The new family program from Riverside Theatres hit my inbox this week and it got me thinking about the value of theatre and live performance for kids. I have 2 boys aged 9 and 10 and we’re always looking for ways to entertain them that will broaden their little minds. As parents we all want our kids to have a positive experience of the world and we want them to grow into well rounded, happy, successful people. There is so much reliance these days on screens – computer games, movies, TV, YouTube as well as a real competitiveness in terms of academic and sporting achievements. I worry about the impact all this screen time and the stress of achievement will have on my boys long term. One of the ways that my husband and I try to balance out our kids’ life experiences is to expose them to different art forms and cultures. And theatre is an excellent way to do this.
Science tells us that exposure to art in all its forms is good for right brain development, which is the side of the brain that is responsible for our creative and visual cognition. Despite this, the study of arts and support for the arts is dwindling. The current Australian government is peddling the power of innovation, but without stretching the right side brains of our children who is it that will come up with all the ideas?
Leaving right side brain development aside for a moment, there are a multitude of other fabulous reasons why we should be taking our kids to see live performances of theatre and music. When I canvassed my friends on this subject the response was immediate and passionate. Overwhelmingly they felt that theatrical experiences taught their kids about emotions, empathy, community and history. That attending live theatre was exciting, magical, engaging, uplifting and thrilling. It introduces children to new concepts, it pushes boundaries and can even create new interests.
The experience of theatre is an energy exchange between the audience and the actors and between the audience members themselves. It’s communal – it connects us and it tells our stories. It stretches our kids and it makes our books, history and fantasies come alive in a way that a movie doesn’t and can’t. It’s real life communication that you can see, smell, touch and hear. It’s not a flat screen – you are there – in the room with your hero or the protagonist and it is powerful stuff. There was a study undertaken in 2014 in Arkansas and published in the journal Education Next in 2015 that found that attending live theatre increased literary knowledge, tolerance and empathy in ways that watching a movie of the story or reading the play did not. In other words, if you are studying a play at school you should see it performed live for a better, more thorough understanding.
Live theatre has the ability to teach our kids about other cultures, to develop empathy of people and situations that are outside their current experience and to deepen their understanding of social issues. It also aids in concentration and memory, listening skills, vocabulary and even socially appropriate behaviours. And it’s fun. Don’t forget that. It’s a biggie….
Really, we’re doing our kids a major disservice if we don’t give them these experiences. And live theatre really is available to most people. Talk to the teachers at your school and encourage them to organise an excursion. There are often discounted tickets available to disadvantaged schools because theatre professionals believe that these experiences shouldn’t only be the privilege of those who can afford it. Explore the offerings at your local theatres, you’ll be surprised at what’s available.
And getting back to Riverside Theatres and their new family season, you’ll find an amazing array of shows - a wide variety that will have something that appeals to everyone and for every age. Attending the theatre in Parramatta you’ll find it highly accessible and a whole lot more affordable than the city. The quality of the programming is completely comparable to anything you will find in any capital city of Australia, with shows by The Australian Ballet, Patch Theatre and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre to name just a few. Books that will come alive this year include The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The 52-Storey Tree House, Mr Stink and The Little Prince. And children with special needs are beautifully and thoughtfully catered for with “relaxed performances” so there is no need for anyone to miss out.
For an extra special theatrical experience don’t miss the Spot-On Children’s Festival held annually each year at Riverside. This year the festival will run from September 27 to October 1. We attended last year’s festival – my 2 boys, myself and Grandma and had a fabulous time. We saw an awe inspiring performance by Circus Oz, the boys volunteered to go up on stage and ‘help out’ and they had an absolute hoot playing on the play equipment that was erected in the courtyard. The whole venue was like a wonderland for kids and loads of fun for us all.
An old friend of mine recently reminded me of a quote by Albert Einstein that is particularly relevant…. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Fire up your kid’s imagination this year and give them the world.