One of the greatest challenges of a sleight of hand artist can be performing for children.
I practice for hours, days, weeks… well you know, my entire life to get a sleight down perfect. Particularly with a coin trick, I work hard. It’s gonna look good, cause this is my passion, baby!
And then a little munchkin shows up and wants to see a trick. Ah yes, youth! They love magic, right? So I’m ready with that beautifully polished spectacle of astonishment right there in my pocket. I grab the coin, flick my fingers, work my magic, and the child simply says, “Gimme that. Can I hold it? I can do that! Let me see!” Then he proceeds to reach into my pocket and try to pull out all my coins! I run away sad, depressed, and confused. “What just happened?” I sob, as I cry myself to sleep at night…
Okay, so that is what used to happen. Kinda. But not anymore. Has this happened to you? Does this still happen to you?
How do we perform coin magic for young children?
First, it starts with practice. I’d like to say I figured out some of this years ago, but having two children of my own has definitely opened my eyes to a new kind of practice. Now, I practice specifically for children’s performance. Yes, it is different. Here is how:
Kids, particularly small kids, probably don’t give a flip about your coin magic skillz.
1. They are more interested in the coin. So, have a coin that they will be super interested in watching. Use large coins. Use coins that they can identify. I have to say, the Tiger-Tan coin is perfect for kids. It’s "orange," a color they know and has two big animals on it, a tiger and a “monkey.” The coin alone holds half of your material.
It is up to you if you allow them to touch it. (Keep in mind, if it fits in a pocket or a closed fist, it’s probably going there.) I personally allow them to touch. By asking them questions about the coin, it forces them to look at it with an open hand and keep it in sight, preventing an argument about handing it back. “What animal do you see? What color is it?” I ask. Then, “Here let me show you a trick cause you're gonna love this!”
2. Next, keep the magic about them, not the coins. The reason the coin behind the ear trick is so great, is because it naturally keeps the magic about the child. What genius came up with that? (It was probably first done with a rock, acorn, or flea in caveman times.) With coin behind the ear, the child is reaching behind her ear looking for the next coin, NOT grabbing at the coin that is in your hand. Key difference: where the grabs go.
(A special note for performers: always teach that the coin is behind the ear, NOT inside. You don’t want kids poking in ears.)
You may also give them roles, props, places to stand, and magic words as tools that give them assignments and responsibility in the trick; again, keeping it about them. Modern children’s magic is all about “empowering.” Read Seriously Silly, David Kaye, and Kid Control by Jullian Franklin for all the theory on that. Your audiences will thank you and you may note, every professional children’s magician adheres to some principle of this formula. (Oh, I have thoughts on this for another day!)
3. Leave your tough stuff in your pocket. Gimmicks that can be broken and angle sensitive stuff will not necessarily impress a child. What if a child quickly snatches your $300 gimmick and it breaks? Was it worth it for receiving the reactions I described above? And as far as angles. Kids have different angles. Angles you didn’t think to practice. Trust me. ...If you get down on their level you expose the tricks for the adults. If you stay standing tall, the kids will see the hiding coins and they will be sure to tell everyone! Haha.
Keep it simple.
Children already experience magic everyday with things like light switches, cell phones, wild animals, and bubbles. They still have magic! (I have to admit, bubbles are still magic to me.) Most likely, your sleight of hand will not top that, so just be as entertaining as possible! Always do great tricks, but use discretion. Which will set you up for the later opportunity to restore that sense of wonder, performing those long hours of practiced "real work” for their parents!
So, how do you perform coin magic for kids? Use engaging coins, keep the magic all about them, and entertain on their level.
Do you have any thoughts or horror stories of performing coins for children? Share below!