Music. Dance. Visual arts. Drama. Activities that children enjoy help them learn. Research has proven again and again that the arts stimulate brain activity and motivate young learners.
Fine arts engage a child’s whole being — brain, senses, body and emotions. Multi- sensory activities increase a child’s retention of new material and add a layer of meaning to what they learn. According to New Jersey’s State Standards, “Children develop independence, self-motivation and self-expression through concrete, hands-on, individualized learning in environments that stimulate creativity through music, dramatic play, dance and the visual arts.” The standards also note that the creative arts “promote curiosity, problem-solving abilities and verbal and nonverbal expression.” And they are fun!
The amazing power of music
Music provides the foundation for the creative arts preschool program at The Young Children’s Center for the Arts in Philadelphia. Alexis Birnbaum, executive director and founder, a music therapist herself, employs five other music therapists to work with the center’s students.
This certified preschool follows standards for early childhood education while simultaneously incorporating music and art. Birnbaum says students really benefit from this creative approach to learning. “It is amazing what children remember,” she says. Music can bring children’s literature to life when paired with an appropriate classical music selection. After listening to the story paired with music, very young students easily recall specific parts of a narrative when they hear the music again.
Social benefits of the arts
Not only does exposure to and participation in the arts increase academic performance, memory and language acquisition, but these experiences also create meaningful social situations for young children.
Birnbaum advocates the communal aspects of the arts in preschool settings. “Music can include everybody,” she notes. It opens the door to friendships and social experiences that may not occur otherwise. Students of all abilities can enjoy and learn from these aesthetic experiences.
Jane Chu, chairman of The National Endowment for the Arts, points to a recent report titled The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation that she believes “offers credible evidence that arts participation in early childhood is strongly linked to social skills development: helping, sharing, caring, empathy and the capacity for other kinds of healthy interpersonal behavior.”
See page 2 for how specific arts enhance early childhood education.
Here’s how specific arts enhance education and prepare young children for future academic success:
Dance. Children explore body movements and space. They learn symmetry in motion and how to express emotions through movement. Teachers can introduce children to different cultures and teach dance-
related vocabulary words.
Drama. Social studies, history and science lessons come to life through drama. Children can use acting to explore social situations and emotions. They can write their own dramatization of events and learn to collaborate when putting on a play or playing pretend.
Music. Students can explore language acquisition, pattern recognition and many other academic topics through music. Singing involves rhyming, verbalizing and memorizing. Students must learn to listen — a forgotten skill in our tech-based world. Rhythmic clapping provides a fun precursor to counting syllables.
Visual arts. Children get to experiment with different media to create visual art and learn to collaborate with others on projects. They learn elements of design as well as art vocabulary. Students too young to write can retell stories through drawings and coloring.
Young children learn to observe, listen, interpret, move, think critically, be creative, be confident, make decisions, work together, build community, express emotions, problem solve, experience success and appreciate other cultures through the arts.
Freelancer Janet Tumelty is a South Jersey mom.