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How do school trips to the theatre boost learning?

3 min read
  • The science of learning

A school trip to the theatre to see the latest play or musical is a traditional school practice. Not only is it a chance to take a break from school and have some fun, it also has many additional educational benefits.

However, studies show that schools nowadays are reducing their arts budgets and cancelling trips to the theatre. Investing time into the arts has demonstrated its importance in developing well-rounded learners, so is this a step in the wrong direction? To answer this question and hopefully help start a conversation, we looked at the research that shows the influence of a trip to the theatre on students.

Benefits of school trips to the theatre

Research suggests that seeing live theatre has significant benefits. These can include enhanced literary knowledge, increased tolerance, and more empathy amongst students. These skills can be useful to students in all aspects of their life, in school or at home, and will benefit them for a lifetime.

Seeing a live play can also enhance a student’s emotional intelligence, especially their ability to recognise and appreciate how other people think and feel. Theatre almost acts as a window to a broader world, because it shows us many different perspectives and experiences. Evidence shows that students who watched a live theatre play displayed “an improved ability to read the emotions of others”. Exposing children to performance arts can contribute towards higher understanding and acceptance as they become more aware of the world around them. This development of emotional intelligence is especially important as it will contribute to healthy conflict resolution between peers and teach students how to express their emotions in appropriate ways.

Is watching a movie the same?

Statistics show that there has been a 7% drop in educational visits to Shakespeare’s Globe – a popular theatre in London – over the past year. Arts education is now thought to be somewhat of a luxury in schools. It may be easier and more cost effective to have students watch the movie version of the play – however it does not have the same effects.

Research shows that reading and watching movies of Hamlet and A Christmas Carol did not cause the same increases in knowledge experienced by students who attended live performances of the same plays. For example, 83% of students who saw the live play could identify which characters were Hamlet’s friends, compared to only 45% of those students who watched the movie.

We react differently to human beings acting out a story directly in front of us than to representations of human beings on a screen, maybe because in-person experiences can help create greater emotional connections. This is why watching recordings doesn’t have the same effect on students’ empathy and emotional intelligence as live theatre.

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Is Arts education important?

Creative thinking skills that can be developed through arts education are vital in today’s world. Research shows that individuals who are heavily integrated in the arts world are often using divergent thinking, a thought process that explores all possible solutions to generate creative ideas. Arts education can help students do this by encouraging them to develop into more independent and resourceful learners.

This doesn’t influence students’ arts and creative skills only – this impacts every subject they are involved in. A report by the Carnegie Foundation of The Advancement of Teaching demonstrates that students who regularly participate in the arts are four times more likely to take part in a math and science fair, or win an award for writing an essay or poem, when compared to children who don’t participate. The academic improvements that result from arts education are reason enough to place a higher importance on its integration into teaching once again.

Final thoughts

In recent years, the demand for arts education in schools has decreased massively. With a focus on standardised testing and students focusing more on high test scores, it is becoming harder to aid the development of empathetic and creative learners. However, the majority of research supports the idea that arts education is a great way to challenge students whilst also making learning enjoyable. All things considered, going to theatre offers students a chance to see beyond their own horizon and develop as both people and as learners.