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Best ages to start nurturing talent

Think your child has talent? "Each discipline in the arts really has a different timetable for formal training," says Dale Lewis, executive director of the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, a summer camp in Wheatley Heights with 1,600 students ages 6 to 19 studying music, dance, art, theater and more.

Here's some advice on how to nurture a child's interest.



Best age to start lessons Third or fourth grade

What else you can do As early as possible, expose your child to different styles of music, even if it's a genre beyond what you'd select for yourself. "Right away, from the time a child is young, he's hearing in his own home wonderful jazz music, wonderful classical music, wonderful folk songs," Lewis says. Have your child listen to specific instruments to understand their sounds. Choose any instructor carefully. "Make sure whoever you go to isn't hypercritical," says Peter Sander, theater professor at Hofstra University. "That isn't encouraging the student to develop and grow."



Best age to start lessons Kindergarten

What else you can do While art created by a 5-year-old will be less mature than art created by a teen, younger children can still be taught fundamental principles that will apply throughout their lives, Lewis says. Visit museums and galleries with your child to react to the art, advises Susan Goetz Zwirn, graduate director of art education at Hofstra. "Open a dialogue with your children about the power of a color or the power of a jagged line," Zwirn says. As the child ages, take advantage of the arts programs - ceramics, sculpture, etc. - offered free in school. Many private programs also offer art classes. For instance, the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills offers enrichment classes in areas such as cartooning, computer graphics and jewelry making, says office assistant Carolyn Reyes.



Best age to start lessons At least seventh grade for girls, even later for boys

What else you can do Before beginning formal lessons, have your child perform in a synagogue, church or school choir, Lewis says. "Use the natural voice, enjoy singing, don't scream. If they really remain fascinated by singing, they should start lessons in eighth or ninth grade." Otherwise, they'll be trained on an undeveloped voice that isn't the same as the one they'll use most of their lives. "The instrument they were trained on is no longer the instrument that is being used. You're really doing your children a disservice."



Best age to start lessons First grade

What else you can do No matter which dance discipline the child is interested in, Lewis recommends starting with ballet. "Ballet is really the basis for all other dance," he says. The child could take another kind of dance simultaneously, he says. "Invariably when professional dancers are asked about their training, they will have started their training in ballet," he says. Children can start "pre-ballet" earlier, but it will be for fun rather than a grounding in positions and technique, he says.



Best age to start lessons High school

What else you can do Parents tend to rush their children into formal, one-to-one acting coaching, Lewis says. "The natural personality that the casting director is looking for will disappear into the teaching concepts of the teacher, as well intentioned as that may be," he says. Let the child act in school plays or community theater and experience putting a personality into a character onstage, but save formal training for high school, he advises. Bobby Kabat, director of youth programming at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, agrees. His theater offers classes and performance opportunities for children as young as 3 - but in the early years, it's about developing self-esteem and learning to work with an ensemble. "When you get involved in a theatrical environment, you need that self-confidence and self-esteem to get up on stage and perform," Kabat says. And make sure it's your child who has the passion to continue, Lewis advises. "Many parents who have children interested in theater take up the cause because it also fulfills something of their own ambition," he says.

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