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Our family absolutely loves the Nutcracker ballet, and it’s so fun attending a Nutcracker ballet for kids. We’ve seen at least one production every year for over a decade, and it’s just such a magical part of the holiday season.
After taking our kids to Nutcracker productions for years, we’ve learned a few tips for how to make it a great experience for them, for us, and or everyone around us. Here are some things that have worked for us!
What Age to Attend the Nutcracker Ballet
We took our oldest 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 our daughter turned 2, we took her along, too. She was definitely sleepy by the end, but she was enthralled.
We continued the trend by taking our third to a performance just after he turned 3. He was our squirreliest kid, but our daughter was dancing in the community production, so we decided to take him along. And it turned out he loved it, too!
While we’ve taken them to community productions from young ages, we typically wait until they’re 4-5 before taking them to a professional production. We’ve loved attending the one put on by the San Francisco Ballet; 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 attend the Nutcracker for kids for the first time, though. 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!
9 TIPS FOR SEEING THE NUTCRACKER WITH KIDS
1. READ THE STORY BEFOREHAND
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.
We all absolutely adore this version since it has little buttons on each page to play clips of music. (Available on Amazon, Bookshop, Walmart.) It’s so fun! Then this one is such a classic, beautiful version.
2. WATCH VIDEO CLIPS
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). My oldest was a Russian dancer when he did it, and my daughter was Clara. They’ve had a special love for “their” numbers 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 during the production.
4. ATTEND A MATINEE
While an evening performance can certainly be delightful (and can work out if your child is okay staying up late or has a later bedtime), a matinee often works better for young kids. There’s a lot to take in during a production, and it can feel like a lot to also have that happen late in the day when they’re already tired. Especially for a first-time viewing, I recommend choosing a matinee if you can!
5. 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! 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!
6. TREASURE HUNT
Kids love searching for things. Give them a list of characters, props, and costumes to try to spot – the Mouse King, Clara, the Nutcracker doll, the Christmas tree, a wrapped present, a pink tutu, etc.
7. FIDGET TOY
If you have a kid who is especially wiggly, it may help to have a quiet fidget toy, such as a stress ball or fidget spinner. It’s sometimes helpful if little fingers can stay occupied. Or sometimes just holding a small stuffed animal and asking them to help their stuffie stay still and watch quietly can help them do the same!
8. DRESS UP
Unless your kid hates fancy clothes, of course, in which case, go with what will make them not hate being there. Even pajamas! But if you have a kid who DOES like to dress up, this is a perfect opportunity! I find it also helps my kids recognize that it’s a special experience and merits their very best behavior.
9. 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.
In the past, the SF Ballet has had special family performances where they provide treats and drinks during intermission, as well as a special toy. It’s a perfect, gorgeous performance for young Nutcracker-goers!
What other tips do you have for attending Nutcracker?
[…] in the 2nd act! If it’s your first time taking kids (or even if not!), here’s a list of 7 tips to prepare your kids to see the Nutcracker. It’s such a special and magical experience, especially when everyone is ready for […]