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More light about each other: Theater education as a context for developing social awareness and relationship skills

Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
New Victory Theater Logo

In this paper, we make the case that theater education can help children develop social awareness and relationship skills. 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 and has also suggested that theater education might serve as an important context in which these skills can develop.

Spark performance

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 their 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, and openness to establishing peer relationships, 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 considering previous research, and their implications for educational policy, especially as it relates to arts education for children in poverty, are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

We offer the New Victory Theater’s Schools with Performing Arts Reach Kids (SPARK) program as an example of how theater education can allow for the development of crucial socioemotional skills.

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