Why Teach the Arts?
What You Will Find in "Why Teach the Arts?"
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The Arts Educate the Whole Child
The arts form an integral foundation for living and learning: arts education authentically contributes to the development of the whole child. Human development is tracked through physical, cognitive, social, and emotional milestones as skills and behaviors emerge from birth to adulthood. From birth, human beings are neurologically wired to learn about the world through their senses and movement. The sensory input received through the body influences the developmental journey of each child: learning how objects smell, taste, feel, or sound contribute to a child's physical and cognitive development; learning to sense another person's expression, gait, or tone supports the evolution of students' emotional and social regulation.
Authentic arts-based experiences provide ample opportunities for children to engage and respond to these experiences. Selective arts activities can be integrated in the classroom to improve body sense, increase physical coordination, stimulate neurological activity, and expand mental and emotional attentiveness for improved performance. Singing, drawing, dancing, and pretending are organic activities that demonstrate and reinforce these developmental skills. The interdisciplinary nature of the arts helps students make connections to themselves, others, and the surrounding world.
Watching students engage in the arts helps teachers identify strengths and deficits in each realm of development. Teachers can leverage arts activities to further develop strengths, nurture weaknesses, and ameliorate developmental gaps.
For example, if a child's eyes cannot track across the page for reading, the child may benefit from stress-free opportunities for visual tracking such as playing catch with a balloon in dance class, or drawing on paper with a pencil or in the air with their hand. These activities relax the body and enhance the mind-body connection by enabling the child to practice eye convergence, visual tracking, and hand-eye coordination in a low-stress environment. Arts activities can provide consistent relaxed practice of developmental skills.
Observing students participating in arts activities can also reveal the effects of overwhelming stress and trauma on the ability to perform normal activities. This is evidenced when people forget words or stutter when talking to a crowd. Relaxing arts activities reduce stress, helping students feel supported and empowered during their academic and personal progression. This section describes several frameworks to help teachers understand the critical importance of teaching within the arts, partly because of their intrinsic academic value, but more importantly to activate an essential mind and body connection for sound learning and healthful living.
HOW DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONES RELATE TO ARTS ACTIVITIES
Designed to illuminate the connections between arts experiences and human development, this resource links arts activities to the developmental milestones from birth to five years. Remember, humans are neurologically wired from birth to organically experience the world through the senses. The natural and authentic engagement of the senses in childhood is often embedded within an aesthetically-centered experience where children develop proto-skills for artistry and creativity.
Develop the Brain and Body Connection
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The physical realm of development refers to the ability of the brain and body to engage in life and learning, which involve activating the senses and refining fine and gross motor skills. The activities in this section reinforce developmental skills essential to learning through potentially pleasurable physical activities, including dancing, singing, acting, and drawing. Teachers can use these activities with the whole class in a relaxed and mindful way, reducing stress and improving learning readiness for every student. By observing students' performance in these activities, teachers can identify challenges and strengths, mastery of developmental indicators, emotional regulation, and the effects of stress or trauma.
The following activities can be done in 5-10 minutes as simple rituals throughout the school day. In this way, all the art forms can be used as a type of "brain break" with a focus on nourishing essential skills and massaging mastery of developmental milestones.
Encourage students' hand-eye coordination, visual discrimination, and fine motor skills.
Foster the integration of students' motor skills and sensory input to awaken perception and coordinate movement.
Pat, massage, and brush body parts to awaken the neuroreceptors in the skin and muscles.
SMELL AND TASTE
Activate smell and taste with stimuli or from memory. Use oils, food, or items from nature for smelling or exploring textures. Incorporate stories to activate the memory of smells or tastes.
Listen to existing sounds found in the environment, or introduce a selection of new sounds.
Observe details within your surroundings. Scan the big picture and visually consider each element. Close your eyes, observing what you notice internally. Mentally recall the objects that surround you.
BALANCE & PROPRIOCEPTION
Balance on one foot while doing axial movement (bending, stretching, swinging, twisting, rotating, or spinning). Notice your body parts in space.
KINESTHESIA AND SPATIAL AWARENESS
Maintain awareness of self and general space: actively visualize a bubble of safety around you, other people, and nearby objects as you move.
Explore your physical range of motion. Breath and lengthen muscle groups, reaching up into space or bending down to stretch towards the floor. Begin with very small movements, gradually expanding into open space as you continue to move, stretch widely, and twist in various directions.
Move through space with these locomotor movements: run, walk, skip, gallop, slide, hop, and jump.
Move to the beat of a drum. Or, use body percussion to create a beat. Keep the beat in your feet, in your hand, in your shoulders, in your fingers; see how many places the beat can continue within your body.
