Remember when your calendar was dotted with reminders about the concerts you planned to catch? When there was always a pair of recently purchased theater tickets pinned enticingly to your bulletin board? If having a baby has forced you to reminisce wistfully about the bygone days when you attended live performances regularly, you’re not alone.
Let’s face it: Take a toddler to the symphony or opera, and you risk life and limb. But consider this form of cultural deprivation only a temporary sabbatical rather than a state as enduring as parenthood itself. With a little preparation, live entertainment can make its way back onto your calendar sooner than you might think.
Introducing Music and Theater
The famous British violinist Lord Yehudi Menuhin believed that his talent was due in part to his parents who frequently sang and played music during his mother’s pregnancy. Many studies concur that prenatal exposure to music and language can have positive effects on a child’s ability to learn later in life. You can share music with your child while he’s still in utero by playing tunes at a gentle volume.
“I would start as early as possible on the music front,” agrees Jane Singhal, a Belmont, California–based violinist, who holds a degree in music from Yale University and has nine years of experience teaching music to children of all ages. “Begin by playing music at home…[if] music becomes part of the daily routine, then attending live performances becomes all the more fascinating for kids.”
Try things like incorporating lullabies and other children’s songs into your bedtime and bathtime rituals. As children get older, play lively music in the background during play dates or classical tunes during dinner. By the age of three or four years, most children are ready to learn about how music is made. “Start introducing three- and four-year-olds to the instruments of the orchestra,” suggests Singhal.
Pre-performance preparation can be key to a good live entertainment experience for parents and children. “Talk to your kids about what they are going to see,” offers Maria Knapp, who has been active in theater for 15 years and currently serves as associate director for an Off-Broadway theater company. “If it’s an orchestra, go to the library and check out a book about musical instruments. For a play or the ballet, discuss the storyline in advance. And don’t forget that most actors will be happy to take a moment to talk to your child after the performance. Kids love the chance to talk to an actor off stage.”
Mind Over Manners
Ah, yes . . . the small matter of manners. Realistically, children under the age of four can’t be expected to sit still all the way through a live event—even events produced specifically for children. To make sure your child is ready to enjoy a live performance in a theater or auditorium, watch for signs that she can focus on one thing for an extended time.
“I waited until my own children could sit for at least 20 minutes at a time before taking them to an indoor concert,” reports Singhal. In any case, be prepared to get up and move around during the performance. In many venues hosting children’s performances, this is a perfectly acceptable—and even expected—practice. Little ones younger than four will undoubtedly be just as interested in the theater’s environment as in what’s happening onstage.