In the months of November and December, I had the opportunity to participate with parents and my staff in putting on two big parties: a hugely successful "Fall Festival" event as well as our annual Christmas Party. Many parents who were able to attend either or both of these events got to witness our children singing songs and making adorable crafts reflecting the season. I was personally amazed at the creativity of our students in many of the projects they had on display at these events as well as the ones made during the events themselves.
This got me to thinking about the importance of art in our daily curriculum. Many have understood art education to be important for young children as an avenue of expression, creativity and imagination–qualities often emphasizes in early childhood education, but quite often phased out in primary and secondary programs, much to the detriment of those older students. I say this because it is my strong belief that art not only plays an important role in the creative development of a person but also in cognition, critical thinking and overall learning ability. A recent Department of Education report says, "Studies have shown that arts teaching and learning can increase student's cognitive and social development. The arts can be a critical link for students in developing the crucial thinking skills and motivations they need to achieve at higher levels" (Deasy, & Stevenson, 2002).
But, how, you may ask, does teaching art help in these areas of development? For starters, art is an experience which requires communication and cooperation with the teacher and other students. Children learn to communicate their ideas to others and explain their likes and dislikes. Art also gives students a sense of accomplishment when they finish a project, which helps to instill in them an appreciation for hard work and perseverance.
Another way art assists in the learning process is by the very way children learn. Child development is a process ranging from simple to complex. Our two and three year-olds master simpler tasks and progress to more complex ones as they get older. Art allows each child to work with their hands at their own speed at a level that is comfortable for them. For example, our younger students love to work with finger paints while some of our older ones work with more complex materials such as macaroni shells and pumpkin seeds. Each student gradually learns to refine his/her motor skills to accomplish a range of different projects.
Last, but certainly not least, teaching art in the classroom equips our students with accelerated abilities in math and literacy. One way we have seen this work in the classroom is by having our students draw pictures of words they've learned. We have found that these pictures help with word and sentence comprehension. Our students have also used shapes to help them understand concepts of structure and symmetry.
I pray that as our students graduate and move on to primary school and on, that our parents as well as teachers, administrators and legislators will recognize the importance of art in our schools. I have seen it be successful in our own program and only wish to see this appreciation continue because of how I know it can help in the learning process.
If you have any thoughts on this topic, feel free to leave a comment below!
Deasy, R., & Stevenson, L., (May, 2002) The arts: Critical links to student success. The Arts Education Partnership, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC.