Engaging Kids Through Arts in the Classroom - MetroFamily Magazine
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Engaging Kids Through Arts in the Classroom

by Introduction by Hannah Schmitt, Article by Heide Brandes

Reading Time: 8 minutes 

We have come to part three of our four-part series on Introducing Kids to the Arts. In the past two months, we’ve discussed practical ways to introduce children to live stage performances and museum exhibits. (Find part one here and part two here). This month, we discuss general arts education. While Oklahoma City’s education budget cuts may be limiting arts programs in some public schools, non-profits and local businesses are stepping up to fill in the gap by providing a thriving arts scene to youth in the metro.

Jean Hendrickson perhaps knows more than anyone in Oklahoma City the power of integrating the arts into education. She’s the director emeritus for Oklahoma A+ Schools, an organization she helped start in Oklahoma City in 2001 to transform education in the state. Through her experience with A+, she’s seen realized students do better when every learning experience starts with the arts. When kids are engaged creatively in what they are learning, the lessons stick and kids love to learn. She said parents have unlimited potential to encourage and stimulate the arts at home and be powerful forces on their child’s campus, too.

“There has to be a way the arts live at home,” she said. “Just like we expect them to when we go to a production or we go to the museum or to the movies or anywhere else, the language and experience of the arts needs to live at home.”

That means recreating scenes from a movie or play in the living room, she said, or singing along out loud to favorite songs in the car. 

“Parents need to be alert to those opportunities to make connections and have that natural extension so those things live at home just as they do at school.”

In addition to playing up visual and creative arts at home, Hendrickson said parents have a responsibility to be involved on school grounds, too. She believes parents are the true advocates for their children and can be the drivers of what happens on campus.

“Thinking about what’s happening in education right now in the state itself,” she said, “and the role parents are beginning to play, it’s a collective voice saying, ‘we’ve had enough of standardized tests defining my child.’ It’s a huge voice now and it’s making a difference in how policy makers really view what they should do all because parents have said, ‘my child is not a test score and you must not define my child that way.’”

The most simple action parents can take is to nurture a collaborative relationship with teachers, she said. Education is a team effort and parents should discuss with teachers the creative preferences and talents of their child.

Hendrickson’s been in education since 1979 and has seen what she calls a “boom bust cycle” in arts education in Oklahoma City Schools. The cycle tracks recessions and the availability of resources, she said, but they also track leadership. The presence of arts in schools has suffered when leadership doesn’t understand the greater impact.

Right now, Hendrickson said, arts education in Oklahoma City is on the upswing. She noted there are more arts collaborations than ever in the city and a growing number of A+ schools, which she believes is the key to truly improving education. 

“We’re on the cusp of really determining for sure that we want the arts to be part of education in this community,” she said. “I’m very hopeful for the future.”

Below, you’ll discover the value the arts can provide in educating Oklahoma City children and find practical ways to get your kids involved in learning through art.

To learn more about Oklahoma A+ Schools and how Hendrickson believes the model can transform Oklahoma City’s education system, visit www.metrofamilymagazine.com/aplus.


You don’t have to look far to find studies providing evidence that exposure to the arts enhances learning for students. The report “Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School” by the University of California, Los Angeles, reveals that young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours three days each week are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and four times more likely to win awards for writing.

Additionally, it shows children exposed to the arts also are more likely to improve in school attendance and to participate in math and science fairs. In fact, arts education makes a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of students and helps level the “learning field” across socio-economic boundaries. 

In the words of one local expert, art is as much of a necessity to young children as nourishing foods.

“Just like kids need to have good nutrition on a daily basis, kids need to have their daily serving of the arts,” said Kristen Bromley, marketing and public relations manager for Oklahoma’s Allied Arts. Allied Arts is a statewide force that formed in 1971 to enrich communities through advancement of the arts.

Regardless of what research shows, funding for public school arts education continues to get cut. However, Oklahoma City’s art experts reveal there are still plenty of ways to introduce the arts to kids in the metro. Locally, numerous arts and cultural organizations have stepped up to fill the gap in arts by offering programs that run the gamut from visual arts to dance.


The developmental and academic benefits of incorporating arts are well-documented, but did you know that the benefits extend to adulthood, as well? 

Business leaders understand that arts education builds a school climate of high expectation, discipline and academic rigor which helps to strengthen student problem-solving and critical thinking skills, adding to overall academic achievement and school success.

In addition, arts education helps students develop a positive work ethic and pride in a job well done, leading to a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them. 

Art, in some cases, is the basis of an education at some schools in Oklahoma, like the Harding Fine Arts Academy. 

