Dallas Children’s Theater Gives Kids a Lesson in Morals
What is a moral? The dictionary defines a moral as: concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior, and the goodness or badness of human character. Never before has it been more important to teach our kids character traits like kindness, acceptance, respect for authority and compassion – in a nutshell: good moral behavior. But with recent tensions between opposing political officials and among community members on different sides of an issue and with the anonymity of the internet, it’s also never been more challenging for parents and caregivers.
People we could once point to as role models and pillars in the community are often caught acting in ways we would not find acceptable in even our youngest children. Parents of young children sometimes find it hard to start conversations about issues of hate, race, crime and prejudices. Simply put, these conversations are not fun to have, but they must happen.
That’s where the arts can have a big impact – especially live theater. Theater offers a magnitude of teachable moments in a nonthreatening and nonjudgmental way. The play becomes a springboard for starting a dialogue about difficult topics and makes those family conversations much more comfortable and accessible.
The arts are a critical part of the childhood experience that can improve academic performance, increase test scores, promote community service and encourage children to stay in school according to Education.com’s story Why Children’s Theater Matters. Similarly, Education Next published a study that said that students who attended a live theater performance improved their vocabulary and tolerance compared to students who did not. Live theater is more than entertainment; it educates and opens the minds of children without them even knowing it.
Take the current production at Dallas Children’s Theater, for example: “Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook” by Allison Gregory based on the books “Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook” and “Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren” by Barbara Park. In this hilarious, 60-minute production, Junie B. Jones enters kindergarten and quickly discovers a whole new world. She has a new teacher, known simply as Mrs. She makes new friends who don’t look or think like her. And she learns big new words she doesn’t always use quite “rightly.”
Social-emotional skills using various moral dilemmas that can often be overlooked come through loud and clear in this production. For example:
Disappointment: Not Everything Is What It Seems
It’s not all fun and games for Junie B. She faces serious disappointment when her favorite pair of furry mittens disappears at school one day. While she’s convinced someone “stoled” them, her teacher insists on checking the lost and found (which is a brand new discovery in itself). When the gloves are not there, she is even more convinced that someone “stoled” them. The audience gets to ride Junie B.’s emotional rollercoaster as she learns how to handle her big new feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration with honesty, integrity and forgiveness.
Courage: Doing the Right Thing
Deciding on what to do when you find something you really want but is not yours is a tough choice for anyone – especially 5-year-old Junie B. Junie B. finds a pen that lights up and has four different colors of ink. She really wants to keep it, but discovers that “finders keepers, losers weepers” is really just stealing. Audiences get to journey with Junie B. as she discovers the consequences of keeping the pen or giving it back.
Acceptance: Accepting People for Who They Are
Sometimes, the people that you least expect to be friends with become your best buddies. Junie B., who dares to be different with her personal style and the way she talks, doesn’t recognize that one of her best friends, Grace, is a different race., but she does recognize that Grace possesses “automatically curly” hair. Her other best friend, Lucille, is significantly wealthier than Junie B. and always has fancy clothing. With not an ounce of jealously, Junie B. accepts that she has a different set of circumstances than Lucille does.
Empathy: Being the New Kid Is Lonely
Handsome Warren is the new boy at school, and Junie B. likes him a lot. Trying to cover up his insecurities of being new, he calls Junie B. a mean name, --“nutball.” Junie B. shows audience members empathy when she discovers that he is lonely and makes it a point to become his friend. By the end of the story, the two are rolling on the ground in hysterical laughter.
For parents who have never taken their child/children to the theater, “Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook” is the perfect first play to experience together. Young audience goers will love Junie B. because she’s very much like them. Parents will love it because the show serves as a jumping off point for conversations for some of life's most important moral lessons.
“Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook” runs through Feb. 26 and is recommended for ages 5 and older. To order tickets, go to dct.org or call 214-740-0051. All performances are at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts; 5938 Skillman Dallas, TX 75231.
About Dallas Children’s Theater
Dallas Children’s Theater features professional actors performing for an annual audience of 250,000 young people and their families through mainstage productions (12 in the 2016-17 season), a national touring company and an arts-in-education program. As the only major organization in Dallas focusing solely on youth and family theater, DCT builds bridges of understanding between generations and cultures, instilling an early appreciation of literature, art and the performing arts in tomorrow’s artists and patrons. For more information on DCT, go to dct.org.
Why Theater Matters: https://www.education.com/magazine/article/Why_Childrens_Theater_Matters/
Learning from Live Theater: http://educationnext.org/learning-live-theater/