In a culture obsessed with test scores, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that schools are educating human beings, not tiny robots, which is precisely why the arts are so important. But with so many budget cuts happening and kids losing out on theater, music, and visual arts, it's easy to wonder about the things that happen in kid's brains when arts funding gets cut. Maybe if people understood the repercussions, Trump and his Congress wouldn't consider programs like The National Endowment of the Arts so disposable.
Children's book author and professor Jewell Parker Rhodes knows firsthand how a lack of emphasis on creativity can stymie emotional expression and empathy. Rhodes, who has traveled around the world bolstering arts programs in schools for decades, tells Romper that though the United States has long been a leader in arts education, we're now seeing a sad decline. Meanwhile, other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, are recognizing the importance of the arts to developing minds, and stepping up their game accordingly.
Rhodes explains that The Ministry of Education, Singapore invests heavily in arts and humanities education — even sponsoring a creative writing conference for middle and high school students. As a result, they've seen dividends in student confidence and academic performance across the board. In fact, Singapore's education system is one of the best in the world, according to the BBC. The United States, not so much.
Here's what Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, had to say about the importance of arts education in a technical world:
"It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
So what happens to children when arts funding gets cut? A lot.
Part of art's importance lies in the experiences it provides for growing brains. According to Scott, it's not enough to take your child to an art museum (though that's great, too). Children must actively participate in artistic activity to reap the full benefits, brain-growth wise.
"Researchers and practitioners in neuro-aesthetics, the study of the interaction between the brain and the arts, have shown how the arts ... shape our brains. Architecture, music, dance, creative visual arts, and visual media can all engage the senses to create aesthetic experiences."
Scott goes on to say that rich early experiences are crucial to child development and learning. And who doesn't want to expose their kids to an enriched world?
"Children can improve their critical-thinking skills by taking different approaches to an activity," notes Scott. She advocates formal arts education, and also suggests that educators "weave" artistic activities into daily lessons when funding gets cut.
Arts classes shouldn't give way to more arithmetric drills. Rather, the arithmetic itself should be approached creatively — even artistically. Art conveys multiple benefits to a developing brain, and is undoubtedly part of a well-rounded education. She notes:
"Children need to experience art activities to help them develop the skills they will need for the future."
Early experiences in music, in particular, are well known to influence a child's math abilities. In fact, this was a major reason my mother signed me up for Kindermusik, and later, piano lessons. A host of moms in her generation did the same.
According to Scott, "Experiences in music and dance help children learn basic math skills, such as sequencing, counting, and recognizing patterns."
"Engaging with art and music has many long-term effects on children's health, wellbeing, and learning ability," notes Scott. She's backed up by a review study published in The International Journal Of Qualitative Student Health And Wellbeing, which found that joining a choir improves students' mental health by fostering social support and community ties, and that listening to music daily can lessen anxiety and depression in kids. The study also found that music, and one's taste in it, is crucial to the development of individual identity.
Indeed, art and music make up the fabric of healthy social life, for both children and adults. So if your school cuts its music program, it's worth saving for lessons. If your own household arts funding is tight, consider enrolling your child in the church choir or letting your kids form that garage band they've been agitating for. The younger set can get a lot out of free concerts in the park, and even more from banging on the kitchen pots (stop them just before you go insane).
"Through artistic activities, children can learn to apply core skills in reading and verbal expression," says Scott. According to The Guardian, engaging with artistic projects — and especially drawing — helps kids analyze, visualize, and ultimately translate their world. Contact with the visual arts enhances your child's communication skills. Remember, art is a language, too.
"Children who can particpate in the arts may improve their social-emotional development and practice the 21st century skills of collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity," explains Scott.
In fact, an American Psychological Association (APA) study showed that students who participated in the arts more frequently were also more engaged in academic work.
Arts participation and academics are closely intertwined. Watch the video below to learn more.
It's no surprise that engaging in artistic pursuits — whether they be creative writing, theater, dance, or the school choir — makes kids more creative. In turn, creativity increases a child's ability to solve problems both at home and at school. Art isn't frivolous. It's actually work. That's why innovators from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Steve Jobs value it so.
"When I was a kid, I took shelter from the chaos of life in theater and dance. In the theater department, all types of kids were welcome. Gay kids, multi-racial kids, kids that weren't athletic or popular. It bolstered my imagination to create with those amazing students, and ultimately led to my career as a children's book author and English professor," says Rhodes.
Arts education is important. If funding for the arts is threatened in your area, you can call your representative or your local School Board. No one should be allowed to take safe, nurturing spaces away from the kids who need it most. When it comes to child development, there's ample evidence that art is good for the growing brain, body, and soul.
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