Kids are natural performers. Our little guy comes by it honestly, of course. Both his mom and dad were active community theatre actors before he came along (actually, we did a show in our first trimester, so…). When he sees a stage, he bolts for it. Lately, he’s been inclined to frequently “a-tap, a-tap, a-tappa,” doing his own version of tap dancing. Before he could walk, I held him up in amazement as his little legs flailed, his brow furrowed, attempting to emulate an Astaire routine he was watching. It’s apparently in his blood, but I also believe that the force is strong in all children.
There’s a lot of awesome to be had from this level of creativity. It builds social and mental development, to say nothing of the confidence it creates.
But, what if your child is a major introvert? Does that mean that he or she will miss out on all of the benefits of “performing”? Absolutely not. Our guy isn’t always “on.” He has his shy moments. There are tons of very different ways to get the best out of this form of play (I like to think of it as play, at least), and oftentimes kids come to them naturally. Just watch the next time they’re playing independently and see if they’re actually, secretly, performing by doing any of the following:
Pots and Pans Pretending. It seems like almost all kids gravitate to the grown-up pots and pans, don’t they? Our little one uses them for their intended purpose…or, at least, pretends to be a chef. Others use them to let out their musical inclinations. Still others use them for, well, whatever the heck they want. I know it can be a pain at times, but let them and even encourage it. (Oh, and providing their own tools to continue this pretend play helps, too. If they like to “drum,” give them toy percussion instruments. We gave Hadley some cooking tools of his own and his own “pantry area”, too.)
Dance Parties! Dance and general bodily movement is so integral to brain development, it’s crazy. Certain motions trigger sections of the brain to start synopsing, such as cross-over hand and foot motions and other slightly complex movements. Plus, it’s a fun exercise that you can do as a family! It definitely helps us take ourselves less seriously (especially if it’s silly music) and even gets the parents off their hineys.
The Type of Toy Matters. I’m building a post specifically about this, but I’ll just put the premise out here: “character” toys are fine, but make sure there’s a good mix of simple and creative toys available, too. I have a definite love-hate relationship with purchasing toys because it’s a character on a show that our little man loves, or buying the whole Disney gamut of products. Additionally, lots of toys DO SO MUCH (noises! lights! letters! songs! colors! gah!) that they don’t allow the rationalizing parts of a child’s brain do their thing. So, this Christmas we’ve been sure to ask Santa for more Duplo Legos, Play-Doh (I know, I should be making my own or buying eco), a generic doctor kit, and my “homemade” gift for him is for total imaginative play.
Dress-Up. We’ve been working on a “dress-up box” for Hadman since well before he was born. Um, yeah, we’re a little weird. I think part of the reasoning is that WE love playing pretend, so we hope to encourage it if our kid(s) feel an interest, too. For now, he has one or two pretend items (like a bandana and a soft pirate hat) in with the rest of his toy stuff for if and when he wants to use it. As he gets older, he’ll have a designated dress-up area that he can pull whatever he’d like out of. Oh, and you don’t have to spend a million dollars on this stuff — perusing your local thrift shop may turn up some fake glasses or an awesome artist’s beret (just wash it first…ew).
Pretend of Any Kind. Whether it’s structured role play, play time with a sibling or friend, or just letting your child play independently, this is crucial to their development. It teaches problem solving, the ability to work (and occupy oneself) alone, and much more. Plus, as a parent, the first time you hear your child talking amongst himself about the scene he’s playing out before him? Melt. This is how we first heard his rendition of the alphabet. They open up this new side to the world, a completely non-self-conscious little person who will lay it all out because either they don’t realize anyone’s listening, or they don’t care. Can’t we all learn something there?
See Shows. We have yet to take our guy to a show. He’s still at a very wiggly, won’t-sit-still age. He knows that Mama and Daddy like to see shows (rare these days, but still) and he’s asked to go, too, but I know full well that it’ll be a disaster of a night. However, we’re on the lookout for short, kidcentric shows (like “Sesame Street Live!” which comes around every year or so, or other short, live-action performances of famous story books) to give him his first performance. Another thing I’d like to try out is a public library read aloud or puppet show (I know, I’m a librarian and I haven’t taken him yet) since it’s so different than a one-on-one book reading at home.
Get Artsy Fartsy. Stock up on whatever art supplies suit your little one’s age and encourage an art project when you have the energy and time to do so. I lack in this department a bit, but even keeping around a little finger paints (I wait until about 20 minutes before bath time, strip him to his dipe and put him in his high chair to minimize clean-up) or crayons with a coloring book or two can help. I’m excited that he’ll be getting a Melissa and Doug kit for “early artists” where the color appears when you brush water on the coloring pages; perfect for our budding creative kiddo.
Listen to Music or Old Radio Shows. Not just for dance parties, we expose the whole family to a wide variety of music styles and genres (Dave has played classical in the car since he was an infant; I’m so proud!). I feel deeply that musical connection enriches our lives more than anything else, culturally speaking, in addition to opening up paths in the brain for deep development. Needless to say, I can’t wait until I get a piano in the house again. In turn, listening to old radio shows (usually the humorous ones, like “Our Miss Brooks” and “Fibber McGee and Molly”) opens him up to a new creative outlet and the concept that, not that long ago, this was the world’s most popular entertainment and news retrieval system. Not to mention, it’s still a stellar form of entertainment for the family.
Watch a variety of movies. We’ve fallen more into the “watching TV together” trap than we had initially hoped we would. However, we try to expose Had to more than just children’s fare. He’s totally fine with black and white (although, give him the option and he’ll pick color; can’t blame him too much), and knows who Shirley Temple, Andy Hardy, Robin Hood, Tiny Tim, Uncle Scrooge, and ALL the characters from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” are. He’ll see the Monkees and the old ’60s Batman, along with the Sesame Street we were raised with. I think the sensibility of these programs is a bit different and, at times, more thought-provoking and heart-warming than some of the stuff today. So, exposure to different cultures, realities, and even history helps broaden their knowledge (and gives them fodder for pretend).
Readers’ Theatre. If your kiddo is on the older side, just Google “readers’ theatre” (or any variation of the spelling), and you may be surprised at how much you find. This can range from the earliest reader’s abilities to a lengthy, multiple-person diatribe, from a fun, fluffy story to a serious non-fiction educational role-playing piece. The cool part of readers’ theatre is the fact that there’s no memorization involved (it’s literally just reading a script and adding some props and costumes if you like), and it’s highly flexible (you could have three people playing tons of parts of eighteen playing individual roles). Also, it helps readers of high and low levels continue to grow and increase fluency. I could go on, but instead, I’ll move to my next favorite subject.
Read, Read, Read. Never underestimate the quietest bookworm, my friend. Their imaginations are often swimming with the most incredible ideas, diverse vocabulary, and problem-solving methods in the room. And, regardless of your child’s age, it’s never too late (or early) to start reading to them every night. I’d say that about 95-98% of Had’s evening routines have involved reading, from the time he was one week old. He might have been too young to understand the words or to even see the pictures, but the rhythm of the books and the nurturing sound of his father’s voice (Dave has read most of the books, although I sit nearby often) created a child who absolutely loves reading. At less than 2 1/2 years old, he knows all of his letters and recites the alphabet (with some issues getting from L to P, admittedly), and I attribute it completely to reading.
So, what do you think? What creative outlets do you and your family utilize? Anything to add to the list? Share in the comments!