With the Lyric Theater’s production of Peter Pan approaching, parents have been rehearsing lots of questions about how important it is to introduce their children to theater and the arts. Well, let me see if I can get everyone hooked-up (Captain Hook that is) on understanding the role that theater can play in your child’s development.

Children of all ages love to pretend, and if they love to pretend they are well on their way to being introduced to theater arts.  Toddlers will mimic what they are seeing in everyday life  Preschoolers will recreate familiar roles and events, and by elementary school they are acting out stories – either ones they have heard or ones they make up.  Each of these activities offers an opportunity for your child to begin to appreciate the fun of acting even if it is not on a stage.  It is usually during elementary school that the more advanced skills of acting by performing in a play, making costumes and scenery, etc are taught as part of a formal introduction to theater arts.

What are the benefits of participating in theater arts either by being part of a play or simply watching one?  Studies suggest that reading, watching, or better yet participating in a play or even a short pretend activity improves the literacy skills of young children, including reading, writing, and public speaking. Exposure to theater can also develop their imagination, increase their ability to solve problems, enhance their social skills and ability to work with others, and may be a healthy release of some of their pent up emotions.  And in addition to all that, it is lots of fun.

For parents, getting your child interested in the theater allows you to spend time fostering and in many cases enjoying some of your child’s most creative moments. It may also give you some insight into what your child is interested in or has fun with. If they are working with dramatic material, it can help your child better understand some of life’s dilemmas.

If encouraging your child to play pretend is not enough of an introduction to theater arts, a great way to introduce your child to theater is to take them to a production that is geared for children as well as adults, and this fall’s Lyric Theater’s Production of Peter Pan – which is being performed at the Flynn Theater November 11 through 14  – is a great way to do just that.  As kids visit Neverland, and see Peter, the Lost Boys, and the Darling siblings battle Captain Hook, your child will have fun, be thoroughly entertained and also understand how teamwork and a lot of friendship and love can help overcome adversity.

Hopefully, tips like this will allow your children to fly higher – just like Peter Pan -in terms of their creativity and social skills as you introduce them to the wonders of theater arts and the important role the arts can play in enhancing your child’s development and creativity.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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