Want to boost literacy? Teach your child to imagine the unimaginable? Cultivate curiosity? Get thee to a theatre and bring you kids.
With the introduction of No Child Left Behind, many schools that used to round out reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic with a yearly trip to see Shakespeare in action, or Jack ascending the beanstalk, have now scrapped these field trips in favor of spending more time preparing for standardized tests and drilling “fundamentals”. The question is, how can parents pick up the slack?
Peter Brosius, the Artistic Director of the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, says you don’t have to believe in the old phrase, “the arts for arts sake”, to find compelling reasons to bring your child to the theater on a regular basis. “When you look at the U.S. and where the growth in the economy is, it’s evident that there’s a need for idea generators. Our country is not necessarily anymore a producer of goods. Our economy thrives because we’re a producer of ideas,” he says. “Facts are just facts and as a society, with a touch of the calculator or a hit of google, kids can find a factual answer. But that can’t teach a mind to be subtle and flexible.”
Linda Hartzell, Artistic Director of the Seattle Children’s Theater agrees. “I taught for 17 years and I’ve seen first hand that theater makes for smarter, braver, human beings. Theater helps connect the head to the heart,” she says
Theater also connects to the importance of reading. A play has the ability to jump a story off the page and bring it to life. This can be a revelation to regular bookworms, but also a real boon to reluctant readers. When they connect with a play about a particular time period, children are hungry to learn, they’re driven to learn
When should you get your kids started? The sooner the better. There have long been a lot of shows for 5-years old and up. More and more theatres are experimenting with shows for ages 3 and up. In Europe, companies are creating shows for kids as young as 1 ½ or 2.
Brosius says there are definite advantages to starting young. If you inspire a love of theatre early on, there's a better chance that your child will develop creative gifts, and maintain a lifelong appreciation for the performing arts. “Kids brains are being hardwired and parents can help spark those neural pathways of creativity,” he says.
10 Arts Education Facts from Arts Education Navigator: Facts and Figures
sponsored by Americans for the Arts
1) A student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
2) Students with high arts participation and low socioeconomic status have a 4 percent dropout rate—five times lower than their low socioeconomic status peers.
3) Students who take four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points higher on their SAT scores than students who take only one-half year or less.
4) Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education.
5) 72 percent of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring.
6) 93 percent of Americans believe that the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education.
7) The arts are recognized as a core academic subject under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and 48 states have adopted standards for learning in the arts.
8) Two-thirds of public school teachers believe that the arts are getting crowded out of the school day.
9) 97 percent of elementary schools nationwide don’t offer dance and 96 percent don’t offer theater.
10) In 2008, African-American and Hispanic students had less than half of the access to arts education than their White peers.
While plays work to jumpstart the imagination, they also lengthen the attention span. At first, Hartzell says, sitting still in a darkened room may not feel natural for children. But that’s precisely why it’s important. Because TV is such a popular form of entertainment, she says, kids aren't used to focusing for an hour or an hour and a half. “Kids today see a new image every three to four seconds. They’re used to constant change. And they don’t listen as well,” she says.
Study after study has shown that the arts are more than fluff. Longitudinal data of 25,000 students involved in the arts 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. And we’re not just talking about upper middle class kids. These facts remain, regardless of a child’s socio-economic background.
*Source: Excerpted from “Why Children’s Theater Matters” | Education.com