Surprising Ways Theatre Education Can Give Your Kid a Boost

Theatre opens doors and can help kids in many ways beyond being a great performer.

Goldie Patrick
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Goldie Patrick, Toca Magazine Guest Writer
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There’s a safe space where the school athlete, the self-proclaimed bookworm and even the most popular of students can not only find joy, but also can also often find a connection to the most unexpected friends. This space is called drama club, theatre class or rehearsals for a spring or fall production.

I can remember vividly being in the Wiz when I was younger, and a flock of the usual suspect seasoned student actors signed up to audition for the role of the lion. We just knew the polished triple-threat student (a performer who is a strong singer, actor and dancer) would walk away with the role. Instead, imagine the shock when the role went to the somewhat clumsy, intimidatingly strong, typically “too cool” popular male athlete.

We all wondered, “Where would he fit into the world we had constructed as our haven during drama class?” We were reluctant at first to let him in our world, for fear that we, the drama kids, would become the victims of bullying for our passion for performing.

Instead, something truly magical happened. Not only did he fit right in into our world of drama, but also our friendships made their way outside of rehearsals and into the hallways, and into classes. The gaps that typically make middle school and high school a difficult place to grow slowly but surely closed in, all thanks to theatre.

We were reluctant … to let him in our world, for fear that we, the drama kids, would become the victims of bullying. Instead, something truly magical happened.

Theatre’s role in the journey of self-discovery

For many young people, the tween years are the time in their lives where they are embarking on the journey of self-discovery. Why is theatre such a powerful response to the task of finding yourself?

The answer is that theatre is rooted in giving its participants — on stage, backstage and in the audience — the opportunity to create and imagine the world they’d love to live in. For most this world is an accepting, loving place where dreams come true and anything can happen. The chance to explore theatre is a chance to believe in yourself and the potential of others to make our world beautiful.

Whether your kid is the outgoing talkative student eager to jump on stage or the introverted daydreamer who’d rather sit in the back and go unnoticed, theatre has a place for everyone. And that’s what makes it so special. When theatre is used with groups of young people, it is a powerful youth development tool.

Theatre is rooted in giving its participants … the opportunity to create and imagine the world they’d love to live in.

Arts integration deepens understanding of academic subjects

Using theatre in the classroom or after school is a great method of both introducing theatre to young students, and a great way to support the lessons they’re learning in the classroom. You may be wondering, what is arts integration and why are schools making such a big deal of it? Well, teachers and schools have discovered that theatre opens doors and can help students in so many ways beyond being a great performer.

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Goldie Patrick works with students in Washington, D.C.

Arts integration is an approach when educators engage students using an art form and the students demonstrate their knowledge of another area or subject through the learned art. It’s like how music and science work beautifully together and can be taught in orchestration. Or for drama, how theater and social studies, English and reading/literature are great teaching companions.

Three ways theatre boosts kids in the arts and in the classroom

Here are some ways that theatre can positively impact kids not only in the arts but also in the classroom.

  • 1. Self-awareness. The process of creating characters, or becoming characters, increases kids’ self-awareness, allowing them to connect to someone else and draw the parallels that make them similar, in order to bring the character to life. This also can help prevent bullying by increasing kids’ empathy.
  • 2. Cognitive thinking. Behind the scenes, for kids who are interested in building sets, or designing costumes, or putting the pieces together for the performance, is a great exercise in cognitive thinking. Knowing how the set is connected to the story, or how the costumes have to reflect the setting and era is all a part of putting the pieces together.
  • 3. Analytical skills. The creative process of writing scripts, monologues or even performance poetry is the place where many kids stretch their creative muscle. However, what they may not recognize is that they’re also very much working their analytical skills. Writing the story involves listening, understanding and articulating the details of the characters, the plot and other components that make a play worth seeing.

Playing any one of the roles is also a chance to witness leadership and self-confidence grow in the students who participate.

Kids yearn for autonomy; theatre offers that

Young people live in a world that from their view is mostly run by adults. Their routines, curriculum, even the information they are taught is all created and delivered by adults; there is usually a yearning for autonomy as a result of so much adult-generated control. Theatre reaffirms their experiences, their ideas and their voice in a unique way that combats the
rather adult-dominated culture young people grow up in.

Young people live in a world that from their view is mostly run by adults.

Allowing young people a connection to theatre is often the beginning of cultivating leaders, social justice advocates, educators and, of course, artists. Anything is possible with theatre, and young people who take the journey often learn not just about the stage, but a whole heap about themselves.

Poet, playwright and performer Goldie Patrick has worked for more than 15 years with schools, students, foundations and nonprofit organizations to show the many ways theatre is valuable for students. Self-awareness, cultural awareness and intellectual ability were central to the Fresh Noise curriculum she developed for the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts to introduce middle-schoolers to hip-hop theatre.

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