Christmas in July: The Nutcracker Ballet and Beyond

Most of American children know The Nutcracker as a ballet, while some are familiar with a movie thanks to Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But how many heard of the original story by E. T. A. Hoffmann? Why not to start a child’s introduction to Nutcracker with the book itself? Or better yet, with the story of the nutcracker doll. In fact, young children may enjoy many different activities with everyone’s favorite Christmas character.

Nice to Meet you, Nutcracker!

Show a nutcracker doll to a child and explain what is it supposed to be used for.

If you have any nut in a house, show how the nutcracker is supposed to crack the nut, but explain that nowadays nutcrackers are mostly decorative. Tell that nutcracker dolls have been first made in Germany and were often given as gifts for Christmas.

Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

I know, the original Hoffmann’s tale is for ages 10 and older. However, there are many good adaptations. Here is one of my personal favorites adapted for younger readers by Janet Schulman.  I loved the illustrations and the fact that the book introduces the story rather than the ballet’s plot. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Tchaikovsky’  ballet. I just think that the story has it’s own value and might be introduced for its own sake.

If you think the book is too long for your kid, or some parts sound too controversial, you may always skip them or retell the story and show the pictures. You and your child can even create a game that would help you to reenact the plot and practice retelling the story.

Let’s Make The Nutcracker Story Come Alive!

There are two core settings in a book: Stahlbaum’s house and Candyland. For the base of each setting you may use cardboard cut out from cereal box. Your child will help you to glue colorful wrapping or construction paper on top of the base. He might also have fun decorating the base with drawings, stickers, bright buttons, confetti, sequins, or any other colorful items you can find in a house. Don’t forget the Christmas Tree: your child (or you) may cut it out of construction paper and decorate it as well. You can find images for the characters online, print them, cut out (alternatively, your child might do the cutting). The last part is to make your Christmas Tree and characters “stand”. First of all, you can make them sturdy by gluing them to the card board and then cutting out again. My students and I made standees by cutting rings (about 3 inches tall) from paper towel tube, making two vertical cuts on both sides of each ring, and inserting the tree and the characters into the cuts. If this construction feels flimsy, feel free to make it sturdier by using scotch tape and small playdough containers underneath standees. Or better yet, create your own standee!

Voila! You and your child are ready to play and retell The Nutcracker and the Mouse King!

Finally, the Ballet!

Does your child know what ballet is? The answer is easy if she is taking ballet lessons. Still, it doesn’t mean she had a chance to watch a professional ballet. In this case (or if the whole idea is entirely new to her), start from the beginning. I bet you can show her some short segments on YouTube. You might also tell, how P. I. Tchaikovsky wrote music for Hoffmann’s tale, but changed it a little bit.

You may use the same game that you and your child created for retelling the story for reenacting the ballet’s plot. Just add additional setting: Winter Wonderland. Create it the same way as other scenes and let it snow with cotton balls or torn pieces of Kleenex.

Play the game with Tchaikovsky’s music. Your child might also want to reenact some scenes. Girls might enjoy dancing like snowflakes or flowers, while boys might enjoy fighting with the Mouse King.

Finally, when you decide to watch the ballet, make it special. Even if you can’t go to theater, you can still bring theater home.

Nutcracker is NOT Just for Christmas!

And don’t feel disappointed if you never got do any of Nutcracker activities because of holiday’s hustle and bustle. Don’t postpone until next holiday season. Kids’ imagination will transform any season into Christmas season. Just do it!

For creativity class inspired by Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker check out the following classes. Click on the image to see a short movie bout the class.

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