“Play!” Makes Kids Happy at BACT, Berkeley

“Play!” Makes Kids Happy at BACT, Berkeley

Bay Area Children’s Theatre Opens Unique Toddler “Class”

by Rosa del Duca

I walked into a Bay Area Children’s Theatre session with my daughter Itasca on my hip this past Tuesday and breathed a sigh of relief. In front of us was an enormous room, set up with stations and play areas designed to entice even the most clingy, reserved two-year-old. These days it’s always, “Mommy pick you up!”  At 24 weeks pregnant, I’d rather hear just about any other demand.

But we’d come to the right place. The goal at “Play!” is to encourage exploration, imagination and learning in toddlers from age 1 to 3. Not only are there structured group activities, like story time, music time and parachute play, but there are plenty of opportunities for independent engagement. A box of fairy wings, tutus, and masks sits next to the big story time rug.

Toddler-sized stools surround tables set up with home-made playdough and a variety of other arts and crafts. In the middle of the floor are bins with building toys like wooden train tracks and Legos. Along one wall is a gigantic bean bag. There are books, balls, bubbles, a tumbling mat, a snack station, and a big tub filled with tough goo for toddlers willing to adventure into unusual sensory explorations.

Itasca at “Play!” by BACT

Itasca practically leapt out of my arms and started squishing the playdough, exclaiming, “This is playdough!” twenty times. We were visited by both of the main staff members, one of whom we recognized as the talented Octopus from BACT’s recent “Rainbow Fish Musical.”

Vivian Auslander, who serves on BACT’s Board of Directors, stopped by as well, to check out the session in person. “We’re hoping to engage kids and parents in a form of theater at a very early stage,” she told me as she built a snowman out of playdough. “And hopefully that interest grows as they get older.”

It’s a hope that seems very likely to come to fruition. The basics of every BACT production are there in that room. “Play!” combines creativity with imagination, storytelling with movement. It all follows the script of any successful toddler activity—slipping education and development into a ball of fun.

It’s an especially ambitious project because we all know this can be a difficult age to encourage anything if your little one isn’t in the right mood. But the staff deftly handles the rambunctious and sometimes unruly bundle of toddlers with bravery, patience. and skill—leaving the kids feeling nourished and special. This particular parent left feeling the same way, vicariously.

Where is she going?

“Play!” an “interactive play and learning experience” designed for toddlers, at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, 2055 Center Street, Berkeley, with  sessions every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to noon.  Info: bactheatre.org

BACT‘s next production designed for very young audiences (6 months to 3 years) is “Old MacDonald: Beyond the Farm opening at the Children’s Creativity Museum Theater, San Francisco, on November 11, 2017 and the BACT Berkeley Center, on January 12, 2017.

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