If your pediatrician told you there was something your child could take that had the potential to (safely) provide a boost in overall sense of well-being and academic performance, you’d probably ask for the prescription.
Well, this supplement doesn’t come in a bottle, and you won’t receive an actual script from your doctor. Instead, it can be yours by doing something as simple as enrolling your child in an arts class.
Improving Academic and Cognitive Performance
From preschool to senior year, the arts (whether at school or extra-curricular) offer children opportunities to develop their bodies and minds. From refining fine motor skills as they create mixed media art to cultivating confidence and music appreciation while performing on stage, all varieties of the arts provide stimulating experiences that engage and have the potential to improve academic performance, social skills, and self-esteem.
In a report citing 2015 data from The College Board, Americans for the Arts, a national non-profit that advocates for the arts and arts education, notes that students with four years of high school arts and music classes have higher SAT scores (almost 100 points higher, in fact) than students with half a year or less. Similarly, “Critical Evidence: How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement,” a report of compiled research presented by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the Arts Education Partnership, details countless studies that demonstrate the relationship between increased cognitive and social skills and involvement in the arts.
“Study of the arts in its many forms—whether as a stand-alone subject or integrated into the school curriculum,” the report says, “is increasingly accepted as an essential part of achieving success in school, work and life.”
Creating Art, Building Confidence
Holly Rosario, a Teaching Artist at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, works in visual arts with children ages four through 13. With a goal of exposing her students to a broad range of techniques and processes, Rosario’s classes span drawing to Claymation and mosaics. A former elementary art teacher with Baltimore County Public Schools, she’s found that studio arts can impart important life lessons for young children.
Instead of looking at creation in terms of right and wrong, art “teaches students that failure is a normal and necessary part of the creative process; it encourages reflection and growth,” says Rosario. What’s more, art has the potential to teach kids how to tackle challenges or uncertainty. “Children who are encouraged to develop creative confidence are resilient and observant problem-solvers who are able to appreciate the visual world around them,” she says.
“Many students initially enter my classroom feeling shy and unsure of themselves. My favorite thing about my work is seeing these students socially and artistically bloom in a welcoming space where it’s okay to be a little weird.”
Expanding Skills Through Dance
Cheryl Mauk, another Maryland Hall instructor who has been teaching there for more than three decades, has found dance to be instrumental in encouraging kids to develop a wide range of skills. “The arts are very important to children because it allows them to expand their imagination and self-expression. In dance, both the child’s body and brain are engaged to build both motor and memory skills.”
Mauk fondly describes one of her favorite culminating events where her students highlight what they’ve learned. “All my children’s dance classes conclude with a stage spring dance recital,” she says. “A proud moment for me as a teacher, is seeing my dancers, some as young as age three, perform on stage in front of a full audience. The joy on their faces is priceless!”
The Power of the Arts in Action
Arts for Learning Maryland, a Baltimore-based non-profit that works to enrich the lives of Maryland children through involvement in the arts, is the home of a cadre of arts programmers and teachers. We asked some of them to explain why the arts are so crucial to young people and to share their firsthand experiences.
Jessica Smith Hebron, Chief Program Officer: “Early and continuous exposure to arts programming enriched my childhood with imagination, empowerment, and countless learning opportunities. I believe that every child deserves access to arts programming that is as inspiring and educational as it is impactful.
This summer, I had the opportunity to lead a tour of our new office for teens from the Bloomberg Arts Internship Program (BAI). I asked the students to think about the impact they wanted to make in Baltimore and beyond. These talented teens shared exciting and original ideas about how they would approach using the arts as a catalyst for social change. It was such an honor to be in their inspiring presence.”
Drew Anderson, Teaching Artist: “I believe that the arts are crucial for youth because they provide an expressive outlet for the creative energy which is too often suppressed in them. Art invigorates students with an enthusiasm which, through the magic of arts education integration, can be readily transferred to their traditional academic subjects (as studies have shown). And art feeds the social emotional development of the students, helping them see the value of their unique interests, stories, and identities.”
Ti Malik Coleman, Artist, Teaching Artist, Co- Facilitator of a Race Equity professional development workshop series: “Youth, especially today’s youth, need to express and process the emotions and experiences happening to and around them. The arts provide an accessible vehicle of expression to young people. And it’s fun! We all deserve to practice joy as often as possible.”
Marsha Searle, Director of Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble, Director Early Learning Wolf Trap, Teaching Artist Footworks “In my personal experience the arts helped me to have confidence that I could accomplish tasks, that my individual contributions were valid, and have confidence in myself and my ability to learn and grow each day.”
Searle also recounts a letter she received from the parent of a young child who has faced developmental delays and a reluctance to participate in singing or dancing. The pair attended an Arts for Learning assembly program, which left a lasting impression: “Just tonight, several weeks after the show, she gave another proud singing performance in the kitchen full of nonsense words. She didn’t sing much before because she couldn’t remember the words, but it was as if the performance showed her that’s ok and you don’t need real words to sing. She’s also dancing more and stomping in her boots like your dancers did. She also fully participated at the show. It was the first time I’ve seen her do that. I very much want your company to know that they made a huge impact!”
And there you have it- an in-school or extra-curricular activity that has the power to boost the physical, mental, and academic performance of your child. Backed by research and plenty of anecdotal experience. It might be just what the doctor ordered for your child.
By Laura Boycourt