Adelaide's famous cultural calendar has much to offer children, writes Linda Wyrill.

Adelaide has a thriving arts culture that's accessible to children, not only as spectators but as participants, for whom artistic pursuits can be literally life changing.

This is particularly true at this time of the year [February 2012], as families are spoilt for choice with arts festivals and events. 'Mad March', which actually kicks off later this month, boasts the Adelaide Festival of the Arts, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, WOMADelaide and Writers' Week – all with elements to inspire and involve children. Next year will see the biennial Come Out Festival added to the mix.

University of South Australia School of Education lecturer Jeff Meiners says it's important that arts festivals have child-friendly aspects. "It's about the cultural right of young children to access the arts," he says. Meiners, who has worked as a dance advisor with Windmill Performing Arts and dance judge for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, says theatre for young audiences has taken off in the past five years in Australia, and many professionals and companies are recognising that children need works made for them that are also meaningful to them.

Meiners says arts can provide a "way in" for children who might not be able to access learning in other ways. Children who struggle to make meaning through more traditional means such as the written word or numeracy might be able to succeed through the arts, he says. "Arts offer a different way of thinking about our experience of life," he says. "We want children to be active participants in the world of the arts."

Patch Theatre Company, based in Adelaide, creates and produces theatre for children aged four to eight. "Our work has a real focus on early-childhood development through arts," says general manager Christine Schloithe. She says quality arts experiences promoting exploration, play, joy and imagination are important for keeping alive children's sense of wonder and love of learning.

Glenn Hayden, artistic director at Urban Myth Theatre of Youth (pictured), says there are many reasons to get children involved in arts, not just those who are destined to be arts professionals. "Theatre is brilliant for young children in learning about the dynamics of group work and positive ways to voice their opinions," he says. "Creative thinking is a great skill applicable to all walks of life."

The Adelaide Fringe Festival runs from 24 February to 18 March 2012, and features more than 900 events in 300 venues across the city. One of the many family-friendly Fringe events is the Street Theatre Festival from 9 to 12 March 2012, which includes more than 40 shows, from puppetry to music and theatre, held at various venues around the city.

The Spirit Festival, an all-ages event at Rymill Park near Tandanya from 24 to 26 February 2012, is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture, featuring dance, stories, a visual-arts market and workshops.

The City of Charles Sturt presents MetSO at the Woodville Town Hall on 3 March 2012. Especially for children, this free show is a collaboration between the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the City of Charles Sturt Library, and uses storytelling, interaction and movement to introduce children to orchestral music.

Some venues, such as Gluttony and Adelaide Showground, are holding mini children's festivals during the Fringe. Adelaide Showground Fringe Family Weekend on 17 and 18 March 2012 has performances for children, such as 'Scaredy Kat' by Colourwheel Productions.

Adelaide Writers' Week hosts its first annual kids' program on 4 March 2012. This free family picnic at Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden will feature storytellers, illustrators, craftspeople, performances and international and national writers.

WOMADelaide provides musical delights in the child-friendly shade of Botanic Park from 9 to 12 March 2012. Performers include Adelaide Hills instrumental group The Bearded Gypsy Band, the Master Drummers of Burundi, Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit and Jamaican/US reggae outfit Groundation. Carclew Youth Arts again offers free art workshops as part of KidZone at WOMADelaide.

If you can't fit everything in during Mad March, South Australia is bursting with performing arts and arts-education programs year-round. Adelaide Festival Centre presents 'Me and My Shadow' by Patch Theatre Company from 17 to 21 April 2012 in the Space Theatre. With a beautiful musical score and use of paper, light, shadow and colour, the show tells the story of friendship and is suitable for children aged four to eight. Patch is celebrating its 40th year, and has an exciting line-up of events for children.

Unley's Urban Myth Theatre of Youth runs weekly drama workshops for children and adults during school terms, as well as holiday day camps twice a year.

Jeff Meiners says that when choosing an arts education program for children, the creative aspect is very important in the younger years. "I'd look for programs that aren't commercially driven, that have educational integrity and focus on developing children's participation."

Carclew Youth Arts holds a series of events connecting young people to arts, such as its popular school-holiday workshops for children aged five to 15 years. The workshops immerse children in dance, acting, visual arts, design, photography and more. This year Carclew also introduces a series of animation workshops.

Adelaide Festival Centre (AFC) runs programs for children throughout the year. 'Something on Saturday', for children aged three to 10, includes performances of music, dance, ballet, puppetry, circus, musical theatre and cabaret, along with free craft activities. In July the AFC hosts the Little Big Shots International Film Festival for Kids as well as 'The Nutcracker On Ice' at the Festival Theatre. In September there's the OzAsia Festival, a celebration of Asian arts and culture, which culminates in the OzAsia Moon Lantern Festival, a free family event at Elder Park.

The South Australian Art Gallery also connects children with arts through its START program. START introduces children and families to visual arts through art activities, tours, art trails, music and entertainment. It's held on the first Sunday of every month during school terms. 

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) brings orchestral music to children, with family concerts at its Hindley Street studios. ASO also takes music to schools and libraries, as it did last year with the popular Miss Lily String Quartet, based on the book 'Miss Lily's Fabulous Pink Feather Boa'.

With all of this and much more on offer, it isn't just the month of March that's mad with arts in Adelaide. Enjoy!

This article was first published in the February 2012 edition of Adelaide's Child.

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