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Thinking of creative ways to boost your child’s language development and literacy skills? Try theatre, or speech and drama.

This is where exposing your child to theatre or speech and drama can help, according to experts: Matthew Gregory, Executive Producer, ABA Productions and Founder of KidsFest (MA), Peter Hamilton, Schools’ Co-ordinator, British Council and Lia Testa Teismann, Language Expert, British Council (LTT).

kids dressed up in fruit costumes

Q: How to select a theatre show for my child?

Peter Hamilton (P): Parents should find out as much as possible about the production through publicity materials and reviews, and talking to friends who have seen the production. In this way, they can determine whether the production is suitable for their child. They should consider whether the production is appropriate for their child’s age and language level; whether the plot, topics and themes dealt with in the play will be of interest to their child. It should be a production that the child will enjoy.

Q: How does theatre help improve my child’s language skills?

P and Lia Testa Teismann (L): Going to the theatre exposes your child to rich, varied and authentic language. By being immersed in a theatrical event, the child is exposed to the rich, meaningful spoken language and rich visual text i.e. the set, costumes, props, lighting; and of course the actors performances i.e. their body language, facial expressions, gestures and so forth.

If she is prepared for the story, she will understand the main idea and some of the new vocabulary and because your child has understood the story, she will likely remember a few new words and use them.

Q: What to prepare if my child is going to the theatre for the first time?

Matthew Gregory (M): Be positive and excited about it yourself. Share your experiences of going to the theatre, read the book together, arrive early, and visit the toilet before the show starts. Talk about how to book, collect and show your tickets and find your seats. Talk about remembering to turn off your own phone so it doesn’t disturb others. Talk about respecting the performers and the space, but at the same time remember to have fun!

P: Talk to your child about the etiquette of going to the theatre so they know what to expect and how to behave. Show your child photographs of theatres, and point out the foyer, box-office, stage, stalls, boxes, curtains, etc. Talk about the roles of those who behind a production, e.g. the actors, director, costume designer, stage manager, etc.

Q: How to enhance my child’s learning during the show?

P: Parents should avoid making the experience an explicit language-learning event because it’ll just become an extension of schoolwork, and might de-motivate the child. If she has read the story, get her to predict how it might be staged. What parts of the story would be difficult to stage? How might the stage adaptation differ from the story in the book? As the child watches the show, they can see if their predictions are correct or not. 

L: After the show, use these earlier questions to check in again with your child. Some examples are: What did you think about the show? Was it exactly how you imagined it to be? What was different? What was the same? Did we see the ____? 

Q: Besides improving language skills, what else can theatre do for a child?

M: It is a wonderful opportunity for a shared experience. The excitement of arriving at the theatre, the fun of reading the book together before the event at home, the first look at the set and stage, the moment the characters appear onstage, the moment when something is funnier, cleverer, more entertaining than you expected, and that glance between parent and child, when the realisation is clear: both parties are enjoying themselves, the parent as well as the child. 

Q: How else can I improve my child’s literacy skills?

According to Lia, the age-old advice of reading is still the best way to learn a language and improve language skills. Read to your child, even if she already knows how to read. She will enjoy the time with you and likely ask you questions about the story or the new words she spots.

“You can also play word and strategy games with your kids, depending on their age. I like to play “20 Questions”. One person thinks of something (a person, place or thing) and the other players must ask questions to guess the answer. All of this speaking with the cognitive challenge of trying to discover the answer encourages language acquisition and helps children’s memory – an important skill in language.”

What’s more, make use of the upcoming school holidays to take your child to a theatre show like Father Christmas, a seasonal Christmas show that’s perfect for families with young kids happening from 25 to 27 November 2016 at the Drama Theatre at School of The Arts (SOTA). Better yet, look forward to the month long KidsFest 2017 festival of children’s theatre productions from UK taking place from 11 January 2017.