Most children delight in taking part in some sort of performing art, whether it is dance, drama or music, but did you know it is good for their wellbeing? And there is plenty you can do to harbour your child’s enthusiasm without the need to enrol them in formal classes.

The driving force behind many parent’s desire to encourage their offspring in performing arts isn’t to create starlets of the future or precocious brats, it is about stimulating the body and mind and the wrath of emotional, social and educational paybacks including;

Confidence – Performing in front of an audience whether it be parents or peers will help a child get comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone; allow them to make mistakes and learn from them and give them a voice to speak up for themselves.

Team workThrough the arts, children work together, share responsibility as well as accept responsibility, problem solve, experience empathy for others and learn to compromise to achieve a common goal. By learning collaboration kids begin to see their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role. It is also a great way to make new friends with similar interests.

Perseverance – Learning an instrument or dance requires practice, patience and persistence. On the journey to success children learn that receiving constructive feedback is a regular part of any arts instruction with a goal to improve skills, not personal attacks, which will prove a vital skill in later life. Once completed, the sense of accomplishment will drive perseverance in the next endeavour.

Concentration The ability to listen, retain and contribute involves a great deal of focus. The ability to concentrate for extended periods in an artistic setting will not only assist when it comes to school work, it will also encourage creative thinking and help a child be able to think on their feet and ‘outside of the box’.

The link between performing arts and improved educational performance is astounding, dating as far back as ancient Greek philosopher Plato who said, “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but more importantly music for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”

With so many benefits, how can we most effectively engage our children in these activities?

Dance is active and a great way to improve fitness, body awareness, motor skills, strength, posture and flexibility.

“Dance, laughter and exercise trigger the release of endorphins which help reduce stress, prevent illness and relieve pain. It is proven that people who exercise are happier, and that goes for children as well,” former fitness instructor and founder of the Happy Feet Fitness program Donna McColl told Offspring.

Her program delivered primarily through child care facilities to around 10,000, 2-5 year olds in Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland and launching into New South Wales this year, was designed to entertain and inspire kids to make positive, healthy choices for themselves through dance, puppetry, magic and song.

“There is nothing more important than our children’s health, well-being and happiness. Nothing more valuable than their sense of spirit.” McColl says.

Dancing has recognised social and psychological advantages to a child’s development from problem solving and critical thinking to developing resilience and empathy for others. Another wonderful attribute of dance is its suitability to a wide range of ages, interests and abilities. Many dance schools offer classes from toddlers to adults.

“Dance can cross all social and cultural barriers,” McColl says.

Dance classes focused on enjoyment and movement are perfect for younger children where technique, routines and costumes are not so important. For older children looking for more structure and the opportunity to become involved in concerts, there are so many options including:

  • ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, acrobatics, cheerleading and hip hop.

Talk to your child about their interests, visit a few studios and observe a class or two and ask about trial options. Local dance schools will often advertise in parenting and local papers or can be found online listed according to  locality.

Bring it into your home:

Your little one doesn’t need to attend a formal dance class to start moving, there are plenty of free online tutorials to follow, computer games specifically designed to get you dancing in your lounge room. Or just put on some music and jump around!

Drama puts children in exciting, funny, thought provoking and interesting circumstances to expand their view of the world and the people within it. It is not just limited to stage shows but encompasses circus acts, illusions, puppetry and theatre sports.

“Not every child that takes drama will become a famous actor, but they will walk away with the tools to speak in public and speak up for themselves. They don’t have to be the best, they just have to be involved,” Australian Performing Arts Centres Association (APACA) Executive Director Bronwyn Edinger says.

There is a healing power in drama. Edinger describes the success of an initiative by the Bell Shakespeare theatre company, which she is a former General Manager, of providing theatrical opportunities to those of social and geographic disadvantage, including remote indigenous communities and juvenile detention facilities, who would otherwise not experience the power and magic of Shakespeare or live theatre.

“The programs, like drama itself, are designed to develop life skills including decision-making, empathy, conflict resolution and self-confidence. After taking part in the program there is a notable improvement in behaviour and school attendance, interest in education and feelings of self worth,” Edinger says.

Drama, like dance, is suitable to a range of ages and abilities from three years through to adults. Many primary and high schools offer a drama program and some local youth centres provide opportunities to be involved in regular theatrical productions. Otherwise, ask for recommendations of a good drama club.