“By integrating the arts into the core curriculum, we are training our students to be the kind of creative problem-solvers that the business world is now seeking,” said Barry Schmelzenbach, M.Ed.L., principal of Harding.

“The ability to make connections between disciplines and to apply a solution in one area to a problem in another is a skill that needs to be nurtured and encouraged in all learners. Both students who are academically and artistically inclined flourish in such an environment.”


With all the proof that art education makes a well-rounded child, parents can begin to integrate the arts into their child’s life in a multitude of ways.

Encouraging a child to find an art form they love means exposing them to the opportunity to create visual arts, music, dance, acting and more. 

According to Bromley at Allied Arts, a few simple ways to boost arts in daily school assignments include:

When the student is given the opportunity to do a presentation or a non-traditional assignment, the parents can encourage them to act it out using drama or storytelling.  

Integrate cultural products, art pieces and artistic ideas into non-traditional art curriculums; i.e. social sciences, math, science, etc. 

As your child talks about topics they are learning in school, take them to a relevant arts experience or museum that relates to what they are learning in the classroom.

Encourage your child to find the arts influence in significant peoples’ stories that they learn about in school. Parents can help them make the connection to the impact of the arts to other areas of life (particularly in the lives of historical and influential people).  

Parents also can sneak arts into their child’s day-to-day life. After school, weekends or holidays are perfect times for parents to encourage children to learn how to play an instrument, enroll in a dance or vocal music class, play with clay or craft items to make art and more.

“What does your child respond to? Music? Do they spontaneously move when listening to music, or when watching others dance?” said Sharon Astrin with the Arts Council of Oklahoma City. “Knowing what kind of learner your child is helps. Are they a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner, for example? What was their favorite art project at school? Do they like singing? These are all valuable clues.”

An easy way to expose youth to the beauty of art is to take them to a play or musical performance, many of which offer discount tickets to youth. 

“There are many forms of art that can be studied at home, ranging from photography and jewelry making to ceramics and painting,” said  Schmelzenbach. “Oklahoma City is rich with music and art camps and classes such as the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, Oklahoma City of Museum of Art or the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM@UCO) in Bricktown. Many of these organizations grant scholarships to students who are in need.”


Central Oklahoma is chock-full of arts programs geared toward children, and many offer scholarships.

From dance programs, educational workshops, children’s theater programs like the Oklahoma Children’s Theatre and arts-centered field trips, children have a world of art to explore without leaving the metro. So which program is right for your child?

“Look for a program that honors who their child is and how he/she learns,” said Sandra Kent with Oklahoma A+ Schools. “Parents can ask their child’s school how they teach arts in their school. They can also ask teachers about the general curriculum so that they can then add relevant art experiences at home and as a family. They can also encourage the school to seek out models such as OKA+ so that the teachers will know how to integrate arts and other core curriculum.”

Parents also can explore programs through Allied Arts. Although Allied Arts doesn’t carry out its own education programming; its role in arts education is to fund various programs so local organizations can carry them out in the community at a low cost or at no cost to the participants. 

Allied Arts helps fund a wide variety of arts education projects, like school programming, in-school activities, touring performances to schools, educational workshops, arts-centered field trips and much more. 

 “The programs that we support help incorporate the arts into the educational experiences of the students at no cost to the school itself,” said Bromley. “Students of all ages from elementary school to high school are given the opportunity to have access to the arts whether it is during the school day, in after-school programs, or throughout school vacation breaks.”

Astrin suggests sitting in on a few classes to get a feel for what they offer.

“Go and observe the program or camp before enrolling your child. Talk to the director and to the staff and ask to observe a class if at all possible,” Astrin said. “Try to get a feel for what kind of learning framework is being used.”

Harding Fine Arts Academy is a public charter high school sponsored by the Oklahoma City Public School District that has a broad-based fine arts and academic curriculum including classes in dance, martial arts, visual arts, photography, drama, speech, choir, musical instruments and more. 

Oklahoma’s After-School Network also encourages the arts by incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) into children’s learning activities. 

“Parents should reach out to the wealth of arts resources in their area and work with their schools to see how they can integrate arts education into the school day and into after-school programs,” said Sheryl Lovelady, spokesperson for the After-School Network. 

“Put simply, our students need more time to learn. The school day is regimented and packed with mandates, but the hours after school and in the summer are the best time to add the arts back in.”

[Editor’s Note: For a list of free and low-cost arts programs in the metro, visit www.metrofamilymagazine.com/free-art.]

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