We took Nat to his first Nutcracker ballet the Christmas just after he turned 3. It was a community production that we knew was very kid-friendly. We weren’t sure how he’d do, but he loved it!! We had many, many imaginary Mouse King battles in the weeks that followed. Then the next year, just after Kina turned 2, we took her along, too. She was definitely sleepy by the end, but she was enthralled. Then just after Toone turned 3 last year, Kina was dancing in her first performance of it, so we took him along for that. He’s our squirreliest child by a mile, but he was just as into it as the others were.
While we’ve taken them to community productions from young ages, we typically wait until they’re 4-5 before taking them to a major production. For the past couple of years, we’ve attended the one put on by the San Francisco Ballet, and it is nothing short of magical. We’re all in raptures by the time they’re dancing in the snow!
It can feel a little daunting to take your kiddo to the Nutcracker for the first time, though, regardless of the professionalism of the performance. You want to ensure they and others around you all have a good experience, so it can feel like a lot of pressure!
Here are a few tips that have helped us as we’ve tried to prepare our kiddos to go to the ballet. We continue to do them every year, so they’re great whether you’re going with kids for the first time or the 10th time!
8 TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR KIDS TO THE NUTCRACKER
1. BOOKS! There are SO many great versions of the Nutcracker out there that are perfect for helping little ones get familiar with the story beforehand. A great picture book can help the story come to life beforehand, and I find my kids always love seeing their favorite fictional characters in the flesh.
This is one of my favorites since it has little buttons on each page to play clips of music. It’s so fun! Then this one is such a classic, beautiful version.
2. VIDEOS. Similar to reading books, videos can be a really fun way to prep kiddos for the full-length experience. We love watching clips of favorite scenes and characters. Youtube makes it easy to search for your favorites – be they the Sugar Plum fairy or the fight with the Mouse King. I find that hearing the music makes it really exciting, and kids love the familiarity of recognizing their favorite sections.
Additionally, the San Francisco Ballet’s website has some terrific resources for getting familiar with the ballet. It gives a run-down of the story, the characters, and themes to search for in the dancing. It’s excellent for young and old!
3. ACT IT OUT. My kids love making pretend swords and acting out the battle with the Mouse King. They also love dancing to the various “country” dances – especially the Russian dance! In fact, at our kids’ school, the kindergarten classes perform a mini version of the Nutcracker each year (which is so wonderful for developing a love for it early through participation), and my oldest was a Russian dancer. He’s had a special love for that number ever since! Even just at home, though, it’s fun to act out the story, with or without music. Have them do their favorite parts and then keep an eye out for those.
4. DISCUSS EXPECTATIONS. Especially if they haven’t been to the theater before, little ones may not have any idea what to expect. That can be overwhelming, especially if it’s an evening performance that’s already past bedtime. It’s really helpful to discuss beforehand what it will be like and what you expect in terms of behavior. Here are a few suggestions:
- The theater will be dark.
- You may be really excited about some parts, but we should wait to share our thoughts until a break.
- It’s appropriate to clap at the end of a song.
- It’s great to be excited!
- If you need to share something urgently (e.g., if you need to use the restroom), try to keep your voice to a whisper.
- Speaking of, there will be restrooms there.
- We keep food and drink out of the theater.
- Have fun!
5. TREASURE HUNT. Kids love searching for things. Give them a list to try to spot – the Mouse King, Clara, the mini Nutcracker, the Christmas tree, a wrapped present, a pink tutu, etc.
6. FIDGET TOY. If you have a kid who is wiggly, it may help to have a quiet fidget toy, such as a squishy ball. It’s sometimes helpful if little fingers can stay occupied.
7. DRESS UP. Unless your kid hates fancy clothes, of course, in which case, go with what will make them not hate being there. But if you have a kid who DOES like to dress up, this is a perfect opportunity!
8. TAKE A BREAK. Especially at intermission, don’t stay in your seat! Get up and walk around, look at pictures in the theater, get a drink, go to the bathroom. Try to move around so your kiddos will be ready to sit still again when it starts back up. It’s often nice to have a little snack or treat during the break, too. The SF Ballet has Passport Performances that are intended for families and children, and they provide treats and drinks during intermission, as well as a special toy for those who arrive early. It’s a perfect, gorgeous performance for young Nutcracker-goers!
What other tips do you have for attending Nutcracker?