Why Theatre Is Important For Children
As a school teacher and celebrated thespian, it is important for me to have my two worlds meet. What better place to cross over than seated on the plush chairs on the dress circle watching the latest Theatre For Children performance?
When I first started teaching at my current school, the only ‘creative subject’ on offer was Art. But there is so much more to ‘The Arts’ than a bit of paint or a clay model. I have since introduced the school to music lessons, drama lessons, and soon to be adding video and animation to my computing curriculum. The arts are so important to children in many ways, that we as adults don’t realise unless you lift the bonnet and see what is actually happening with the motor!
Children who attend theatre or live performances have an edge over their fellow students who go without. Starting so simply with ‘Listening skills’. How often is it we say to a child ‘are you listening?’ Or ‘that went in one ear and out the other’. Teaching a child to listen, and engage is a skills much harder to teach than the alphabet or the times tables. The theatre is such a powerful place to allow children to develop these skills as they sit through an incredible performance of singing, dancing, or even an educational tour like the excellent ‘Horrible Histories’.
“My kid sits and watches the TV, that’s the same thing.” Is it? Can you honestly say a TV show has blown you away like a theatre performance? When I watch TV ,often sections wash over me, and at any point I can switch it off or pick up my phone or have a conversation with my siblings. You can’t do that at the theatre, it forces children to sit and listen, and avoid all other distractions— especially in this current climate of ‘iPad Parenting’.
Theatre can be such a powerful way to get children to engage more with a story they have been working on. I read the wonderful David Walliams book ‘Gangsta Granny’ to my class, then we went to see the theatre tour, and they understood the story even more, and got that extra level of learning than a child who had simply ‘read the book’. Children these days are so overstimulated with everything around them, they shy away from the black and white text a good novel will provide. Many of my pupils re-read the book after seeing the show, because they became entranced by it. I’m so excited to do ‘Boy in a Dress’ as my shared read next year as the RSC are performing it in their next season!
If you’ll forgive me for getting a little technical and boring; there is significant evidence from the world of neuroscience that creative stimulation is important for a fully developed brain. Academia and technology stimulates the left brain and can get people really thinking literally, but observing and performing will engage the right side of the brain. When the 2 work in tandem, the brain is at it’s most functional.
Not only this, but quite simply, the theatre is very therapeutic. Young developing minds have a lot going on, angsts and anxieties of life, learning and mistake making, not to forget the healthy dollop of hormones that kick in during the pre-teens. Kids are stressed and overworked, watching theatre can be a release for this, but more so that performing theatre allows children to release so much of this tension. Performing theatre will allow children to express themselves, resolve internal conflict and release pent-up feelings and fears.
Performance is a fantastic way to develop teamwork, confidence and non-verbal communication. Once the creative juices are flowing, with the correct guidance, children can learn all about different cultures, feelings and emotions without realising they are doing it. Drama is not something that should be kept in the rehearsal room either.
An English lesson can be scaffolded with the use of drama games, to help with inference and motives. Hot seating is a fantastic tool to help students better understand characters, and their interactions. Using the ‘Whoosh’ technique can help to reenforce the children understanding of a a storyline, and will boost comprehension 10 fold without too much effort.
Who doesn’t love dress up? Give the learners characters from a point in history, or a different place in the world. Allow the children to bring topics to life, allow them to learn through play, it will become way more real and understandable to them, just from playing a few drama games — they need never know they are learning.
As discussed in a previous blog post, the world of theatre is a lovely way to meet new people and make new friends — this is no different for children. If anything it is more important that young people engage in large group activities, after school clubs or amateur groups. This will develop their people skills, their socialising and again their speaking and listening. And why not? There are so many fantastic groups out there for children to attend, In Nottingham you have the ‘Lovelace Junior Group’, ‘Television workshops’, ‘Stage Coach’ and many more.
In the words of Whitney, I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. The current system of test, test, test and ‘book based’ OFSTED inspections makes it hard for professionals to engage children in these activities without a mass of justification. I want to say that ‘the arts are just as important as english, maths and science’, but to do so would create barriers. Each subject is not a subject in itself, but will allow development in so many areas, with cross curricular links and remembering, at the end of the day it is our job to give these children all the skill and let them use them in their chosen way.
Theatre is so important for children.