Why Arts Can't Be Extra
In Support of Arts Eduation
By Martha Wegner
One day, when my son was 8 years old, he walked in the door and announced, "Mom, I am going to be a clown." Not just clown-for-a-day, not a sometimes, dress-up-for-Halloween clown, and, if his mother has anything to say about it, not a class clown. No, he wants to be that clown who rides out on his unicycle, arms waving, big feet pumping, red nose shining. I admit it might take a little time for me to get used to the idea.
My Son the Clown
Our community is fortunate enough to have a performing arts circus school. Children can take classes in mime, juggling, acrobatics, trapeze and an assortment of other related circus classes. After taking the introductory course, my son decided he had found his true calling: clowning.
David has always been the sort who doesn't follow the rules. For starters, he doesn't understand that boys are supposed to love competitive sports. So, it was no surprise when one day last summer he simply walked off the baseball field in the middle of a game and declared, "This is no fun," thus ending his short career in baseball.
Then there is school, which has always been somewhat of a challenge for him. Filling in the correct blanks and reading the same textbook as the rest of his class leaves him restless and feeling like a failure. It seems the only bright part of his school day is art class when he finally has the opportunity to get down on paper all those images that are stored in his head.
Yes, my son is an artist. And thank goodness for that. Because in this world of competitive sports and strict academic standards that tell us we should all be above average, my son has his drawing pad. And after school, he can hop on a unicycle and entertain us with his latest clown shtick. Drawing and performing have given my son the confidence and avenue for self-expression that more traditional sports and academic activities fail to provide. So as a parent of a child for whom the arts is a lifesaver, I'd like to take the time to wave the flag of creativity and encourage all parents to support the arts for our children.
The Arts Teach Tolerance, Promote Creativity and Bolster Self-Confidence
Just why should we parents care about the arts? What if our kids are already enjoying and excelling in school and sports? Surely they do not need one more dose of drawing or dance to enrich their lives. You might be surprised when you hear what the nation's leading arts organizations have to say.
According to Americans for the Arts, the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing arts in America, the arts teach kids to be more tolerant and open, allow them to express themselves more creatively, promote individuality and bolster self-confidence. In addition, the group informs us that, "The arts can help troubled youth, providing an alternative to delinquent behavior and truancy while providing an improved attitude towards school."
The Arts Support Academic Achievement
And, if that is not enough, according to VSA Arts, an international nonprofit arts organization, "Studies published in The Journal of Research in Music Education report that elementary-school students who participate in music programs score higher in reading, mathematics, language and overall achievement tests. Recent reports from the College Board indicate that students who study the arts in high school earn higher SAT scores. And the National Arts Education Center reports that students who participate in studio art courses improve their writing and vocabulary skills."
Need more convincing? Americans for the Arts found that young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week through at least one full year are:
- Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
- Three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools.
- Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair.
- Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance.
- Four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.
So, how do we parents make sure our children are receiving the arts education they deserve?
Start in the Schools
The obvious place to start is in the schools. According to Americans for the Arts, each state has specific standards for arts education. Take the time to learn what the standards are for your state by visiting their website, americansforthearts.org, so you can be an advocate for arts education in your child's school. Although budget woes may be forcing cuts in music and art classes, you can still encourage your children's teachers to incorporate the arts into the everyday required curriculum. And if you have a particular skill in the arts, why not volunteer to share it with your child's school once a week?
And Continue at Home
Remember the arts don't just belong in the schools. The arts should be an integral part of every family's schedule. We've included some ideas for you to consider (see sidebar).
All this advice for encouraging the arts comes with a word of caution: I signed my child up for a circus class, and now I have clown, not exactly what I had planned for his future. But no matter. I know that when he performs in May he will have acquired a good dose of self-confidence and experienced the pure joy of self-expression because, after all, "All the world loves a clown." And, if the research is right, he might even pick up a few academic skills along the way.
As VSA Arts reminds us, "Many people still see the arts as an extra. However, the world is beginning to discover that the arts provide critical tools for learning in all academic disciplines, thus helping young people become better students today, and better employees tomorrow."
So, go ahead and encourage your child to be a clown, or a ballerina, or a trombone player, or a sculptor. The benefits are enormous. And your little artist might just have some fun along the way.
Here are some ideas for introducing and incorporating the arts into your family life:
- Teach your children songs, play music in the car and at home and sing together.
- Provide drawing, sculpting and painting materials during playtime.
- Make videos together. Practice taking pictures together using a disposable or digital camera.
- Read and write stories and poems together.
- Attend community art festivals.
- Attend community children's theater productions.
- Sign your child up for classes that teach drawing, dance, musical instruments, singing or theater skills.
- Sign your child up for the youth choir at your place of worship. (It's free!)
- Visit an art museum. Our art museums offer special programming for children.
- Check out your local bookstore or library. They often have free musical or theatrical performances, especially in the summer.
- Encourage your child to audition for local community theater.
Martha Wegner is a freelance writer.