The arts do more than make our lives more beautiful. Visual arts activities can provide hands-on ways to learn about geometry, playing music with other kids demonstrates the power of team work, and, through the arts, kids explore the world and how to express themselves in it. High-quality arts programs keep kids engaged in school and learning, and give them a sense of their own creativity, power, and potential to do great things. Here are four inspiring ways organizations and parents are changing kids’ lives through the arts.
1. Getting to College
El Sistema is a music education program, founded in Venezuela and now offered in dozens of communities in the United States, that offers in-depth music education and ensemble experiences in low-income areas where music education is often severely limited. The program begins with music instruction for preschool-aged kids, then provides violin programs for elementary students, and continues on to a full orchestra experience for teenagers.
It’s more than just learning to play an instrument: the program builds community and connections by providing a sense of belonging and a chance to work with peers and expert musicians every day. In LA’s El Sistema-inspired Harmony Project, all of the 2010 graduates went on to college – and each was the first in their family to go.
2. Geometry Through Dance
The Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE) investigated links between the arts and learning math, literacy, and social studies. Over four years, artists and classroom teachers worked together to teach elementary students things like exploring shapes and physical space through dance. Students were more deeply engaged, and probably had more fun through these hands-on, active learning experiences.
Researchers found that achievement gaps narrowed, and all of the students in the arts integration group did better than the control group. Lesson learned? Arts integration works.
3. Getting Ready for School
Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) provides a warm, welcoming space for kids from ages three to eighteen to explore the arts. The twice-weekly Family Arts program provides a chance for parents and caregivers to help their toddlers and preschoolers learn and grow in a community with few early education options for low-income families.
Susan Jenson, DAVA’s Executive Director, says, “Why art? Children learn easily in a dedicated arts environment. Basic school readiness skills—handling scissors, colors, forms, numbers, letters—are easily transmitted. And I think the inter-generational aspect empowers parents to engage with their children in a different way.”
What’s more, Family Arts in one aspect of the many DAVA programs that build community and create a center of cultural interaction and richness. The preschoolers’ work is included in arts exhibits, where they have a chance to be inspired by the work of middle school and high school students participating in DAVA’s award-winning arts-based after-school and job training programs.
4. DIY Arts Ed for Parents
It’s not just nonprofit organizations working before kids get to school, with kids after school, or in partnership with schools to provide rich, in-depth arts experiences. Parents are also helping teachers bring back painting and drama to their local schools. Christine Claringbold writes about the work of parents at the Duniway School, where they’ve been able to make the arts a full part of students’ experiences without the benefit of a regular arts teacher, and with limited funds, through the power of volunteer efforts. She provides tips on how other parents can put together an arts committee, work together, and find lesson plans to kick-start more arts education in their schools.
Photo Credits: Susan Jenson/Downtown Aurora Visual Arts