Five Ways to Make Theater Fun for Little Ones
Hillary Reeves is a New York-based blogger and the Social Media Manager for The New Victory Theater. She’s spent the past five years at organizations that focus on bringing quality arts programming to young people — and thus has become the go-to puppeteer when it comes to entertaining her 2-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew on family vacations. You can follow her on Twitter (@hillreeves, @newvictory) for theater news and arts education conversations.
At the New Victory Theater, we are firm believers that inspiring awe, opening eyes and promoting play at a young age can turn the arts into a lifelong habit. But the developmental benefits of the arts for your kid shouldn’t overshadow your family having a fun, meaningful experience – so we’ve prepped some tips to make going to the theater with toddlers and babies as simple and stress-free as possible.
We include even the youngest audiences in our productions (our three shows this season can turn your four-month-old into a bona fide theatergoer), so we’ve spent a a lot of time thinking about how to support new parents heading out for their first theater experience with baby. Here are the five items in our survival guide!
Even when a venue is completely stroller accessible (as ours is), hundreds of strollers arriving at once means traffic jams are inevitable. Venues can minimize congestion by having ushers act as “stroller valets,” but every location is different! Call ahead to a museum, concert hall or theater to see what your options are… and then consider a carrier instead. You’ll be glad you did when you can skip that long line of parents with strollers waiting for the elevator!
Return and Exchange Policies
You don’t know the meaning of the word “unpredictable” until you have a toddler. Check the venue’s exchange policy before you purchase; the more family-friendly venues will often allow exchange up to 24-hours before show time.
Freedom to Be a Kid
Programming for this age group tends to be less structured, which means that families can often come a little late, or leave early, without missing out on the core experience. If this sounds like a good fit for you, keep an eye out for words like “immersive” or “interactive installation.” These descriptions indicate a trend in the arts that allows for audience members to have more control– sometimes this means guiding yourself through a space, or creating props with provided materials. These types of experiences mean way less worry about visiting the restroom or quieting fidgety kids.
Busy Hands and Busy Minds
Arts experiences are the most beneficial when kids have the opportunity to explore the art forms and themes on their own. A great family-friendly venue will not only provide thoughtful artistry and fun shows, but also the tools to easily take those lessons to the next level. For our littlest theatergoers, we provide “Busy Bee” arts and crafts activities (with an educational twist) to fill the quiet time before a show begins and simple, printable Family Activities you can try at home if your kid is feeling extra inspired. Ask your local arts venue for similar tools they might make available.
There are a few things that become second nature to a parent, namely the diaper bag/stroller packing moment. Snacks? Check. Water bottles? Check. At a park or play date, forgetting one of these essentials can ruin your whole day. But many arts venues have very different rules. Photography is strictly regulated. Texting or taking a call is frowned upon (or may even be prohibited). Food and drink policies can vary, so it helps to call ahead before packing your bag, and if you’re breastfeeding, it’s nice to know where the most comfortable spot to nurse might be. Rather than having to throw away a freshly opened snack, or having to check a valuable camera, keep your “go bag” as minimal as possible on these days.
While it may sound like a big undertaking, exposing your young one to the arts will feel worthwhile when you see the wonder on your kid’s face the first time they see a twinkling projection, a magical set or hear a beautiful piece of live music. Truly, the ultimate key to reducing the hassle of a day out on the town is finding those venues that you trust. If you’re in the NYC area, we hope you’ll join us at the New Vic for a show, but if you’re in other parts of the country, reference the above tips to help you know what to look for when finding a cultural home in your city!
This post was sponsored by the New Victory Theater.