Play a call-and-response clapping or movement game, exploring rhythm and variations of fast and slow.
THE BRAIN DANCE
The Brain Dance is a sequenced movement exercise built by Anne Green Gilbert based on her understanding of infant and child development, reflexes, and the potential for movement to support the brain-body connection. See the Brain Dance described on the Dance page.
Help students find their voice, listen to self and others, and develop vocal expression as well as auditory discrimination.
Rub your ears from top to bottom to sharpen listening, filter sound, and relax.
Squeeze your trapezius (the muscle that joins your shoulder and neck) while turning your head slowly and vocalizing a sound.
Open your jaw and massage the joint gently until you yawn.
Brain Gym by Paul and Gail Dennison
KEEP A BEAT
Move to an established beat made with body percussion, drums, or music. Engage in creative movement, clapping games, social dances, and folk dances.
ROLLER COASTER VOICES
Use your voice to imitate the physical feelings of traveling on a roller coaster by exploring a wide range of vocal sounds and textures. Individually or as a group, use a call-and-response game: a leader vocalizes a pattern; the group repeats it. Follow the leader as their hadn't moves up and down along the tracks of a rollercoaster.
Sing a pitch and invite students to repeat it back to you. Sing two pitches, then three, as the students repeat each sequence.
SING A SONG
Build community while focusing on pronunciation, diction, and articulation of sounds in a fun way. Skills rehearsed while singing can improve the quality of speaking and listening.
Support your students' emotional literacy and development of social skills through verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
Individually or as a group, list various emotions and express each emotion using your face. Invite students to feel and notice their faces as designated emotions are expressed.
Students and teachers can feel and notice the body as each person expresses and feels various gestures and/or emotions. In your body, notice which comes first: the emotion or the gesture? Experiment both directions: begin by giving students an emotion and invite them to create a corresponding gesture. Then, try creating a gesture first and identifying what emotions the gesture provokes.
POSTURE AND GAIT
Feel and notice your body as you stand, walk, run, or move in various postures. What does posture reveal about a person, animal, or character? Assign students an emotion; invite them to walk according to that emotion. Next, ask students' to move how they want and ask the students to identify what emotion is communicated.
Place students into pairs. Each faces their partner. Guide students to take turns leading and following each other as if each is looking in the mirror, reflecting the movements fo the other person. Start with simple expressions or gestures; large slow motions are best to start with. Can students take turns leading with nonverbal cues? Change partners.
Class members move together in unison, like a flock of birds does following its leader. Explore various leaders of the group. Evolve to the intuitive transfer of leadership. Allow subgroups to separate from and reconnect to the whole.
Create pairs or small groups of students and invite them to share stories with each other. A time limit will help learners to distill the information into the essential information. Tell a story in character, using appropriate vocal and facial expression, posture, and gestures of a selected character in a specific setting.
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The cognitive realm refers to the development of the brain and the ability of the mind to engage in learning. Neuroscience studies the formation, structure, and function of the brain. Psychology focuses on a child's skills in perceiving, processing, expressing, and conceptualizing information that is both taught and experienced. Teachers can identify when students are cognitively prepared to learn by considering students' capacities for decision making, attentiveness, focus, reflecting, analyzing, following instructions, or staying on topic. Arts education intrinsically contributes to cognitive development because art making involves problem solving, creativity, imagination, and higher-order thinking. Observing the cognitive ability of students during art making helps teachers evaluate and strengthen students' cognitive skills.
Included in this section are summaries of two frameworks that describe the benefits of arts education: The Studio Habits of Mind and 21st Century Skills. Elliot Eisner's list titled, "The Ten Lessons the Arts Teach" is also provided.
8 STUDIO HABITS OF MIND
A team of researchers observed effective visual arts classrooms and identified eight dispositions, or what they termed habits of mind, (and four teaching structures), that describe the real benefits of an arts education and how a classroom could operate like an art studio. The 8 Studio Habits of Mind and and the Four Studio Structures provide insight into what the arts teach and how they are taught and are observed in the performing arts and the visual arts. A full description of these dispositions and teaching structures can be found in the book Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits fo Visual Arts Education.
Learning to use tools, materials, and artistic conventions, and to care for tools, materials, and space.
ENGAGE & PERSIST
Learning to engage with a project on a personal level and to focus on and persevere through art tasks.
Leaning to mentally picture what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a work of art.
Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning.
Learning to carefully observe the world around you and examine works of art more closely, so that you see what might not be readily or obviously visible.
Learning to think and talk about art by making interpretive claims and evidenced-based judgements about works of art.
STRETCH AND EXPLORE
Learning to reach beyond your baseline capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to learn from mistakes.
UNDERSTAND ART WORLDS
Learning about art history, current practice, and interacting with other artists and the broader artistic community as an artist yourself.
