Playmaking gets four stars when it comes to benefits for cast and crew: creative expression, an opportunity to plan and organize, improved enunciation, and concentration skills. And collaborating with friends -- at home, school, church, or community theater -- helps little thespians master teamwork and problem solving, says L.E. McCullough, Ph.D., a children's playwright and administrative director of the Humanities Theater Group, in Indianapolis. Theater can even help with academics. While studying lines enhances reading skills, plays are also an excellent tool for kids with an aversion to the written word. After all, there's a world of difference between learning about Leif Eriksson in a textbook and acting out his voyages yourself.
If it's an organized production, kids can benefit from working behind the scenes too by sewing costumes, designing tickets, building props, or taking responsibility for lighting or sound.
Most youngsters don't need much of a push to delve into drama, but they do appreciate support from Mom and Dad. A diplomatic parent might offer practical suggestions for costumes or scenery (a painted backdrop instead of an elaborately constructed castle, for example). If kids are stumped about where to start, offer some story lines: exploring Jupiter, becoming President, meeting a bear at the bus stop. You might join in the performance too, but don't take over.
What should you do if your kid gets bitten by the acting bug? Don't move to Hollywood just yet. Look for local opportunities: Sign her up for acting classes, let her audition for community productions, help her stage her own at-home performances. Support her as long as she's enjoying herself -- just don't push. If she's still enamored as she gets older, she can get involved on a higher level. If not, she'll have added some valuable skills to her repertoire.