Social awareness and relationship skills are two essential components of children’s socioemotional development that undergo rapid consolidation in middle childhood. Previous research has found that growing up in poverty can undermine the development of social awareness and relationship skills. It has also suggested that theater education might serve as an important context in which these skills can develop.
In the current study, we examined whether participation in a program of theater education was associated with higher levels of two key aspects of social awareness—empathy and perspective-taking—and openness to establishing relationships with peers among a sample of children placed at risk by poverty. After participating in the program, children exhibited significantly higher scores on measures of empathy (B = .32, SE = .10), t(7.65) = 3.33, p = .011, and openness to establishing peer relationships (B = .77, SE = .23), t(5.05) = 3.29, p = .021, than their comparison group peers. Among a randomly selected subset of students from both the treatment and comparison groups, children in the treatment group exhibited larger gains in their perspective-taking than children in the comparison group. These results are interpreted in the context of previous research and their implications for educational policy, especially as it relates to arts education for children in poverty.
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