Childhood is meant to be a time of play, exploration, discovery and creativity.
It’s also the perfect time to watch for signs of your son or daughter’s budding interest in the arts — whether that’s dance, music, drama or the visual arts.
If your preschool daughter leaps and pirouettes everywhere she goes, for example, notice that and act on it. If you feel she’s ready, consider enrolling her in a few dance lessons.
“When parents call for the first time, usually what they say is ‘My kid dances at home all the time. She does it at the supermarket. She does it everywhere we go,’” said Adalhi Aranda Corn, founder and director of the Bluegrass Youth Ballet, which offers classes for students age three to adult.
By the same token, though, don’t fall into stereotypes and assign — or dismiss — a potential area of artistic interest without allowing your child to try it for herself.
This is an important first step according to Meredyth Pederson, who is associate education director for the Lexington Children’s Theatre.
“Sometimes there is this sense that theater is for the most outgoing kids or those who are extroverted and dramatic or over-the-top expressive, and I think that’s true. Drama is a great outlet for that need to express yourself,” she said. “But I think everyone has that need, even if they tend to be more thoughtful, introverted kids — which is certainly more how I was when I was young.”
LCT offers year-round theater and drama classes for children age 4-18, including a popular series of weeklong summer camps. “I think the important thing is, just to allow kids to try it,” Pederson added. “You’re not going to know if you like something, until you try it.”
Also, parents should understand that artistic lessons — whether in dance, with an instrument or on the stage — offer not only an exposure to the arts, but also convey life skills that carry over into your child’s adult life, whatever career path he or she may choose.
“The process and structure they go through in our classes is so wonderful in so many ways,” Corn said. Dance teaches “structure, self-confidence, time-management, self-awareness, physical activity, being part of a group and the feeling of accomplishing something that is really wonderful.”
Learning “improvisation helps all of us,” agreed Pederson. “You’re always going to have to learn to work with people and collaborate, whatever you grow up to become.”
If your child does seem ready for individual art, drama or music lessons, take the time to research your options online and ask friends and family members for referrals in hopes of finding an instructor or program that will be a good fit.
The early elementary school years is a good time to introduce children to music lessons on strings or piano, advises Daniel Chetel, music director and conductor for the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras.
“It’s important to develop a good relationship with a teacher and learn as much as possible about the instrument as well,” Chetel said. “When students start taking lessons on a musical instrument, it can be very helpful to have a parent at home who can help with some practice beyond the lesson itself.”
Above all, though, Corn, Chetel and Pederson agree: The most important thing parents can do to foster kids’ interest in the arts is to expose them to as much art as possible.
“Where I grew up in Mexico, there were not a lot of opportunities to see a professional ballet company. I think there were only two or three times in my childhood when one came to town,” Corn said. “But my parents took me, and it was this kind of ‘aha moment’ of my life, where I was watching the performance and I knew: This is what I want to do.
“Sitting in that audience and seeing everything come together in that moment — the music, the costumes, the dancing, the story, being transported to another time and era — I was hooked.”
By taking your children to an array of performances and arts venues starting at a very young age, you can get a sense of what type of artistic expression sparks their interest, Chetel said.
“A diverse collection of live experiences can be a jumping-off point for children and their parents to talk about — whether they might be interested in learning the violin, the guitar or the theater,” he added.
“Go see as much as you can, whether that’s dance or theater or an art exhibit,” said Pederson, who suggests parents also make a habit of asking their kids open-ended questions immediately following the experience.
“Ask kids ‘What did you see? What did you like? If you could talk to that character, what advice would you offer?’”
It’s all about showing kids how much fun — and enriching — it is to be engaged in the arts, whether as a performer or an audience member.
“Doing that as much as possible as a family is the key,” Pederson said.