The holiday season is so wonderful. I just love it. For us in particular, we have a lot of exciting things happening.
My husband is home more- he works crazy hours in the spring and summer, and even some into the fall. Winter is our family time.
Caroline’s birthday is right around Thanksgiving, and William’s birthday is in early December. As a result, we have two birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years all super close together. It makes for a very special couple of months.
Since we have the kid’s birthdays very close to Christmas, we always love getting gifted experiences instead of toys, because we end up on toy overload at the end of the year.
This year, I had an idea to take Caroline to see The Nutcracker. She’s in ballet right now and enjoying it very much. I thought this might be a really exciting experience for her. Her auntie and uncle inquired for some experience ideas and I threw this one out there. They made it happen, and I got to take Caroline to see The Nutcracker last weekend.
I was a bit hesitant to take a 5 year old to the ballet…
When I think of going to the theater to see a ballet, I think of a bit of a formal environment, and keeping children quiet at all times might be a challenge. I actually had several worries.
My Worries About Taking a Child to The Nutcracker
Let’s start with the obvious. I was worried about her staying interested. There are no words, no story to easily follow. Just music and dancing. The beginning is not a ton of dancing, either. It’s mostly just a silent play to music.
Keeping a child quiet can be hard, especially if they are not interested in the ballet and having to sit there for a 2 hour production. For some reason my worries about this were heightened with the ballet. I think I was really worried that the interest level wouldn’t be there, and so the quiet factor would be tough.
Lights and Sound
Our daughter is a highly sensitive child. This means that her brain works a bit differently and things like lights and sounds can really bother her. As a highly sensitive child she notices every detail of every thing. She is on sensory overload most of the time.
Loud music can send her sensory intake into overdrive. Bright lights, or no lights at all can both also have sensory impacts that are not desirable for our highly sensitive child.
Random Other Factors
Again, with a highly sensitive child that is on sensory overload all the time, she can be set off by the tiniest of things and it can be halting to our experience. Being around new people makes her incredibly nervous. At times she can’t focus on anything else because of this. Having to deal with sitting next to other people was a huge concern.
Things like sensors in the bathroom can be a deal breaker, and places like this don’t have family restrooms. The loud noises and unpredictability of the sensors can be enough to send our daughter into a meltdown, cause her to not go to the bathroom when she needs to, causing us to have to leave. It’s a huge concern.
With a highly sensitive child, the unknown can be hard. As a parent of an HSC I like to prepare her as much as possible. I couldn’t just take her for a practice run at the theater, however. I hadn’t even been to this theater before. So, there were unknowns that I wasn’t going to be able to prepare her for ahead of time as I usually do.
Our Experience and How to Prepare for Taking a Child to The Nutcracker
If there’s one thing for sure, you need to assess the interest level of your child when it comes to the ballet. Seeing The Nutcracker with kids is simply not going to be for everyone, every family, or every child.
I think the success of seeing a show like this is HUGELY dependent on your child’s engagement with the show. With that in mind, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to prepare, that I’ll discuss below.
Our experience was simply amazing. Caroline was MESMERIZED and fully engaged the entire time. It was a hit!
Interest was my first worry. I know she’s enjoying ballet class, so I tried to peak her interest first by telling her that she was going to get to see people doing ballet and some of the things she’s currently learning to do in class.
I made sure to point out the ballet shoes, especially the pointe shoes! She was very excited to see the dancers as a result!
The other worry with interest was simply that children might have a hard time following the story line. I bought a children’s book on amazon and read her The Nutcracker a few times.
I wanted to make sure she had an idea of what was going on, so she’d be more likely to stay interested and not be bored.
We bought this book on amazon. It was the perfect amount of detail that I could point things out quietly to her in the ballet and she knew exactly what it was referencing in the book. She knew the story enough that it really did captivate her interest, even with no words or explanation when she was watching. Get a copy of the book at this link.