Click icon below to download the 8 Studio Habits of Mind graphic.
21ST CENTURY SKILLS: THE SIX C'S
Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Citizenship, Character
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The 21st Century Skills embody mindsets that are critical for students to develop. The ideal implementation strategy is to incorporate the 21st Century Skills into all learning experiences within the district, including across grade levels, subjects, and embedding them into each educational experience.
Success and achievement in the arts demands engagement in imagination, investigation, construction, and reflection in multiple contexts. "These meta-cognitive activities nurture the effective work habits of curiosity, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration, each of which transfers to the many diverse aspects of learning and life in the 21st century" (19, Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning located at: www.nationalartsstandards.org/). nationalartsstandards.org
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills suggests, "Anyone who has ever seen a student become excited, energized, and confident through artistic exploration has seen first-hand how arts education engages children and contributes to their overall development...while each of the arts disciplines has its own unique set of knowledge, skill, and processes, the arts share common characteristics that make arts education powerful preparation for college, career, and a fulfilling life." (21st Century Arts Map.)
Communication establishes at the heart of the arts. Through studying the arts, students develop a vast repertoire of skills in processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating meaning. Effective communication builds collaboration and cooperation occur.
CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING
Critical thinking is the essential, intellectual process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information as a guide to belief and action. Through critical thinking and problem solving, that students learn the higher-order thinking skills necessary to engage in artistic processes and, therefore, begin to achieve artistic literacy.
CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION
Creative practices are essential for teaching and learning the arts. The arts are steeped in process and involve the interplay of artistic skills, individual voice, and the unexpected. Creativity is given great emphasis in the arts and requires a learning environment in which students are encouraged to imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect. The arts' natural fusion of logical, analytical, thought and playful unexpectedness provides students with extraordinary opportunities to exercise their creativity through artistic processes. Creative processes evoke deep, meaningful engagement in the arts, can be fluid, vary from person to person and project to project, and require intense cognition that can be developed through arts engagement.
Collaboration is the process through which two or more people or groups work together to realize common goals. Collaboration requires that each person in the group contributes and fills a specific role. An inherent part of arts instruction, examples of collaboration may include all the students in a performing cast or ensemble; the partnership between a single artist and his or her peers and audience; or, a shared visual arts project that incorporates the ideas and techniques of multiple artists.
Students in today's schools need to be prepared to participate as citizens in a global society. Citizenship includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for civic virtue and active engagement in our society. Citizenship connects with arts education in numerous ways, including giving students an opportunity to exercise choice and decision making about the creative and artistic process. Citizenship engages students in the why behind the art, pushing students to engage in art making that reflects the historical, cultural, and societal issues that are often described and portrayed in artistic creations.
In a world saturated with increasing technological advancement, it is important that youth are taught the skills required for human connectivity. Helping young people develop their character helps them authentically connect with each other by building individual dependability and expanding young people's ability to show compassion and feel concern for others. Schools, along with parents, community members, and teachers, contribute to character education by explicitly teaching and reinforcing thoughts and actions that encourage students to contribute to the way people work, play, and learn together as families, neighbors, and communities.
Click icon below to download a printable version of the 10 Lessons the Arts Teach.
Learn Social and Emotional Skills
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The social and emotional realm refers to the social abilities and emotional capacities that students need to learn effectively: all learning is a social and emotional experience, and competence in these areas is essential for success. Classwide engagement in arts activities in each art form can improve emotional literacy and social skills. A 2019 report from the Aspen Institute titled "From A Nation at Risk to A Nation of Hope" summarizes years of research and provides resources for teachers to improve the social and emotional skills of students.
The field of psychology provides many frameworks for understanding human behavior and improving interpersonal relationships. The information below describing learner types is from Breaking the Learning Barrier for Underachieving Students by George Nelson. The Myers-Briggs research is used to categorize personality preferences to build respect for individual needs and increase appreciation and respect for various perspectives. Five principles of teaching that increase the ability to reach all students are identified as Principles of Nexus teaching. Arts-integrated teaching strategies provide child-centered activities for teaching in the nexus.
