For many families, seeing a live theatrical event can be a truly magical and memorable experience. But it’s really so much more than just spectacle. In fact, regularly seeing plays, musicals, and children’s theatre performances can help your child’s social, emotional, and mental development grow by leaps and bounds — and as a bonus, you’ll be able to create an even stronger bond as a family.

While over 47 million Americans said they attended a live theatre event during spring 2016, recent British research found that nearly 30% of parents indicated their children had never been to the theatre. However, among the 70% of parents surveyed who said their children had gone to the theatre, 90% said their children get excited about going and 19% said their children talked about the performance for months after it was over. Clearly, the theatre has an effect on young children that cannot truly be replicated by entertainment on a screen.

But it’s about more than just the enjoyment children feel when watching a performance on stage. Seeing plays can help build empathy, understanding, and tolerance; when children are exposed to different scenarios, lessons, and those from different backgrounds, they’re able to recognize what they have in common. They also learn how to deal with tough situations and new emotions in a safe environment.

Seeing plays can improve a child’s vocabulary, as well. Considering that the birth-to-age-three period has the fastest rate of brain development across the entire human lifespan, exposure to children’s theatre and other family-friendly stage productions can help youngsters learn new words and can improve their self-expression, in general. One University of Arkansas study found that when grade school and middle school students saw A Christmas Carol or Hamlet, they developed greater knowledge of the story’s plots and vocabulary, as well as an improved ability to identify emotions and display tolerance in their own lives.

Of course, it’s a good experience for parents, too. Research conducted by Encore Tickets found that two-thirds of parents enjoy accompanying their child to the theatre because it’s a memory-making opportunity they can share. That bond can actually manifest itself in physical ways: research conducted by University College London found that those who attend the theatre together actually synchronize heart rates during the performance — a phenomenon that’s been shown to promote social bonding and connection, particularly during a shared emotional experience.

And if your child decides they want to perform? They’ll be even better off. Children who participate in drama classes or local productions learn how to work as a team, to listen effectively, to speak and read with confidence, and to really think creatively. Whether or not your child eventually decides to pursue an artistic profession, these skills will prove helpful throughout their years in school and in the workplace.

But for now, these shows can simply be a fun family activity that allows you to create treasured memories. By making theatre performance a priority in your home, you’re making an enjoyable investment in your loved ones.