In a highly competitive world that places a huge premium on easily-measured achievements, creative arts are sometimes considered an extra for which there is not enough time or money. However, experts believe that this thinking is dated since research indicates that the arts are every bit as beneficial to brain development and learning as traditional academics.

The Benefits of Childhood Exposure to the Arts:

  • Enhanced Development, Academic Performance and Self-Confidence:

    Teachers have always intuitively known that the arts increase academic performance, behavior and attendance. Recent brain research confirms that the arts boost memory, intellectual curiosity and self-esteem. In its study, "Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning," the Arts Education Partnership says, "When well taught, the arts provide young people with authentic learning experiences that engage their minds, hearts and bodies and nurtures the development of cognitive, social and personal competencies."

  • Diverse, Highly Valued Skills That Contribute to Future Success:

    There's often an assumption that a significant investment in the arts is a financial loss. Sure, it's nice to have an artistic child, but having a successful, employable child has to be the real goal. Fortunately, it is possible to have all three, because exposure to the arts develops the skills that will be highly valued in the future. The evolving workplace rewards creative thinkers who can generate innovative and original ideas in a variety of media.

    Better still, in a global world that is becoming more diverse, exposure to the arts helps children appreciate different points of view. Famed Broadway composer Stephan Swartz explains, "The arts are about increasing sympathy, increasing in people the ability to see things from other people's point of view and understanding that the world is not just from your own narrow perspectives, but from the perspective of people from other cultures."

    Yet, while the arts open a world of possibilities to a child, they also give him a greater sense of himself. While enjoying artistic experiences, children are stripped of pretenses and self-consciousness. As a result, they develop an awareness of, and appreciation for, their unique individualities.

  • Easy, Inexpensive Ways to Incorporate the Arts Into Your Child's Life:

    Exposing a child to the arts need not be time-consuming, difficult or expensive. Most communities offer enhancement programs at recreation centers, libraries, museums or performing arts centers at little or no cost. It is also very easy to reinforce concepts at home. Here are different types of creative arts that children enjoy, the benefits that each provides and suggestions for how to incorporate them at home:

  • Music: Listening, singing and playing music has an undeniable effect on reasoning, language, math and social behavior. Exposure to music can actually form new, permanent connections in a child's brain. Aimee Carter, the owner of Delightful Sounds, teaches music to children with developmental delays. She says that all of her music students experience substantial developmental, emotional and social gains. Music director Tom Tietjen says that his music students enjoy greater self-awareness, cooperation skills and an appreciation of different cultures.

    Parents can easily play or make music at home, but don't be afraid to take your child to the symphony. Many offer child-friendly matinees and instrument "petting zoos" that expose a child to different instruments and sounds. It's fun to watch a child's reaction when she instinctively gravitates toward an instrument.

  • Creative Drama can include dramatic role-play, story enactment or viewing live theater. Such exposure enhances a child's imagination, builds his self-confidence and improves memory and reading skills. Drama students also learn to comfortably express their emotions in a group setting, a skill that becomes important as they approach adulthood.

    At home, encourage pretend play. Many kids instinctively act out their favorite stories. Consider a family talent show to allow even shy children to shine in the safety of their own home. Check out local theater offerings that are specifically for kids.

  • Visual Arts: Exposure to painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and architecture help develop a child's fine motor and critical thinking skills. Artist and teacher Virginia Larrea-LaTourrette sees improvements in her students' self-discipline, organizational skills and self-esteem. She says that art can make academic subjects (particularly geometry) more accessible: "Children learn that art is connected with all learning so even boring subjects can be fun."

    It's easy to encourage the visual arts at home because kids love to draw, sculpt and build. Allow kids to use an old phone to take photographs and then choose one for framing. Look for family nights at your local museum and ask your child to describe what she likes about her favorite pieces.

  • Literary Arts: Exposure to and creating written works, poetry and narratives encourage self-exploration and intellectual curiosity. Despite geographic or socioeconomic barriers, literature can teach kids to appreciate the opinions and differences of others while also recognizing and honoring their own abilities and backgrounds.

    Literary reading is in a steep decline, with the most dramatic drop-off happening in the youngest age groups. Consider reading the classics as a family. "Swiss Family Robinson," "Through the Looking Glass," "Treasure Island" and "Little Women" are popular choices. Know that many publishers offer classic stories with age-appropriate text. Another option is poetry written specifically for children. Encourage your kids to write their own stories and poems.

    With all of the offerings and choices available, consider incorporating the arts into your family's daily routine. Even if your child does not become the next Shakespeare, Mozart or Picasso, these small and easy efforts yield substantial benefits.

Here are some virtual resources to help introduce or enhance your child's exposure to the creative arts:

Language / Dramatic Arts:

  • E-learning for kids has an extensive archive of activities to expose children to literature with sections on literary devices, poetry, drama and prose.

  • Storyline Online has a huge collection of videos that feature celebrities and teachers reading or acting out popular stories and books. Examples are Kevin Costner's wonderful reading of "Catching the Moon" or Lily Tomlin's take on "Hey, That's My Monster."

Visual Arts:

  • Artsology uses fun games and activities to expose children of all ages to the visual arts, music, literature and dance.

  • Kidsite.com's Approved Art Site List offers many fun art-related activities broken down by category.

  • Kinder Art features artistic lessons which are popular with children of all abilities. Lessons are offered by medium or technique.

Music:


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Author Shannon Dean is the mother of two. Her son plays violin in a youth philharmonic orchestra and fell in love with his instrument at a symphony petting zoo.