Caroline stayed quiet and did an awesome job. Part of this was that she was incredibly engaged and interested. She really was mesmerized and I think reading the book and quietly pointing out a few things during the ballet really helped!
When we got to the theater, I explained to her the expectations that we stay quiet during the performance. I told her about the intermission and that after half of the ballet was done, we’d get to get up, stretch our legs, go potty, and talk before the next half. She knew what to expect and it worked well.
Lights and Sound
I explained to Caroline ahead of time that this was going to be like going to see a movie, and the lights were going to get turned down during the performance. She’s been to a couple of movies, most recently Frozen 2 a few weeks prior. So, she understood what to expect.
I showed her the lights that would be pointing to the stage to light up the dancers so we could see well.
We talked about the orchestra and music, and I showed her the speakers that would project the sound to us.
There were several moments that I am surprised went so well…
The lights at one point were in OUR eyes. This was during the moment when the mice come out. This production had the mice come out from the aisles in the audience seating. So, they lit up the aisles, and lights were bright in our eyes.
Caroline didn’t seem to be bothered, but normally something like this could be bothersome enough to cause her to be frustrated and loud due to the bright lights bothering her eyes. This is just something to be aware of for the highly sensitive children out there.
Also for those highly sensitive kids, there were noises. A cannonball noise was part of the fight with the mouse king scene, and was very loud. Again, surprisingly, Caroline was unphased.
There were several moments after some dances, that the audience would clap for the individual performances. Clapping is loud. Caroline is not a fan of it and usually covers her ears. Not this time. This girl was clapping and super excited when it happened.
I also loved that she knew when to clap and was so involved. I took the clapping moments as opportunities to let her say something to me very quickly if need be since it was covered by the noise.
Random Other Factors and Unknown Worries
For the first part of the ballet, we sat in our seats. I gave Caroline a heads up that she’d have someone sitting next to her. She did fine with it. The main problem was that she couldn’t see well. The seats are simply not designed well for kids. She ended up sitting in my lap to see better.
After the second half started, we had to leave the theater briefly while I had a coughing fit. Horrible timing LOL! When we returned, I decided to sit in the back of the theater where it was less crowded. It was perfect. She could stand up at times and get comfortable and see well. I’d highly recommend doing this if the theater isn’t full.
There were sensors in the bathrooms and the bathrooms were loud and hard for us. We had a hard moment during the intermission trying to go potty, and I thought we were going to have to leave since Caroline had to go to the bathroom so badly, but wouldn’t go in fear of the sensors.
She ended up powering through and I was able to refocus her and get her to go. We were then able to enjoy the second half of the ballet.
As for the unknown factor, I showed Caroline pictures of the theater ahead of time. We also got there early so we could walk around and check things out. She got to see everything for quite some time with the lights on. This helped a ton!
Overall, our experience was amazing! I think this was partially due to our preparation, but mostly due to her excitement and true interest.
There were times that I was bored, to be honest. Ballets and plays are not my thing. The first half was not engaging to me since there wasn’t a lot of dancing. I really just wanted to see the big dances! Caroline, on the other hand loved every minute. I loved watching her watch the show.
I saw other kids that were looking all around at everything but the performance and clearly weren’t that engaged. And then there was Caroline- big eyes, looking at every detail, and just purely enjoying herself. It was pretty neat to see!
So, if you are considering taking your child, I’d recommend the above strategies to peak their interest, but I’d also recommend assessing the natural interest of your child. If you think it’s there, than see this show.
Don’t worry about the ballet being a fancy or formal environment. And remember it’s ok to leave if it doesn’t work out. I was fully prepared to leave after the first half of the performance if things weren’t going well. I knew it was going to be hit or miss, and it was OK if it was a miss and not her thing.
For us, I have a feeling we’ll be taking Caroline back next year and making this a tradition. It was pretty neat to see her so engaged.
Happy holidays! I hope you enjoy your family time during this season.