Why is musical theater such a powerful medium through which children and adults find pleasure and a desire to engage in? Does musical theater experience help children with special needs develop socioemotional skills? Sandra Russ, the Louis D. Beaumont Professor of Psychology and Olena Zyga, Graduate Student in Clinical Psychology, from CWRU collaborated with Heather Meeker, Executive Director, and Jodi Kirk, Curriculum Writer and Teaching Artist, for The Musical Theater Project, to gather empirical evidence of the effectiveness of a 4-week musical theater residency program, entitled Kids Love Musicals! The program was delivered to children with special needs at schools across northeast Ohio. Both parties involved hoped to better understand if engaging in the residency program, which targets teaching social skills and emotional understanding through learning the Wizard of OZ, impacted participant’s socioemotional skills related to making eye contact, engaging with others, taking turns appropriately, and showing emotional understanding. A second aim related to understanding if gains seen during the residency program extended to other environments.
Meeker, Kirk, and Zyga presented the findings of the research project at both Milestones, a conference on Autism, in Cleveland OH in June 2015 and also at VSA Intersections, an arts and special education conference hosted by the Kennedy Center for the Arts, in Washington DC in August 2015. Updated results from the project will be presented again at Milestones in June 2016 and also at OCALICON, an autism and disabilities conference, in November 2016.
Since this partnership began in the Fall of 2014, research findings show that: