State Theatre New Jersey


State Theatre New Jersey's Early-Childhood Literacy Project

Children love to see their favorite storybook characters come to life onstage. Think Mary Poppins. Peter Pan. Charlie Bucket. Glinda the Good Witch. The Grinch.

To that list, add Little Nutbrown Hare, Big Nutbrown Hare, and a nameless little rabbit with an insatiable appetite for reading. These fictional creatures live in the pages of two children’s classics, Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You and Anita Jeram’s I Love My Little Storybook. Last month, through the enchanting puppetry of Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia, they hopped off the page and onto the State Theatre stage, much to the delight of 1,034 kids, teachers, and families.

The experience was made even more special for more than 250 New Brunswick preschoolers in State Theatre New Jersey’s Early-Childhood Literacy Project, an exciting initiative that uses live performance as a tool for developing reading skills in kids five and under. The program is based on research showing that engaging young children with lively, colorful stories boosts comprehension, vocabulary, and interest.

Partnering with the Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB) in New Brunswick, the State Theatre provided nine of their preschool classrooms with copies of the two picture books, along with tickets to the performance. Students had the experience of having the stories read to them in school, then hearing the same text, performed as narration, during the show. Associating the words with colorful visual storytelling helped reinforce vocabulary for the students, some of whom are learning English as a second language. Back in the classroom, teachers used the performance as a springboard for art projects and reading activities. The State Theatre’s Keynotes study guide was another resource for helping teachers integrate the performance into the school curriculum. The books, tickets, and materials were provided to the schools at no cost.

The Early-Childhood Literacy Project continues in the spring, with performances based on two more children’s classics: The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson, and Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister.

State Theatre New Jersey is grateful to The PNC Foundation for supporting our Early-Childhood Literacy Project.

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