Her ninth birthday may be months away, but that hasn’t stopped my third grader from drafting her must-have gift list.
What’s on it?
Only one thing, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.
She’s requested tickets to see The Phantom of the Opera when the national tour hits our city. When I was in the third grade, I’m not sure I even knew what a Broadway show was.
I do now.
Somewhere between third grade and my thirties, I developed a deep appreciation for musical theatre and the arts in general. It’s a love that my husband and I share and have now instilled in our four daughters. One that’s even resulted in our eleven-year-old being cast in this year’s national tour of a Tony-Award winning show. She’s currently traveling the United States performing as a singing, dancing, and smiling orphan.
While your child may or may not find herself auditioning for a musical in New York City, you can still teach him or her how to appreciate the arts – whether it be theatre and film, music, dance, drawing, painting, or photography. Here are a few ways we’ve instilled a love for the arts in our kids.
When we moved to Atlanta over four years ago, one of our first adventures was to a puppet theater. I wanted to introduce our girls to live performances at a venue that specialized in age-appropriate, kid-friendly productions. They loved it.
As our kids have grown older, we haven’t limited ourselves to only puppets. We’ve also exposed them to our city’s Shakespeare Tavern, attended several national tour productions, and even taken them to a few Broadway shows in New York City.
Their exposure to the arts doesn’t just include the stage, though. We’ve been intentional to also frequent concerts, art exhibits, living history museums, and introduce them to well-crafted books and films.
We’ve discovered that an important first step to instilling a love for the arts in our kids is to simply expose them to the arts. Yep, it’s not exactly rocket science. Children can’t develop an appreciation for something they haven’t been introduced to.
It’s been fun, and surprising at times, to see how each of our kids responds to the arts. Our Phantom of the Opera loving daughter tends to choose villains as her favorite characters, and is drawn more toward abstract paintings rather than those that depict realism. Another daughter loves tragic, yet still heroic characters who sing melancholy songs. This same girl also leans toward architecture and animation.
Do we try to steer our villain-liking daughter toward heroes instead? No. Rather, we applaud her compassionate heart that is drawn to the misfit and dares to believe that even the worst sinners can be redeemed someday. Do we encourage our melancholy-singing girl to belt out happy songs instead? After all, what twelve-year-old should be singing about the pain of the French Revolution, right? Again, nope. Her heart is stirred and moved by the emotion of these ballads, so we validate that.
Ted and I want to see what our daughters’ unique, God-given personalities find interesting and exciting and compelling. We realize that we aren’t raising miniature versions of ourselves, we’re bringing up four one-of-a-kind girls and we want them to learn how to respond to the arts – and life, in general – in a way that’s authentic and true to who God made them to be.
As our girls’ passion for the arts has grown, we’ve given them opportunities to explore their interests. Over the years, there have been drawing lessons, dance classes, private vocal instruction, and even trips to Disney and New York City to perform on stage.
We started, though, with one lesson at a time. We wanted to observe whether they: (1) showed natural talent, (2) had the drive to work hard, and (3) enjoyed what they were doing. If the answer was yes-yes-yes, we continued to add additional opportunities. Once we realized that singing and acting were activities several of our girls loved and were willing to put dedicated time and effort into, we added musical theater and dance classes to vocal lessons. We also took them to local community theater auditions, which eventually led to larger auditions such as the one in New York City for the national tour.
When it comes to off-stage, we also provide our daughters who love to sketch the tools needed to grow their artistic skills. Paper, markers, and even refurbished iPads for digital drawing have taken over our common living areas. Our house is teeming with books and we watch and discuss films – both contemporary and classic – as a family regularly.
To instill a love for the arts in our kids requires sacrifice, though. It costs us. Specifically in the areas of finances and time.
Shows, museums, classes, performance trips, and art supplies add up quickly, especially with multiple children. How have we been able to afford it?
One, we sacrifice in other areas. For example, we live in a smaller house with a smaller mortgage. We recently downsized so we could have more money for activities and adventures. After a year at a private, hybrid school last year, we returned to full-time homeschooling because we wanted to have additional funds to pour into the arts. We haven’t regretted our decision.
Two, we get creative. I often buy group tickets when seeing a show and a membership when visiting a museum. If we plan to visit that museum more than once a year, a membership is the most affordable option. We’ve also found that the more dance classes we enroll our girls in, the greater the discount per class.
Getting our girls to and from classes, rehearsals, and performances also requires time. It means we have to say “no” to other things we want to do as a family. Taking them to museums and watching films side-by-side with them also demands that as a mom I turn down other opportunities.
For us, though, every sacrifice has been worth it. We love watching our girls explore, embrace, and actively engage the arts.
Do we worry that our daughters will become too “worldly” and less Jesus-loving? Are we fearful about how the arts will affect their faith?
No, and here’s why.
As we instill a love for the arts in them, we simultaneously impart to them that the art of storytelling – this craft they see displayed in theater, dance, film, books, and paintings – ultimately stems from a storytelling God. A great Author who loves drama and comedy and specializes in bringing joy from tragedy. We always bring it back to Him. Not only that, but as Jesus lovers, we’re teaching our girls that they can strive to honor God and love people in both our pursuit and enjoyment of the arts.
Even though our third grader’s birthday is months away, we’ve decided to celebrate it early this year. Yep, that’s right, we’re taking our Phantom-loving girl, along with her sisters, to the theater. We’ve determined to embrace yet another opportunity to expose our girls to the arts and allow them to respond in their own individual ways. As we do, we’ll continue to point them to the greatest storyteller and artist of all – God.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us from Moody Publishers. As a regular contributor at several popular blogs and websites, she unites the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage readers. She has over 20 years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com.