Children are a natural fit in the arts classroom. Most quickly take a shine to opportunities to express themselves and use diverse learning styles, and art, music, and theatre classes are quick to come up when kids are asked about their favourite subjects.
While it's easy to posit that this fondness might stem from a reduction in academic rigor in arts curriculum, scientific studies have revealed that kids are improving a significant number of skills while studying art -- in fact, some of the benefits of art education can't be accessed as easily through traditional learning. Despite this knowledge, when the time for budget cuts comes around, arts programs are often the first to feel those tightening purse strings.
This is especially troubling when one considers some of the challenges which Australia's student averages have made evident, including a decline in both reading and mathematical literacy in Australian teens that's continued since the turn of the century. Both of these factors can be positively impacted by arts education, but these benefits are far less accessible to students who attend economically disadvantaged schools.
Based on this, it's clear that arts education isn't something to cut back on -- it's something to prioritise. The study of art doesn't just offer boosts to academic abilities, the benefits extend to matters of healthy socialization, personal development, and even physical precision.
Arts education benefitsh3
Better mental health: The school years can be hard for kids, who have to manage academics, figure out where they fit in the social hierarchy, and balance their free time between homework, activities, friends, and family. Time spent studying the arts has been linked to an improved sense of well-being and more positive feelings and attitudes. For children prone to stress, depression, or anxiety, participating in art projects and singing or dancing have the potential to reduce symptoms.
- Improved social skills, including conflict resolution: Being able to work together with others collaboratively in a way that's respectful, tolerant, and empathetic comes more easily to some children than others, but as it turns out, spending time in arts education is tied to an increase in feelings of empathy, greater ability to use social tolerance, and an improvement in important conflict resolution skills. It also helps children learn to properly regulate their emotions1 and engage proactively, both key steps in achieving social acceptance.
- Physical skill building: Gross and fine motor skill development refers to the use of both broad movements which utilize strength and small motions which use control and finesse. Proper coordination is generally achieved through the development of the two, which is linked to common childhood activities like athletic play, building play, and the creation of art. Art classes have also been naturally linked to the process of developing gross and fine motor skills, as well as refining hand-eye coordination. Feelings of confidence when trying out new tools and equipment may also be increased.
- Creates better students: Simply doing well in subjects like math and reading is only one measure of academic success, and arts education can play a role in others as well. Taking art classes is associated with an overall increase in attendance, a decreased likelihood of dropping out of school, and greater chances of eventual enrolment in higher education. Children who take art classes are also three times as likely to hold a position in class office, and four times as likely to receive accolades for their scholastic skill, per studies performed by Carnegie Hall and Stamford.
With these studies and statistics in mind, parents and educators alike may find it even more shocking that this valuable curriculum would be at the top of the list of cuts. Advocating for the important role arts education can play both in and out of the classroom is essential. Wondering how to get involved?
Becoming an arts education advocate
- Let student art shine: One way to demonstrate the creative and personal impact that arts education has on children and communities is to take projects outside the classroom. For educators, placing work from an active art program across the campus and in local art shows and being vocal about the topic and results of arts education can increase visibility, boost student pride, and spark the desire for participation.
- Know the legislation -- and don't be shy: In some jurisdictions, studying the legislation that surrounds educational funding can help you to pinpoint where opportunities for change exist. Emails and phone calls made to representatives and stakeholders can also be powerful, as the goal of both is to make decisions in the public's interest.
To learn more about art education advocacy in Australia, visit National Advocates for Arts Education at naee.org.au.
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