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The Nutcracker Ballet

Throughout December

There are a wide variety of opportunities in the D.C. metropolitan area where you can go for a family outing to see the Nutcracker. While enjoying the cultural experience, encourage your child to work on their speech and language skills to talk about this classic holiday ballet.


EXPLORE: Expressive Grammar
ENRICH: Verb Tenses

ENGAGE: The ability to describe an action using a specific verb


Ballet is an active art form that lends itself easily to being described with distinct verbs. Before and after the performance, use the following activity to help your child improve the specificity of the verbs they use.



  • Before the show, ask your child to think of different verbs or "action words," that they think they will see the dancers do. Have him/her use each verb in a sentence. For example, "I think the dancers will LEAP" or "I think I will see dancers TWIRLING."

  • If your child uses vague verbs, like "move" or "dance," give him/her two more specific choices: "How will they move? Will they PRANCE or GLIDE?" Then have him/her use his choice in a complete sentence.

  • After the performance, ask your child to recount what actions he/she saw the dancers do - this way he/she can practice not only the specific verbs but also how to conjugage them into the past tense - "The ballerina SKIPPED and SLID."



EXPLORE: Higher Order Thinking Skills
ENRICH: Making Inferences

ENGAGE: The ability to use context clues to understand a story


Because a ballet is a performance in which plotlines are conveyed through movement, rather than words, you can teach your child to make inferences by combining his/her background knowledge with what he/she sees at the ballet to understand the story of the Nutcracker.



  • Have a conversation about the Nutcracker before going to the performance to find out what he/she knows of the story. See if he/she can answer questions about the basic elements of the story (you can find more details on the plot on Wikipedia):

    • Who are the characters? (Clara and her family)

    • What is the setting? (At Clara's family home)

    • When is the story happening? (On Christmas eve)

  • At intermission or after the show, ask your child to answer the following inferential questions about the two acts:

    • ACT I:

      • Why does Clara get upset? (Because her brother broke her nutcracker)

      • Why does Clara go back to the parlor after everyone is asleep? (To check on the nutcracker)

    • ACT II:

      • Why is the Prince/Nutcracker grateful to Clara? (Because she saved him from the Mouse King)

      • Where does the Prince/Nutcracker take Clara? (To the Land of Sweets - or any other reference to desserts)


EXPLORE: Phonological Awareness
ENRICH: Syllable Segmentation

ENGAGE: The ability to segment a word into its component syllables


Being able to break a word into syllables is an important literacy skill. While talking about the ballet, you can teach your child about syllable segmentation by starting with the three-syllable word nutcracker.



  • Ask your child how many parts, or syllables, the word "nutcracker" has. Help him/her to figure it out by teaching him/her how to clap for each part of the word: nut-cra-cker - 3 syllables.

  • Using the following list of words from the Nutcracker, have your child practice syllable segmentation by counting the number of syllables in each word:

    • Christmas (2)

    • Grandfather (3)

    • Clara (2)

    • Fritz (1)

    • Drosselmeyer (4)

    • Soldier (2)

    • Mouse (1)

    • Forest (2)


EXPLORE: Pragmatic Skills
ENRICH: Polite Social Language

ENGAGE: The ability to give a compliment


Giving someone a compliment can be a difficult skill if a child does not understand the value in saying something kind to someone else. Use the Nutcracker as a chance for your child to practice saying something complimentary to a peformer.



  • First, review with your child that a compliment is praise that makes a person feel appreciated and important.

  • Next, ask your child to think of three things they liked about the performance that they could use in a compliment to one of the performers. You can help your fild formulate their idea into a sentence using a sentence starter, such as "I liked when you ____" or "My favorite part was when ____."

  • If the dancers are available after the show, have your child give his/her compliment to one of them. If not, role play the situation with him/her.


BONUS: Check out these ideas from to give your child more practice giving compliments.

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