Bring it into your home:

  • Set up a box of dress-ups and props to help children create imaginative scenarios, include a large sheet to use as the stage curtain.
  • Create your very own sock puppets.
  • Instead of simply reading a story with your child, why not role play and act it out?

Music educator and conductor Richard Gill believes physical education and arts education should book-end the Australian curriculum, with music being at the forefront, as early as possible in the life of a child.

Research indicates that the earlier music is included in a child’s development, the better. This does not need to be limited to structured lessons. You can sing with your child at home, play music and expose your child to live performances.

“The impact this type of education would have on children, with respect to creative thinking, imaginative problem solving, resulting in classrooms full of engaged and interested minds with the capacity to think, perceive, analyse and act upon ideas, would turn the educational decline on its head,” he said during a speech to the Collegiate of Specialist Music Educators.

Vicki King, Artistic Director at the Australian School of Performing Arts, says, “The educational value placed on music and song seems less of a priority in Australian schools compared to some European countries, which is a great shame. And sadly, parent’s singing to their children from infancy appears to have also declined somewhat in the past 20 years. Life seems so much busier, plus lots of people don’t have the confidence to sing even if it is at home with their child.

“You don’t need to be a wonderful singer or musician to share music with a child, unstructured musical play is so important because that is where children’s inspiration will come to life because they aren’t having to sit and learn the notes, they are simply enjoying the experience.”

Your child doesn’t have to be a prodigy musician to get involved either, King suggests a group participation activity such as a choir or a band is a great place to start a child as it removes the pressure and stresses associated with solo performances.

“For many of our senior students the Australian Girls Choir provide a beacon of light in their otherwise chaotic lives. A place to park their brain for a while and ignore homework and the politics of home and school life. Music gives them enormous stress relief, comradery and confidence,” King told Offspring.

Finding a teacher

Word-of-mouth is always a great way to start looking for a teacher is any art form. Check with your child’s primary school to see if they offer a music. Check the qualifications of the teachers and find out costs, expectations and ensure they match your child’s desires, some will be more casual and others will expect participation in examinations and recitals. Ask for a free trial class and the ability to hire instruments before committing.

Bring it into your home:

  • Have the radio or CD playing during the day instead of the TV. It will encourage you and your child to sing and dance along.
  • Construct your own musical instruments such as shakers, drums and cymbals from pots and pans, household and craft items.

Choosing an instrument:

Most formal music lessons start between the ages of five to nine, group classes are recommended for younger children. The Forte School of Music gives these ages and instruments as a guide:

  • The piano is highly recommended as a child’s first instrument, it can be played as soon as a child can reach the keys and has enough strength to press them down. Recommended age: 5+
  • The recorder is a common choice in a school setting. It is cheap, children can play it easily and it provides a good introduction to making music. Recommended age: 5+
  • Stringed instruments often come in smaller sizes specifically for kids. Some children can handle a violin from the age of four. Recommended age: 5+ (violin); 9+ (viola and cello)
  • Other wind and brass instruments should not be attempted before your child’s permanent teeth come in because of the pressure on the teeth when they are played, the actual size of the instrument, the lip strength required and the “puff” needed to make a noise. Recommended age: 8+ (flute, clarinet); 9+ (saxophone, trumpet, trombone, french horn)
  • Drum and guitars tend to be a big favourite among kids. Recommended age: 7+
  • Singing is something that can be enjoyed at all ages, but it is best not to start learning formally until 9+ years.

Not keen on the spotlight?

Performing isn’t for everyone so don’t push too hard, there are other ways to expose your child to the wonders of the art form:

  • A trip to the circus – there is nothing quite as awe inspiring as aerial acrobatics;
  • A dance performance – seeing classical ballet at the theatre or a local dance school’s concert is a lively and colourful experience;
  • A balloon twisting,  puppet or magic show; the illusions will captivate your child’s imagination and open them to the possibilities within performing arts. Activities like these are easy to create at home and occasionally local councils and libraries run demonstrations or workshops.
  • A concert – there are many touring music acts specifically designed for young ones especially around school holiday times; or
  • Local community events – whether it is the local choir, carolling, a drama production or a idol contest there are often opportunities to see an array of performances in your own community.

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