Art Talk

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By Neve Spicer

When we think about what our kids are learning in school, math, language, history, and science all come right to mind. They’re important subjects, but save for the rare child, they don’t inspire the same level of joy, expression, and communication as arts education.

It’s never surprising to hear a child say that their art or music class is their favorite, though it can be easy to assume the reason why is a break from their usual curriculum. Studies have shown, however, that arts education has the ability to benefit children emotionally and socially while also improving their cognitive and motor skills; in other words, there’s more good things happening in arts education classrooms than parents and teachers may have realized.

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Despite this, around the country, funding and time for arts education programs are being cut out of curriculum in favor of more time spent on traditional education and preparing for overly-generalized standardized testing. Though we can’t say what the long-term effects of this shift will look like, merely learning about the science-backed benefits of studying art, music, and theater makes it clear that the effect won’t be positive.

Curious about exactly what are our kids getting out of their time spent in art, music, or theatre class?

  • Development of character: Time spent in art class has been correlated with improved confidence and self-esteem, a greater sense of perseverance and motivation, fluid self-expression, a more nuanced understanding of the world, and the ability to engage in personal reflection. It’s also a place where kids feel comfortable taking small, safe risks, which helps to relieve common childhood fears and anxieties. This is likely because arts education encourages children to work on improving a skill in a low-risk creative environment that provides consistent positive reinforcement.
  • Cognitive improvements: Arts education is associated with boosts in creativity and healthy decision-making, as well as improved concentration and observation skills; kids engaged in the theater arts have specifically demonstrated improved vocabulary and word-decoding skills. Studying art also boosts the ability to use visual and spatial reasoning, both aspects of cognitive development.
  • Improved well-being: Feelings of positivity and well-being have been shown to enhance in children through arts education. It can encourage the development of lifelong passions and hobbies that stimulate self-discovery. It’s also a cornerstone of civic engagement, and can even help to relieve serious mental conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Better academic and social performance: Not only does learning about the arts improve kids’ math, literacy, and attendance, it’s also associated with a greater likelihood of academic recognition, a reduced chance of dropping out, and overall behavior improvement. The literacy benefits also extend to reading critically and writing, as it helps kids to improve their comprehension of the written word. Socially, it helps kids learn to collaborate, feel empathy, be accountable, and use tolerance when dealing with others. This includes the use of conflict resolution, emotional resolution, and resilience when dealing with disagreement or adversity.
  • Motor skill development: Putting brush to paper, sculpting with clay, and using other new techniques helps kids to develop both fine and gross motor skills, which are associated with coordination and physical ability. It also boosts their hand-eye coordination and allows them to feel more confident when trying out new tools and equipment.

Getting involved is key. If you feel passionate about arts education, be that outspoken advocate at the PTA meeting sharing those key facts and studies. The fight for arts ed is a fight for happier, healthier, more well-rounded children.

Neve Spicer is a mom, blogger, and owner of the parenting website wetheparents.org.

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