The arts are an important part of children’s lives. It’s important to encourage their creativity and imagination.
Yesterday I learned that the art teacher at my son’s elementary school would not be back next year … or ever. I guess I should be happy that at least his school still has a music teacher, even if it is only half time. My daughter’s high school has long since lost its orchestra. Band is holding on by its fingernails. Drama is a thing of the past.
Budget woes have indeed hit schools, and along with that comes the throwing out of the “fluff” and the preserving of the “basics.” But who decided that the arts are just decoration? Certainly not me, and certainly not a lot of researchers who put the arts front and center in a healthy child’s education. According to Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the independent federal agency supporting artists and arts organizations, “A number of research studies over the past several decades have drawn a clear correlation between early exposure of children to the arts and increased long-term critical reasoning, communication and social skills.”
So, just what makes the arts, including visual art, music, drama, dance and any other creative endeavor so important? Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading non-profit organization for advancing arts in America, combed through the research regarding children and their exposure to the arts, and came up with these findings:
- The arts help create unique brain connections that will have long-term impact on a young child’s life.
- The arts teach kids to be more tolerant and open.
- The arts allow kids to express themselves creatively.
- The arts promote individuality, bolster self-confidence and improve overall academic performance.
- The arts can help troubled youth, providing an alternative to delinquent behavior and truancy while providing an improved attitude towards school.
According to producers at pbskids.org, of programs aimed at educating young kids, “There are lots of benefits when children are involved in the arts: children can feel good about themselves and their ideas, develop physical coordination, learn to cooperate with others, develop language skills, express how they feel and what they think and learn to look carefully at the world around them.”
Finally, according to Elliot W. Eiser, professor of education and art at Stanford University, “The arts are about joy. They are about the experience of being moved, of having one’s life enriched, of discovering our capacity to feel.”
If the schools can’t expose our children to the arts as much as we’d like, then that makes our role as parents that much more critical. Someone needs to promote the arts; why not us? Aside from signing our kids up for piano, dance and acting lessons, what can we do in our daily lives to assure that our kids are soaking up the benefits of the arts? Plenty. Here are some ideas for exposing your child to the arts everyday from Imagine! Introducing Your Child to the Arts (National Endowment for the Arts; 2004):
- Create an “art corner” at home filled with a variety of art materials.
- Provide a place to exhibit your child’s artwork.
- Plan an “art party” for your child’s next birthday.
- Find art in the everyday world (calendars, book illustrations, murals in the library, architecture and monuments).
- Express personal ideas and feelings about individual works of art. Value your child’s perspective.
- Visit a museum, gallery or art center. Many art museums host a “free day” for families.
- Encourage your child to play and be imaginative.
- Supply props for dramatic play such as hats, scarves, baskets, bags and plastic dishes.
- Build on your child’s interests through dramatic play. For example, if your child has an interest in animals, ask him to be the “vet.”
- Tell stories thorough dramatic play, acting out together a well-known children’s story.
- Attend a play together. Try to find a performance geared toward children.
- Sign your child up to be a part of a play or musical production.
- Listen to your child sing or play an instrument.
- Sing. Invite your child to sing along with you.
- Encourage your child to move to the music you hear.
- Make musical instruments out of simple materials such as rice and beans in a plastic container.
- Attend live music performances with your child. Libraries and community centers often host free music events.
- Provide a place and time for you and your child to explore movement.
- Make up stories by acting them out with body movement. Pretend to uses roller skates, a skate board and a bicycle.
- Practice movement as it relates to music or rhythm such as clapping, marching or rocking.
- Take your children to see all styles and forms of dance.
As Gioia tells us: “As parents and teachers, our responsibility is to expose our children to constructive educational opportunities, especially those grounded in the arts and humanities. To do less is to impoverish our children. Impoverished minds do not lead to enlightened lives. And it’s enlightenment our children deserve.” What are we waiting for? Time to pull out the drawing pad and turn on the music!
Martha Wegner is a mom and freelance writer.