Preparing Children for Their First Fine Arts Experience

In Montessori Elementary education, children progress through a series of phases that encourage learning outside of the classroom.  Maria Montessori has said, "To go out of the classroom in order to enter the outside world which includes everything is obviously to open an immense door to instruction."

It has been my goal this school year to encourage learning and study outside of the classroom when possible and financially feasible.  The holiday season is filled with many opportunities to do so, especially in the areas of fine arts and music.  This is the perfect time for preparing children for their first fine arts experience.
Preparing children for their first fine arts experience
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The Montessori "Going Out" Experience

Paula Polk Lillard, in her book, Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education from Birth to Adulthood, states "If  'going out' experiences are to have this positive outcome for the children, they need detailed preparation for specific outings."

Preparation for fine arts performances and experiences can be executed in many ways.  Once a specific experience is selected by students, the teacher helps with all preparations.
  • How will the children get to their destination?
  • What do they need to bring with them?
  • What will they wear?
  • How long will they be there?
  • What will they do, while at the place of interest?


An Invitation from a Child

Once introduced to The Nutcracker Ballet through our very first Nutcracker Unit, Dinomite asked me if he could take me to see the ballet.  His sincere request melted my heart, while at the same time set my mind in motion, thinking about all the ways I would need to prepare Dinomite to have a successful first fine arts experience.

Dinomite was very specific about the fine arts experience he wanted to attend.  I agreed with his request, specifying that it would be important to prepare by reading Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffman. 

Preparation

A knowledge of the story being presented when applicable can significantly enhance any fine arts experience.  Reading the story beforehand can also confirm if the performance will be enjoyable for the child.  If the child does not enjoy the story in book form, there is a good chance, the child will not enjoy the live performance.

Once we read the story of the nutcracker, our next step in preparation for the ballet was listening to Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Complete Ballet and doing a brief study about the composer.  

Attending a ballet, orchestra performance, or any musical performance for that matter, includes a significant auditory sensory experience.  In order to fully prepare your child, music should be introduced before attending the live event.  Observing your child's response to the music is extremely important.
  • Does it cause anxiety?
  • Is it too loud?
  • Is your child enjoying the music?
  • Does it effect their behaviors?  

Once you have established a positive relationship between your child and the music, you are ready to move forward by introducing other aspects of the fine arts event.

In the case of preparing to attend The Nutcracker Ballet, Dinomite needed to practice sitting in the dark for 90 minutes to 2 hours watching ballet with a brief intermission for bathroom breaks etc.  If he wasn't able to do this successfully, his experience would not be successful.  So, we watched The Nutcracker Ballet at home on DVD.  Dinomite loved it.

We were now ready to purchase tickets.  Dinomite was present as I ordered tickets online, studying the seating diagram to understand where we would be in relation to the stage when we went to the live performance.  We were very blessed to obtain front row seats.

Once tickets were purchased, it was time to discuss and teach the social etiquette required at our performance.  Paula Polk Lillard states, "There is always a discussion of behavior expected in the situation to be encountered:  how to behave in a music auditorium if it is a concert, for example.  Montessori noted that too often adults assume that children know how to behave in society.  They neglect to give them specific preparation for specific situations."

Dinomite and I reviewed social etiquette for the performance several times, until he felt confident about what was expected of him.

The Big Event

The night of The Nutcracker Ballet performance arrived.  We dressed up in our Sunday best and headed to the theater, allowing for ample time to find parking etc.  Dinomite purchased two sugar cookies for himself at the refreshment stand before the show started.  Knowing that no flash photography was permitted during the performance, we took several pictures before the start of the ballet and during intermission.
Preparing children for their first fine arts experience
Dinomite's first experience at the ballet was better than I could have ever imagined.  It was absolutely perfect.  Not only did he enjoy the show, but made a friend with another seven year old sitting next to us.  Dinomite was an example and modeled the behaviors we talked about before attending.  To our surprise, his new friend's family purchased and gave Dinomite a nutcracker of his very own during intermission.

Every Child Is Different

Fast forward one year.  This time Princess and Bulldozer asked if they could attend the ballet.  I led them through all of the steps of preparation Dinomite had done the year before.  Princess and Bulldozer showed their readiness for the performance, but unlike Dinomite, I knew they needed more preparation.

It is important to consider the individual needs of each of your children preparing to "go out" of the classroom.  All children are different. Some may require more preparation than others.

In this case I turned to Deb Chitwood's Montessori at Home or School: How to Teach Grace and Courtesy for guidance about teaching aspects of our evening I hadn't had the need to review with Dinomite.  All lessons were successful, tickets were purchased, and the four of us attended the ballet.
Preparing to attend The Nutcracker Ballet

Making Memories

Before attending the performance, Princess had asked about when and where we would eat and drink.  We decided to make our own sugar cookies this year to pack with lunches to eat on our way to the performance.

Dinomite asked if we could budget money to purchase our own nutcrackers.  Dinomite, Bulldozer, and Princess all sacrificed money used to eat out, in order to have enough for their nutcrackers.

Once again, we took pictures before the performance and during intermission.
Preparing children for their first fine arts experience
Dinomite, Bulldozer, and Princess each purchased a nutcracker and brought one home for Sunshine too, who was at home with Daddy.
Preparing children for their first fine arts experience
All of them enjoyed the ballet and can't wait to see it again.  They were well behaved and even received compliments from those sitting around us.

My favorite moments included:

  • Princess whispering to me, "Look!  They're shrinking!"
  • Bulldozer quietly cheering to himself when the battle between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker was about to begin.
  • Dinomite yelling, "Bravo" to the Russian dancer after a fabulous performance, as instructed by the woman introducing the show before it began.  

Then there were the questions.  Princess wondered how it could snow on stage, but not in the audience.  She also asked how fog was made.  I definitely see more fine arts experiences in our future, with requests for backstage passes to better understand how everything works.

If you love the story of the nutcracker as much as we do, you'll want to visit the posts below.
Nutcracker activities and printables

Nutcracker activities and printables

Nutcracker themed Christmas Party

This post is part of the 12 Months of Montessori Fine Arts Series.  For more ideas about incorporating Fine Arts activities and experiences into your child's Montessori education, be sure to visit the links of all other participating.
12 Months of Montessori Learning Series
Study at Home Mama
Our Montessori Art Program  Grace and Green Pastures


Preparing children for their first fine arts experience

5 comments:

  1. This is a darling post on bringing your children to the Nutcracker! This gives me hope that one day I will be able to bring Little Bee to a fine art performance. I love how your prepared each child and the activities you did to help them learn how to behave at a performance. This is wonderful! Thank you.

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  2. This as so wonderful Renae :) I just love how you took us into your world and shared such sweet moments with us. Inspiring

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  3. Oh my. This post is so heart-warming! Everyone looks so happy and you did an excellent job at preparing them (and us) for experiences outside the home (the Montessori way).

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  4. I love love love this post! You are absolutely right, yet often we forget that we need to prep and show children how to behave in their goings-out. I am wondering if my 3.5 year old is ready for the movies, and now I've got some ideas and tips from you. Thanks!!

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  5. Oh I love, love, live this! We've attended a few fine arts events but I never knew how to prepare them. I adore the way you wrapped this around a Montessori Going Out experience. I will be referring to this post again in the future.

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