- Need structure and order
- Generally obedient to authority
- Hardworking, responsible
- Like clear details and deadlines
- Motivated by good grades
- Careful to observe rules
- Excel at traditional paper-and-pencil tests
GOLD TEACHING STYLES
- Create structured learning environments
- Focus on mandated standards and objectives
- Create neat and orderly classrooms
- Expect students to be responsible
- Rely on traditional grading methods
- Appreciate feeling centered
- Don't care how much you know until they know how much you care
- Relationships come first
- Dislike conflict, competition
- Enjoy collaboration, teams
- Like assignments that utilize their creativity
BLUE TEACHING STYLES
- Seek to nurture students and foster one-on-one interactions
- Focus on feelings and emphasize educating the whole student
- Create harmonious, peaceful learning environments
- Use creative and individualized instructional approaches
- Find ways to grade effort as well as achievement
- Analytical and logical thinkers
- Competence driven
- Often learn best in solitude
- Like to use teacher as a resource
- Value meaningful applications of learning, resistant to busy work
- Independent, unique
- Like to delve deeply in their special interests
GREEN TEACHING STYLES
- Seek to inspire and develop the intellect of their students
- Use scientific exploration as a means to foster deeper learning
- Create research-based projects
- Encourage divergent thinking
- Strive to maintain a high level of content knowledge and/or subject competency
- Seek fun and excitement
- Learn kinesthetically
- Competitive, like to win
- Frequently impulsive
- Like jokes and surprises
- Motivated by tangible rewards
- Need organizational support
ORANGE TEACHING STYLES
- Create interactive and hands-on learning environments
- Facilitate fun, engaging lessons
- Encourage busy and varied activities, tolerate on-task noise
- Use multiple forms of discipline including negotiation and humor
- Often create unique own approach to required course content /grading
PRINCIPLES OF NEXUS TEACHING
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Creativity is resiliency in action. Creating anything involves significant trial and error coupled with multiple failures. Participating in the arts provides students with opportunities to persevere through the uncertainty embedded in the creative process, building persistence through practice. Along with learning the craft of each art discipline, students develop the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills necessary for practicing resiliency in their learning and their lives. The following statements describe how participating regularly in each art form actively engages the brain and body in unique ways to foster resilience.
Dance engages the whole body in movement to increase flexibility, coordination, agility, and develops the intuitive aspects of the mind/body connection.
Drama includes reading body language and expressions, building shared meaning of experiences and eliciting empathy.
Music refines listening skills and internalizing beat rhythm and tempo, increasing synchronicity within ourselves and with others.
Visual art sharpens visual acuity, perception, observational skills, and the ability to interpret meaning from icons and images in the vast visual world.
THE FIVE STEP FRAMEWORK FOR DEVELOPING RESILIENCY
In the book Teachers' Guide to Resiliency Through the Arts by Flox, Sadin and Levy, the creative process is described in five steps. Designed for application in day-to-day life to develop habits for resiliency, this five-step process can be used daily in classrooms or for large scale projects as a framework to optimize performance.
When using this five-step process to address a challenge, step one and step two can be reversed if you choose. Start in the place that feels most comfortable; these five steps are also useful in implementing a previously created teaching vision for the year.
As a craft, teaching is a performance of trial and error that requires creativity and resilience. Teachers can serve students by modeling resilient behaviors and providing experiences for students to practice their own resiliency.
Teaching is a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding profession. Teachers must self-manage with diligence to continue learning and growing, as well as to avoid burnout. Teachers are the most important factor for student learning within the classroom. In order to build relationships with many children and adapt to an ever-changing environment, teachers must manage their individual needs and improve their resiliency.
Many various strategies exist that foster resiliency. Mindfulness, recreational activities, art engagement, and even simple rituals, such as playing your favorite CD in your car, all contribute to developing resilience. While building skills in the arts, teachers can take time regularly to use the arts to nourish their mind and body.
Consider these ideas:
Make a playlist of your favorite songs
Sketch your favorite scenes.
Tell stories with friends and family.
Design or redesign a space in your home.
Enjoy a family dance party.
Attend a community performance.
Visit a museum.
Tap out rhythms on your steering wheel.
Decorate a cake.
Photograph family keepsakes.
Write a poem about your day.
Learning in dance, drama, media arts, music, literary arts and visual arts introduces essential information and cultivates lifelong abilities. Whether engaging in folk arts or fine arts activities for personal development or social interaction, or experiencing the arts as a creator or an observer, participation in the arts strengthens individuals and communities. Arts skills, habits, and dispositions transfer to success and deep learning in other disciplines and apply to additional life experiences when appropriate connections are explicitly made.
RESEARCH IN THE ARTS
The arts are academic fields supported by significant research-based literature that advances understanding, deepens knowledge, and improves practice. Relevant research in the arts can be found by searching specific art forms and within topics that span multipe art forms, such as creativity or literacy. Research discussing the arts in society shows specific ways that arts engagement impacts civic engagement, the economy, mental and physical health, and more. Research within each art form also demonstrates the vast benefits of arts education and arts integration, revealing improved academic achievement, cognitive benefits, and social and emotional benefits. Research is organized and searchable by keywords at the websites below.
Click on the logos below to visit sites hosting research in the arts and arts education.