12 top tips on taking young children to the theatre

theatre imageAs a family, we love going to the theatre. We’ve taken all our children since they were very young. Watching their little faces light up as the action unfolds in front of them is magical.

Theatre reviewing, and press and publicity for several big arts companies, has been a big part of my job over the years, not to mention my own passion for theatre and a childhood of amateur dramatics, so it felt natural for me to introduce that world to my children. However, I know a lot of parents worry – understandably – about taking young children to the theatre for the first time, so I’ve drawn on my personal and professional experience to put this little guide together. I hope you find it useful.

I’d love to know how your little ones have got on if they have visited the theatre and if you have any tips to add. You can join in the discussion on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or tweet me on @cardiffmummy

  1. The biggest worry among parents I speak to both personally and professionally seems to be that their children won’t sit perfectly still for the entire performance. The good news is that theatres and theatre companies don’t expect them to. There are lots of shows geared towards babies and toddlers, pre-school children and those who have just started school. Often, these performances are around an hour long, with no interval, and plenty of audience involvement, such as singing, dancing and shouting. There’s generally so much going on visually that even the most wriggly of children are often become mesmerised for the whole performance.
  2. That said, you should chat to your child beforehand about the fact that because the show is live, they need to be quiet at other times so as not to distract the performers or make it difficult for other people around them to hear what is going on.
  3. It’s good to prepare your child as to what they can expect. Children’s theatre shows are often based on books or television shows, so it makes sense to familiarise them with the characters and themes. Show them articles from the local press about the performance, or the theatre’s brochure or website. You can also talk about the different things that they will see in the theatre, such as the curtains opening to signal the start of the performance, the ushers showing you to your seat, the fact that the auditorium will be dark but there will be special lights on the stage, that we all clap at the end to show our appreciation.
  4. When booking tickets, make sure to ask about concessionary rates for children and babies. In some theatres, babies won’t need a ticket, but in other places they will need a “lap ticket”, which may be free or incur a nominal charge. Some performances offer a flat rate for adults, children and babies. It’s also worth asking when booking what kind of auditorium the show will take place in. Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre, for example, generally stages its pre-school shows in its smaller studio space, which has very relaxed seating arrangements, where youngsters can sit on cushions at the front, if they wish.
  5. If you are worried your child will need the toilet mid-way through, then book an aisle seat to make things easier for you all.
  6. Some theatres offer a “relaxed performance” of certain shows for young people with special needs such as autism, learning disabilities and other sensory disorders, where the auditorium is not as dark, the microphones are not as loud, and some special effects may be toned down.
  7. Some theatres have booster seats for small children to sit on, although supplies may be limited. You could also bring a small cushion, or be prepared for children to sit on your lap so that they can see.
  8. Although you won’t be able to take a buggy into the auditorium, most theatres staging children’s shows will offer a free buggy park, as well baby changing facilities and being breast-feeding friendly venues.
  9. The merchandise stalls can be a nightmare! Think beforehand about whether you are happy to buy something for your children, or get them to save up their pocket money in advance.
  10. I find taking a snack into the theatre can help if my children do start getting restless. Make sure you choose something that won’t be too noisy or too messy to eat, and get it out of your bag beforehand so you don’t disturb other people. I have yet to find a theatre that sells healthy snacks, so we generally take our own.
  11. Get there in plenty of time. You don’t want to arrive so early your child is bored before the show has even started, but equally, allowing time to show them the theatre – the stalls and the circle seats, the lights, the sound desk etc – will help familiarise them and hopefully make them less inclined to explore during the show. Cardiff’s Sherman Cymru usually offers pre-show arts activities for children, as well as the chance to play with its giant board games and dressing up costumes. Wales Millennium Centre’s interactive Milipwts den is also great fun, with its back stage tunnel to crawl into, and sounds of the orchestra and songs from the shows to listen to.
  12. Don’t forget about the amateur companies. They are often a lot cheaper than the professional stage shows, but just as great an introduction to theatre for little ones.

I’d love to know how your little ones have got on if they have visited the theatre and if you have any tips to add. You can join in the discussion on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or tweet me on @cardiffmummy

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mckln/3449312935/”>Wootang01</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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