to extend the experience.
  • Make theater going a regular activity and seek out more complicated shows as your child grows. It will soon become a tradition that is fun for the entire family to enjoy together!

photo credit: Providence Children’s Museum

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