There’s something about a trip to the theatre that makes you feel 10 years old again. Whether its gawking at the special effects, laughing outrageously at the inappropriate jokes, or wishing you could join the majestic troupe of dancers on stage. It helps us escape the burden of our daily lives for a few hours, where we indulge and dive head first into another world of humour, thrills, magic and music.

So it’s hardly surprising that along with our inner child, our actual children love the theatre too. Don’t be put off thinking the theatre is only for adults – far from it! There’s actually lots of reasons why taking your children to the theatre has plenty of benefits. Take a look at them below…

It encourages empathy and cultural awareness

A study published in Education Next found that students who watched high-quality theatre productions showed “greater tolerance and improved ability to read the emotions of others”. The research highlights that watching a live performance produces these positive effects in a way that watching a film can’t.

Theatre is generally making waves to improve the way it reflects society. From organisations like Ramps on the Moon, which celebrate the inclusion of Deaf and disabled artists on stage, to the all-female musical ‘Waitress’, theatre is now more diverse and representative.

This is also true for children’s shows. Rhubarb Theatre’s Paper Wings is the perfect example of how children’s theatre can provide huge benefits to their cultural understanding. It tells the tale Tatao and her mother, who arrive in a strange new world after being forced to leave their homeland. It conjures the emotions of feeling homesick and confused, and the struggle of starting a new life.

The show is suitable for as young as five years old, bursting with colour and creativity. It gently introduces little ones to highly-relevant topics such as war and refugees, but does so in an appropriate way.

It exposes them to literature and history

The same study in Education Next also notes that by watching a play, as opposed to reading it or watching a film, students had better knowledge of the plot. Theatre is a great way to teach children about historical events in an engaging and memorable way. One of the popular theatre shows around is the Horrible Histories series, which uses iconic characters and 3D special effects.

Like Horrible Histories, many of today’s theatre shows also stem from books. You can choose from award-winning West End productions like Matilda, or something more intimate like Polka Theatre’s James and the Giant Peach or Cadogan Hall’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

For kids who’ve read the books, there’s nothing quite like watching their favourite characters come to life. It’s also a great way to expose children who haven’t read the books to some fantastic and imaginative literature.

Matilda is an example of benefits to children from going to the theatre, where they are exposed to literary works on stage.

It develops critical thinking skills

Theatre has plenty of unanticipated and powerful benefits, which is why taking young children to a show is important. Many believe that it can provide kids with life skills, such as critical thinking.

“Watching and participating in theatre can help children to increase their confidence and develop their critical thinking.”

Louisa Heads McCann, Marketing Administrator at Little Angel Theatre

Some theories associate drama and critical thinking, claiming that it uniquely combines visual and aural languages. This uses cognitive and emotional capacities to promote critical assessment of the world around us. By watching theatre, children are exposed to symbolic representations, hypothetical plots and creative characters. Often, they arrive at a conclusion themselves after critically evaluating what they have seen.

“As years have passed, their (the children’s) reflection has become much more sophisticated critiquing both narrative and form…If we get more children watching and enjoying theatre, arguably they are more likely to become adults equipped with skills to understand the world we live in”

From Artistic Director of Little Angel Theatre, Samantha Lane’s blog ‘Why Children’s Theatre?’

It promotes wellbeing

Lots of today’s children’s theatre has a focus on tackling issues that hinder wellbeing. Often, themes relate to mental health, friendship, sense of belonging and other important aspects.

“The work we have done this year focused on unleashing children’s creativity, using puppetry to explore emotions and wellbeing, and unlocking future aspirations.  On the theme of wellbeing, our show Prince Charming told the story of the fairy tale character we all expect to be heroic and brave. But most days he’s actually too afraid even to leave his own bed.

The audience described it as an ‘absolutely fantastic show dealing with important issues for kids in a fun and intelligent way’.”

Louisa Heads McCann, Marketing Administrator at Little Angel Theatre

The Girl and the Giraffe is another great example, which comprises a sensitive story between, well a girl and a giraffe. The giraffe isn’t feeling well and so the girl tries to make him feel better with bandages and plasters. But he explains to her that sometimes we need a different kind of plaster for things we can’t see. The message is important, and taking children to theatre shows such as these can have significant benefits and impacts.

“The stories of others help us process our own narrative – whether our young audience see themselves reflected back, or perhaps a dilemma they had not previously experienced, theatre is a safe space to explore those feelings.

The immediacy of live performance encourages you to step into the shoes of a character – building empathy, understanding and inclusivity. Taking children to theatre also gives adults an ‘in’ to explore these feelings together – and offers a language to begin those vital conversations.”

Nicola Sangster, Associate Director of the Pied Piper Theatre Company

It’s also very fun…

As we mentioned, most adults enjoy going to the theatre. There’s so much to watch, sing along to and laugh along with, that we rarely leave without a smile on our face. And it’s no different for kids. Whether they’re too young to understand verbal dialogue and are stimulated by visuals or are transitioning into adolescence and need to explore their feelings, theatre is a great outlet.

“Theatre is for everyone and theatre is fun; by engaging  from a young age we are helping to create a lifelong relationship with theatre. Children will grow up knowing that theatre is a space where they are welcome, equal and valued.”

Nicola Sangster, Associate Director of the Pied Piper Theatre Company

According to founder Kirsty Mead, Rhubarb Theatre was set up because of her childhood experiences at the theatre.

“My parents took me to see a touring show of Midsummer Nights Dream.  It was performed in a local school’s gym and the fairies were climbing on the school rope gym equipment as part of the show.  I fell in love with the magic of theatre that night. 

It was creative, colourful, surprising and even though the language of Shakespeare must have passed me by at that age, the visual fantasy has stayed with me till this day.

This visual fantasy is what we at Rhubarb Theatre always aim for.  If we can bring across a story through movement, shadow, puppetry, mask and song, then we will.  We want to reach as many children, inspire and get their imaginations zinging.”

Kirsty Mead, Rhubarb Theatre

There you have it – taking to your children to theatre is definitely worth it and has lots of benefits! So why not take a look at the upcoming family-friendly shows to get inspired?