In my years in the classroom, I have had the pleasure of teaching several children who have either one or two artists as parents. These children, who have a higher than average exposure to art and the media for creating it, possess some qualities that many other children do not have: in addition to their artistic talent, I have observed that they usually read and write better than their peers. My conclusion is that their exposure to art affects other aspects of their learning. This led me to a discussion with Aiko Cuneo, an artist who works with children in public schools, to hash out the benefits of arts education, both in and out of schools.
We suggest that parents expand their definition of art. If you are a baker or a cook, if you like to arrange flowers, if you enjoy the harmonious arrangement of objects in your home, you are an artist. These expressions of creativity are as legitimate and valuable as those of painters and the other people we call artists. If you are a scientist and enjoy inventing and experimenting, you bring an artistic sensibility to your work and may include yourself in the definition of artist.
Art is a delightful way through which you can record the development of your child’s growth. Just as you will notice that writing and reading improves with age, so does artwork. The role of parents and teachers is to expose children to a variety of materials so that they can create art. Once the variety is offered, children will then have a choice as to whether they want to use the materials or not. But without the exposure, there is no choice.
Creating art is a fine way for children to make choices and solve problems. Every step involves making a decision: what color to use, how to make a line, what size to make something. With every choice the object becomes more and more their own.
Everyone has an imagination. Art takes it a step further. Through art, children create something that, until that point, was only imagined. Thus, they create visual manifestations of abstract ideas.
Children who may be having difficulties in other parts of the school curriculum may find an expressive outlet through art. It’s a way to uncover talent that may not be seen otherwise. Art is a means of communicating ideas, feelings, and solutions in a way other than verbally or written
In a ten-year national study by Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University, it was discovered that young people who are involved in highly effective non-school arts-based community programs in under-resourced communities, in comparison with a national sample of students were:
- Four times more likely to win an academic award, such as being on the honor roll.
- Eight times more likely to receive a community service award.
- Three times more likely to win a school attendance award.
- Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair.
- Likely to score higher on their SAT college admission test scores if they have been involved for more than four years of after-school arts study.
It is typical that those who fund school programs have seen the visual and performing arts as frills — programs that can be added only when there is enough money for them, as well as the first to be cut if there is a budget crisis.
Families can create a harmonious balance in their children’s lives when they make provisions for the arts. Following are ideas to incorporate them into your home life.
- When you read to your children, be dramatic. Act out stories with props and costumes. Encourage them to create their own stories to act out for you.
- Save old Halloween costumes for dress-up fun. Add to the collection with clothing you no longer need: hats, scarves, purses, shoes, and items you can find inexpensively at garage sales.
- Put together an “art studio” in your home. Stock it with a variety of tools and materials: crayons, markers, finger paints, scissors, pastels, watercolors, brushes, glues, papers of various sizes and textures, intriguing found objects, leftovers from your own home improvement, boxes and containers of all sizes.
- Expand your musical repertoire at home and in the car. Venture into unknown musical territory so that you and the children can hear something out of your usual fare. This can be easily expanded by turning to different radio stations and by checking out cassettes and CDs from the public library — all for free!
- While the music is playing at home, dance together. Teach your children traditional dances you know or improvise with them. Body movement is fun and good exercise.
- Sing together. Teach the kids your favorite songs. Many of them allow for verses that can be made up, such as “Down by the Bay,” which can have an endless and hilarious number of rhymes added to it.
- Look for arts programs after school, on weekends, and during vacations. Many community park and recreation departments offer these. Summer camps based on the arts are a good departure from the typical competitive sports camps.
- Create a scrapbook together. Put photos, memorabilia, drawings, and captions together creatively. In doing so, you will not only have a shared experience but a memory that will last for many years (if you use acid-free paper).
The most important ingredient in the recipe is your interest. Be there to appreciate and encourage during every step of the creative process.
This article has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents. This article is reprinted with the author’s permission.