9 Benefits of Introducing Your Child to Theater

It's not just entertainment. Theater is key to more creative, more communicative, healthier kids.

Growing up as a theater kid, I remember how creative, collaborative, and confident my theater peers were. They were the best listeners, fantastic teammates, smart problem-solvers, and so in tune with their emotions.

Apparently, it's not a coincidence or merely anecdotal that my theater cohorts displayed these qualities. Research shows all of these traits-and more-are tied to seeing and participating in theater specifically.

Here are nine benefits of introducing your child to theater as an active participant or an audience member.

young girl in white dress imagines dancing as a ballerina on a chalkboard stage
Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty (1)

Increases Creativity

Theater is an art of imagination. Unlike the realism of television or movies, theater requires a different kind of resourcefulness and flexibility. For example, in Disney's Frozen, when Princess Anna freezes, the animation turns her to ice, literally. In the Broadway musical version, when Princess Anna freezes, an ensemble of actors dressed in white and silver create an undulating human bridge that latches on to Anna and "freezes" her in place. No surprise, studies show that engagement with drama leads to more creative thinking and originality.

What's more, drama processes encourage what's known as divergent thinking or thinking in multiple directions. Making theater is often a process of discovery-figuring out where the story goes (in improv) or figuring out how the story is told and what it means (scripted). The open-ended and uncertain nature increases kids' tolerance of ambiguity and sparks curiosity. Theater also creates a safe environment to experiment and take risks.

Paves Way for Higher Academic Achievement

Students who experience theater education at any age show higher standardized test scores, improved reading comprehension, better attendance, greater concentration, and increased motivation to learn. Mastery of language and expanded vocabulary also results from watching theater.

Builds Self-Esteem

Theater can build a child's confidence and that can lead to self-discovery. At the National Theatre (NT) in London, the education department worked with children ages 7 to 10 from eight schools for three years. The students studied Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and performed in a storytelling program Word Alive. Compared to their peers who did not engage with the NT, these children showed increased self-esteem, as well as greater aptitude for speaking and listening.

Enhances Collaborative Skills

Theater is an inherently collaborative art form. It takes a team of writers, a company of actors, the ingenuity of designers and crew to tell a story on stage. Science shows that kids involved in theater are better communicators, which leads to stronger teamwork. Data also shows children involved in drama are more collaborative than their peers who were not exposed to it.

Improves Time Management Skills

Children in theater learn to budget time toward a long-term goal. Everyone works toward an opening night-and so much has to get done before that. Each rehearsal is cumulative. First you learn lines and songs. Then you memorize them. Then you learn blocking (movement in scenes) and choreography (movement and dance in song). Then you add the orchestra. Then you add costumes and sets and lights and microphones. All of this must be managed and built upon gradually to meet one final deadline.

Teaches Patience

Kids who attend live theater learn patience and concentration. Contrary to television that changes images every three to four seconds, theater requires concentration for a sustained period of time. Because theater is communal, children of all ages will also learn how to sit quietly and respect others for longer periods of time.

Helps with Mental Well-Being

Research has found people who engage with theater (participating or viewing) for two or more hours per week show significantly better mental health. Attending live theater is a communal exercise-and in-person performances have begun to open up around the country outdoors or at limited and safe capacities. When people sit together in a theater, science shows their hearts beat together. This creates connection, which can fight feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Promotes Empathy

Empathy is one of our most valuable human qualities and one of the hardest to teach. Theater is instrumental in raising empathetic kids who also possess emotional resilience and the ability to regulate their emotions.

Kids exposed to theater can better identify with multiple perspectives, thanks to the way actors take on roles and a director explains a character's perspective, intention, and goal. Even witnessing actors onstage do this in a shared space builds this skill. When a play or musical explores a difficult topic like bullying or family struggles, watching this allows kids to discover emotions they may not have experienced in their own lives, which develops empathy. Theater kids, therefore, may also manage their own emotions better and communicate how they're feeling, which leads to better dialogue with their peers and healthier classroom environments.

More Career Options

The creative arts contributes $878 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Contrary to the stereotype of the struggling artist, the arts can be a rewarding and financially gainful field. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs including but not exclusive to acting. The theater will expose your little one to opportunities in crafts like costume design (for those who love fashion and illustration), scenic design (for those who love architecture and drawing), hairstyling and makeup, directing, playwriting, and stage management.

Or, as they graduate to teen and college programs, they may develop an affinity for the business of theater like general management (accounting, scheduling, and more for a production-which might start out as selling tickets or raising money for the school production) or publicity (acting as the spokesperson for a person or show-which may begin with TikTok videos or poster design to promote the show).

4 Theater Games to Play at Home with Your Child

It's easy and fun for families to reap the benefits of theater right at home. Here are a few ideas.

One-word story

Tell a story with your child(ren) one word at a time. When it's your turn, you can only say one word in order to tell a full story together bit by bit. This will help you and your kids use your improv and imagination skills, encourage divergent thinking, foster teamwork, and teach your child that uncertainty can be exciting and fun!

Mirror

Stand across from your child (or have them stand facing their sibling). One person is the mirror and the other the "player." The mirror has to mimic what the player is doing as accurately as possible. This teaches awareness, body control, and fosters connection.

On the spot

Encourage your child's creativity with this interpretive game. One person is the "caller" and chooses a theme or topic. The other players must perform something that fits that word. It can be a sound, a pose, a motion, anything that links to the caller's idea.

Captain's Coming

A remix on Simon Says, this group game requires all of your commands be tied to this seafaring theme. Come up with three to eight cues and their corresponding movements to get kids jumping, crawling, and moving in different ways-like swabbing the deck, walking the plank, steering the ship, etc. But when the Captain says "Captain's Coming," everyone must salute and cannot do the next command until the Captain says, "At Ease." If you do, you're out!

Ruthie Fierberg is the creator and host of the free podcast Why We Theater, fusing theater and social change. She is the former executive dditor of Playbill covering Broadway and performing arts internationally. She created and hosted Playbill's Live From the Red Carpet Specials. Find more ruthiefierberg.com.

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