The Importance of the Arts in Education

So here we are in mid-March and spring is stretching it’s young limbs and trying to come to life. And all across the country, high school juniors are prepping for, and taking, the SAT and ACT exams.

These college admission exams assume a huge importance to students since not only college admissions, but also scholarships, honors and academic opportunities are awarded based on test results.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with little kids in elementary school. The answer is: a lot.  Let me explain.

Hawthorne School, where I worked for 28 years, was named Montana’s Model School for the Arts in 1991. That’s when I learned a lot about arts in education.

After much research into the subject of arts integration, the Hawthorne School staff determined that their desires to enhance the learning of Hawthorne’s students and also prepare them to be contributing, productive citizens could both be achieved through inclusion of the arts across the curriculum.

The more the staff delved into the subject, the more studies they came across supporting the idea that kids learn better when the arts are included in their education.  Here are a couple of interesting things they discovered in their research.

As far back as 1992, MIT strongly endorsed the advantages of an arts enhanced education. The previous year, of the ten MIT students hired at a large New York accounting firm, four of the candidates possessed minors in the arts. This fact so significantly set those candidates apart from the others in terms of creative thinking, flexibility and presentation that the firm now uses the arts minor as a screening criteria.

If that isn’t cool enough, listen to this explanation of the “Mozart Effect”.  A study was set up with three separate control groups. Each group spent 10 minutes listening to a Mozart composition, 10 minutes listening to a relaxation tape and 10 minutes immersed in total silence.

At the end of each listening session the participants were immediately given a set of standard spatial reasoning tasks that commonly appear on I.Q. tests. The results?

The students in each control group score eight to nine points higher when they tested after their session listening to Mozart.

A final example of how exposure to and immersion in the arts can enhance learning is shown in the findings of the College Entrance Examination Board published in 1994. The board concluded that “students who took more than four years of music and arts scored 34 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT and 18 points higher on the math sections than students who took these subjects for less than a year.”

So what does all this mean for your child? Before you know it, she will be the high school student preparing to take the SAT and ACT. Believe me, it rolls around quicker than you think.

Now is the time to begin to bring the arts to your child. If you are lucky enough that your child’s school places an emphasis on the arts, that’s great. If, as in many school districts across the country, funding for the arts is being cut from the budget at your child’s school, you’ll have to step up the arts immersion process at home.

There are many opportunities for introducing your child to the arts. Classes and workshops in music, the visual arts, writing, dance and drama are often offered at public libraries and community centers. Many of these activities are free or low cost, allowing even those of us on a tight budget to participate.

At home, it’s possible to expose your child to the world of art in many fun ways. Here’s one example that will incorporate many different artistic endeavors.

Build a puppet theater out of a large cardboard box. Allow your child to paint, color, glitter, paste and otherwise decorate the box.

Once the theater is complete, move on to helping your child create the puppets. Your child can create his own puppet characters out of socks, paper bags, buttons, feathers, fabric, sticks, string, etc. The point of this creation process is to allow free-thinking, not to see how perfect the final product turns out. You provide the materials, your child provides the inspiration.

Now that the puppets are created and complete, it’s time to give your child a notebook and pencil and allow her to write a script for the puppets. The process of creating a story line and dialogue for the puppet characters not only helps hone her writing skills, but also sparks your child’s story telling imagination.

After several rehearsals, your child will be ready to stage a puppet show for friends and family members. More creative juices can be used to draw posters advertising the show. Or you can have your child call special people on the phone to invite them to the production. The process of calling, inviting, explaining etc., helps develop your child’s confidence and boosts his ability to speak clearly and confidently to adults and other children.

On the day of the puppet production, with music playing softly in the background, it’s important for your child to welcome everyone, introduce himself, the play, and the other puppeteers (if there are any). Note: including other puppeteers helps build your child’s ability to collaborate on a project.

Once again, honing this skill of being able to stand and speak in front of a group of family and friends is a nice building block for your child’s self-confidence. After this point, the play can begin and progress as rehearsed.

At the closing curtain, there is another opportunity for your child to face his adoring fans when he takes a bow and thanks everyone for coming.

As you can see, this one idea taps into many ways to enhance the love of and exposure to the arts in your child. There are countless other ideas that you can build upon and fine-tune for your child. The internet is a treasure trove of such ideas.

And here’s a link to DoSomething.org and some interesting facts about arts in education.

As I leave you for today I wish you a wonderful, messy, paint-and-glue-filled week with your child as you dip a toe into the awesome world of the arts.

Cathie

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