Arts provision is on the decline in many schools. This is largely because it’s an area that tends to be the first to suffer cuts in funding. It also tends to be eclipsed by the increasing focus on science, maths, technology and engineering (STEM). Some educators have argued for the arts to be added to that: STEAM.
But is education in the arts important for our children’s development? If so, how do they benefit learning and education? As with other areas in education, there is disagreement amongst educators and researchers on how much the arts contribute to children’s academic performance.
Do the Arts Benefit my Child’s Education?
A wealth of research has been carried out in this area and a significant number of studies claim that the arts have a positive impact on a child’s academic performance, as well as in other developmental areas.
One such study was carried out by the Arts Education Partnership, who claim that children who were exposed to the arts, (drama, music and dance), are often better at maths, reading and writing.
They looked at 62 different studies from 100 researchers in 2002. Looking at the data, the researchers concluded that the students who had more arts education performed better on standardised tests, had better social skills and were more motivated than those students who had less or no access.
In 2006, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s study on art education, showed a link between being exposed to arts education and improved literacy skills. The children who took part in the Learning through Art programme, performed better on literacy and critical thinking, than those who didn’t.
Research has also demonstrated a positive relationship between the arts and academic outcomes, cognitive outcomes and personal outcomes.
Academic Outcomes include improved:
– Writing Skills
– Reading Comprehension
– Maths achievement
– Literacy and language development
– Overall academic achievement
Cognitive Outcomes include improved:
– Creative thinking
– Critical thinking
– Problem solving
Personal Outcomes include improved:
– Positive behaviour
L. Philips, author of, The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World, argues that there are ten skills that children learn form the arts. They are:
Being able to think ‘out of the box’, and think on your feet. Philips argues that if children have practice in thinking creatively, it will start to come naturally to them now and in their future career.
This particularly applies to drama, where children build confidence to be on a stage and and are forced out of their comfort zone. It also allows them to make mistakes and learn from them.
Philips claims that without realising it, children are asked to constantly solve problems, whether it’s how to turn a piece of clay into a sculpture or how to show the audience that the character is feeling a particular emotion. She argues that this constant problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding.
A child learns in the arts that they are not going to be brilliant straight away. For example, in music, learning a musical instrument requires hard work and a lot of practice. In an increasingly competitive world, Philips notes that perseverance is an essential skill for future success.
The arts often requires an ability to focus. Research has shown that when children participate in the arts, their ability to concentrate and focus is stronger.
Through drama and dance, children learn about body language. They explore different ways of moving and how those movements can show different emotions.
Receiving Constructive Feedback
Children learn that feedback is an important part of learning and not something to be upset about or to take personally.
In the arts, children learn to work with others, share responsibility and compromise in order to achieve a common goal.
Children get to practice following through with something to the end. They learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment.
When working with others, children learn that their actions have an effect on other people.
At the other end of the spectrum however, E. Winner and L. Hetland at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, argue that the arts do not improve academic performance. But, they are careful to note that this shouldn’t matter, and despite the lack of an academic link, they are not opposed to the arts.
In their Project Zero study in 2000, they found that there was very little academic improvement in maths, science and reading in their art education students. They made the point however, that it shouldn’t matter whether the arts causes an improvement in test scores or grades. It should be supported for what it offers in itself and not in relation to anything else.
Their study also showed that the arts provide significant benefits that cannot be measured in standardised tests. These include helping children to improve their visual analytical skills, being able to learn from their mistakes, make judgements and be creative.
How Does Art Help Children’s Critical Thinking Skills and to Express Ideas?
One of the key areas that helps young children in terms of thinking skills and learning how to express their ideas, comes from the subject of art itself. It’s a subject where children don’t have the usual constraints and worry of something being right or wrong. It provides them with complete freedom to express themselves. Animals can be whatever colour they choose and trees can take on any shape they wish.
When looking at a piece of art with their peers, children’s thinking skills can be developed as well as an appreciation of people’s different perspectives. They also don’t have to worry about their interpretation being wrong, and can appreciate that other people may see it differently.
This kind of development in young children has been highlighted by a number of schools on the US with pre-kindergarten children. The schools are using classic works of art to inspire the children to observe closely, think critically and be able to discuss it with their peers, (S. Frey, 2015). This approach was developed 20 years ago by the co-founders of Visual Thinking Strategies.
Research on the method has shown that children who have been exposed to it had:
….a better understanding of visual images, exhibited
stronger growth in math and reading, and showed
better social-emotional growth than students in classes
that did not use the program.
( S. Frey, 2015)
Teachers have also applauded the method. Levett, who uses the approach explained:
Everyone is worried about kids having access to technology…
they’re too little. they need to learn how to look slowly, really
observe. Everything in technology is click, click, click. This method
hones the craft of looking deeply and really listening to each other.
Supporting Your Child’s Creativity
I think most people would agree that the arts are important for the development of our children. But as parents, how do we convey this message to our children and maybe more importantly, how do we support and encourage their creativity?
Below are nine steps to supporting your child’s creativity.
Some Final Thoughts…
Recently my young daughter proudly showed off a picture she had done in school. I remarked on one of the characters she’d drawn and expressed how good she was getting at drawing people. She explained that she’d got her friend to draw that particular character. It saddened me in the sense that it was art. I didn’t want her to think that what she draws has to be perfect and that she needed to ask someone else to draw the character. That because hers wasn’t good in her eyes, that it was somehow wrong.
The wonderful thing about art is that there is no right or wrong. As an artist you have complete freedom to draw, paint etc. in any way you wish. But the example with my daughter seemed to highlight how young children are so used to being in the mould of doing something correctly or incorrectly, that that mindset continues with art.
I’ll finish with a quote from professor, K. Morin who makes a valid point about the importance of art in our digital age:
As society becomes more digital, it’s not enough to
just to be able to read words; we have to be able to read images’.