It’s happening in schools everywhere; elementary level art teachers are not returning to teach at the beginning of the new school year. Music teachers have been reduced from a full-time to a part-time schedule. Some middle and high schools have had to cut their orchestra programs. Drama programs have become a thing of the past.
As budget woes affect our schools, out go the arts in order to preserve the basics of education. But who decided that the arts should be considered extras? Educators, researchers and parents would argue that an education that includes music and art is essential to our children’s future success.
According to Diana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency supporting artists and art 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.”
Just what makes the arts (including visual art, music, drama, dance and other creative endeavors) so important? Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing arts in America, combed through the research regarding children and their exposure to the arts, and discovered that the arts:
- Help create unique brain connections that have long-term impacts on a young child’s life.
- Teach kids to be more tolerant and open.
- Allow kids to express themselves creatively.
- Promote individuality, bolster self-confidence and improve overall academic performance.
- Can help troubled youth, providing an alternative to delinquent behavior and truancy while providing an improved attitude toward school.
According to PBS Kids (pbskids.org), producers of programs such as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, “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.”
And, if you’re still not convinced of the importance of arts to your children, Elliot W. Eiser, professor of education and art at Stanford University reminds us that “…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 our role as parents is that much more critical. Someone needs to promote participation in 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 exposure to the arts? Plenty.
From Imagine! Introducing Your Child to the Arts (published in 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts) come the following suggestions:
• Create an art corner at home, filled with a variety of art materials. Along with the standard paper, crayons, markers, scissors and the like, be sure to include a stash of crafting supplies and recyled materials (cleaned out containers, tubes, etc.).
• Provide a place in your home to exhibit your child’s artwork.
• Plan an art-themed party for your child’s next birthday.
• Find art in the everyday world—in calendars and book illustrations, murals and community projects, architecture and monuments.
• Express your own personal ideas and feelings about works of art, then ask your child for his opinion. Learn what art looks like from his perspective.
• Visit museums, galleries and art centers as a family.
• Encourage your child to engage in dramatic play and to use her imagination. Supply props (such as hats, scarves, plastic dishes) to encourage dramatic play.
• Build on your child’s interests through dramatic play. For example, if he loves animals, encourage him to act out the role of veterinarian or even the animal.
• Tell stories together through dramatic play or act out favorite stories.
• As a family, attend age-appropriate productions at local theaters.
• Listen to your child sing or play an instrument, or invite her to sing or play along with you.
• Encourage your child to move and dance to the music you create or listen to.
• Make musical instruments from simple materials (such as a shaker made from dried beans in a plastic container).
• Attend live musical performances as a family. One place to learn about family-friendly performances is through your local library or community center, where events are often free. (Tip: search for “live music” on the calendar at metrofamilymagazine.com for family-friendly venues.)
• Make time for movement. Provide a time and place for you and your child to dance. Make up stories and act them out or pretend to use rollerskates or a bicycle.
• Practice movement as it relates to music or rhythm, such as clapping, marching or rocking in time with the beat.
• Expose your child to many styles and forms of dance, from ballet to Zumba!
• Provide a variety of easily-accessible writing tools. Supply your child with a blank page journal and encourage him to fill the pages with words and pictures.
• Designate a special place for writing.
• Show genuine interest in your child’s writing, without attention to spelling or grammar, to encourage free expression.
• Read with your child, read on your own, encourage your child to read, and provide access to a variety of reading materials to encourage his imagination.
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 is enlightenment our children deserve.”
Martha Wegner is a freelance writer and mother of two. Find her online at marthawegner.us.