Children and teenagers who are exposed to live theatre are more likely to develop the emotional and cognitive skills required to enable them to deal with a complicated world according to new research.

We commissioned Dr Natasha Kirkham, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Researcher at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck University London, and found that live performance has distinct benefits to the average child.

You can read the full study (PDF)

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This report is a follow up to earlier research we conducted in 2017, which examined the benefits of experiencing live theatre and found that there are significant health and social benefits amongst adults.

As the theatre is enjoyed by people of all ages, we wanted to understand whether similarly discernible benefits were evident amongst children. Dr Kirkham focused this new research on the effects of live theatre performances on children and teenagers and uncovered the below benefits, which children as young as three years old can experience:

  • Improved social tolerance: Experiencing live theatre over watching similar content via a screen, such as a movie, can achieve a much deeper understanding and absorption of the content leading to higher levels of social tolerance and a greater ability to question.
  • Improved academic performance: Engagement with performing arts positively impacts academic performance and can boost academic performance of the average child by 4% when drama is part of the curriculum.
  • Positive social change: Theatre holds immense value for children’s developing minds. It is a powerful tool for facilitating children and teenagers’ self-efficacy to promote positive social change as well as an improved ability to broach complex and difficult issues and subjects.

Taken together, Dr Kirkham states: “This research suggests an evident benefit of theatre attendance for children, across a range of developmental areas. Theatre can improve social bonding, allow for emotions to be explored in a safe space, develop the emotional and cognitive skills to deal with a complicated world, and kick-start conversations about important issues.

This report confirms what we have always believed about the importance of live theatre for children’s development. It is clear that live theatre can have a positive impact on both academic performance and social behaviours, and we would love to see more investment in drama and arts in schools. We hope that more parents become aware of the many benefits of experiencing live theatre for their children and realise that there is more to live theatre than just a great day out with the kids.