As winter rolls around, having some indoor days planned for the kids can help those long, grey days feel a little more manageable. But when it comes to live theater, planning days out with the kids can raise a lot of unexpected obstacles.
With shows for the holiday season already booking up, we’re taking the stress out of the equation with 16 tried and tested tips for introducing your kids to theater.
1) Enjoy yourself!
This seems obvious, but it’s important for everybody to keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to “power through.” It’s to have fun.
Kids really pick up on your mood, so if you’re feeling tense, they will be tense as well. Similarly, if you’ve enjoyed the play, they will associate seeing shows with having a good time together.
2) Loosen-up the plot (literally)
Complex storylines are harder to stay focused on, and fast-paced plots are not bathroom break friendly – so keep this in mind when picking a play for children. Children are much more likely to stay focused on strong visual and musical elements, and the recurring motifs will help them follow along.
Try to pick a play that prompts a visual response, or that you can hum a tune from. Here’s a list of our favorite choices for kids.
You can also look up the theater company online; if they create beautiful visuals, you can bet they’ll be featured in the reviews!
3) Cut the drama with pre-planned purchases
Decide what you’re buying (and when) ahead of time, so you don’t have to negotiate in the busy theater. With so many new things to take in, it’s best to think through these questions ahead of time:
– Are you buying snacks there or bringing them from home? (Make sure theaters allow you to bring in snacks from outside before you decide to do so. And if you do bring your own, make sure they aren’t too noisy or messy!)
– Are you getting a program or any other souvenirs?
– Are they buying it with their pocket money or will you treat them?
4) Keep it short and sweet
Save Shakespeare’s King Lear for the well-seasoned theatergoer and try to pick a show with a run-time that your child can reasonably sit through. Running times will usually be listed on the show or theater website. If not, call their box office and ask.
Pro tip: Smaller, local companies will tend to produce shorter works, and show in a more relaxed setting (and are often a lot cheaper!)
5) Save time (and stress) with the right seat
Sitting in the back of the theater may provide distance if your child gets visually overwhelmed.
If the theater has a balcony, sitting up there can be more exciting and less disruptive to the performance when you have to go for the inevitable bathroom breaks. (Even if you go before you get in, it is safe to prepare for at least one more bathroom trip.)
Similarly, sitting close to an exit allows you to leave at any time with the least disruption to others.
6) Better vision = Better focus
It’s that simple: If your child can’t see, they certainly won’t be able to focus. Many theaters offer a booster seat, but it’s best to nab one early as supplies are usually limited. Bringing a small cushion in your bag can save you time securing a booster.
Be aware when deciding on tickets as boosters are often not available in all areas of seating.
Letting your children use the opera glasses can also be a fun way of helping them see better (but you might want to give them a quick wipe-over first.)
7) Bring a toy for back up
Stuffed animals and similar plush toys are great, quiet ways of helping a child self-soothe – as are squishy teething toys for younger children.
Avoid anything with multiple parts, to not lose any part of the toy, and avoid any toys that are too exciting.
8) Take your kids for a test drive
Seriously! Bringing kids to the cinema and events at your local library first can be an excellent trial run. The same behavior is expected of them but with way less pressure to get it right the first time.
What do they struggle with? What did they do great at? Knowing these things will help you plan your theater trip much more effectively.
9) Get the support you need with the right performance
I strongly recommend abiding by the age guidelines of each performance, especially if this is your child’s first trip to the theater.
Many theaters will offer specific performances targeted at younger audiences.
Additionally, some theaters offer a “relaxed performance” of certain shows for young people with special needs such as autism, learning disabilities, and other sensory disorders. For some “relaxed performances,” the auditorium is not as dark, the microphones are not as loud, and some special effects may be toned down. These are great for all younger children.
10) Be prepared to leave – at any time
Being realistic with your expectations is important. Younger kids might calm down after a quick walk around the concessions, but you might just have to sit out the whole thing.
If you’re going as a family, it’s important to have contingency plans in place.
11) Remember: The theater is much more than the play
The hustle and bustle of the concession area can be just as exciting as the play itself, especially in older venues. Give your children time to take it all in.
If the theater program is not giving at the door of the show, and you’ve decided to buy a one, get it now and give your child time to look through it and orient themselves. Buying a program can be a good way to help them know more about what is going on, and also give them a great keepsake of the occasion.
If you want to make it really special, you can even wait around by the stage door after the show and get some of the actors to sign the program to make a unique souvenir!
12) Skip the crowds with a matinee
A matinee is a performance that takes place in the daytime. And it is often a lot less crowded and more relaxed.
It is also typically less expensive, so if you have to leave early, you may not feel as invested in “getting your money’s worth.”
13) Make it a date!
If your children are thinking of this as a special treat, they’re far less likely to act up.
If your child enjoys clothes, let them pick a special outfit and maybe bring a friend to make this into an event.
14) Cut the confusion
We take much of the quirks of the theater for granted, but they are unusual. Let them know all the different things to expect before you go. For example:
– Lights flashing to signal it’s time to enter
– The ushers showing you to your seat
– House lights dimming before the show begins
– Curtains opening to signal the start of the performance
– Clapping at the end to show our appreciation
By knowing about them ahead of time, your child will be more receptive to following these social cues.
15) Leave the “hanger” at home
This one’s obvious. No one wants to cooperate when they’re hungry – especially younger kids! Plan to go for a big meal before you hit the theater so that nobody has to worry about getting “hangry.”
16) Practice whispering
It’s an open secret that younger kids are awful at whispering, and talking during performances is a guaranteed pet peeve for many.
Play games ahead of time that involve practicing how to whisper, so that they can tell you what they need without a stage whisper.
Here’s a great list of different whispering games for younger kids.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this list! Let us know which tips have worked for you.
What about taking your kids to the opera? The best way to guarantee a fun first-time opera experience would be to take them to a kid-friendly opera! Here is a list with 7 of them.
Dancing Daisy is a family-run business of dancewear specialists based in Dorset, England. They sell high-quality ballet clothes at affordable prices, making ballet and dance of all kinds an affordable and enjoyable pastime available to everyone. Check them out here. This blog post was written by John Stuart.