Is Art Education Important to Our Children? Yep. Here’s why.
Have you had the pleasure to watch a child completely immersed in finger painting? The awe and focus they feel is obvious, as they shove the goopy paint across the paper. At first they may be cautious, but as you watch, they fall into a tactile trance where there’s no distinction between child and paint.
If you look away for a moment, when you look back they’ll be completely covered with paint, probably with some on their tongue. For many kids, this is their first experience with messy art-making, and they naturally want to understand it on every level possible.
It’s obviously hard to argue that this is entertaining for kids, but is this sort of thing important? Do kids really need to work with art materials and learn art techniques to help them succeed and grow as humans? I know so in my heart, because I’ve had a ton of art-making experience. I know the lessons and habits I’ve learned from art education.
It’s something that’s hard to explain to non-art-makers. But really, I suppose it’s the same as any other skill or real learning that people acquire. (I say real learning, because so much learning is boring classroom memorization that kids forget soon after memorizing. Real learning is something kids will keep within them forever, and usually has to do with hands-on exploring.)
It’s hard to pinpoint just when your brain clicks into truly understanding something, especially if it’s a concept or technique. Especially if it’s something you learn while doing one thing that can apply to another area in your life. I think art education gives you a lot of this sort of learning, and it’s invaluable.
Let’s roll out a few of the many studies pointing to the benefits of art education in a child’s life:
This New York Times article reports on a Guggenheim study that shows that, “…students in the program performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills — including thorough description, hypothesizing and reasoning — than did students who were not in the program.”
A repeat study the next year found the same results, and although they don’t show how exactly art education improves literacy, they believe it has to do with the children puzzling out the meaning behind art and conversing about it.
This Edutopia article on art education cites how, “Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.”
They reference a report by the Rand Corporation that talks about how the pleasure felt during art-making strengthens peoples’ connection to the world and stimulates new ways of seeing. In addition, the arts can help lessen the gap between rich and poor kids.
In this Huffington Post article, John M. Eger argues that the most successful schools and universities will be marked by a major focus on the arts within their curriculums. He mentions some of the bigger positive changes that are a result of powerful people realizing the need for us to grow creative thinkers:
A $2.6 million NSF grant to weave together arts and STEM-based learning in Sand Diego, Chicago and Worcester.
NEA grants supporting art-science projects.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s (along with Michele Obama) focus on the importance of art education: “The arts can no longer be treated as a frill … Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical for young Americans competing in a global economy.”
A permanent fact of life is that a new economy is emerging and it is huge. It is an economy requiring creativity, imagination and innovation. It is an economy that is global, technology driven and knowledge based. There is a trend here, like a tsunami really, shaping our world and our workforce as never before.
The Washington Post published an article by Lisa Phillips of The Artistic Edge on The Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts, that covers personal and social skills and how they are shaped by art education. I especially like that she mentions perseverance, which to me is one of the most important things art can teach.
Lately I’ve come across some arts education advocates that have thrilled me to the core of my being. Some have been around a while and some are new, but I want to give them shout-outs as often as possible for the amazing work they are doing in promoting the importance of art education for children.
NAEA is the National Art Education Association, where you can find hours worth of good reading material on this topic. The NAEA has been around since 1947 as a resource for professional visual arts educators. I found this amazing video on their site that features teachers marveling at the difference in students after they had taken part in a grant program that integrates the arts into core academic subjects:
Americans for the Arts is a nonprofit that has been championing arts education since 1960. They hold workshops, maintain the Arts Action Fund, back research, and work to raise public awareness, amongst other things, to advocate for arts education.
NASAA , National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, is the “membership organization that unites, represents and serves the nation’s state and jurisdictional arts agencies.” If you’re in the States, you can find out what your state or district arts agency is here: Sate Arts Agency Directory
The AEP, Arts Education Partnership, advocates for Arts education and posits that the Arts are the secret weapon that America needs to utilize to help students succeed.
There are more! I plan on spotlighting each of these groups in future posts. I’m thrilled by all of the attention arts education is getting in the media lately, and I only see the trend continuing. I think as more studies surface, and more teachers and parents witnesses the benefits in arts-educated kids firsthand, some big changes will be made in our schools.
No matter what our kids’ futures hold, it’s apparent that a well-rounded education includes a significant amount of arts education. This doesn’t mean your kids will all go into the arts, although the option is there. This means we are raising our kids to be creative thinkers, innovative leaders, and confident adults.