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Parent to Parent: Ways to support arts education

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

Who needs theater, dancing, music and the visual arts? All of us. But arts education has taken budget hits and often gets crowded out of busy school days.

What can you do as a parent? Volunteer your time and talents, make donations and stay on top of the latest research about why art is not just an “extra.” Get involved politically. Share personal stories of what an art class or music class means to your child, and your concerns about it getting cut.

Nonprofit group Americans for the Arts is releasing a new Arts Education Navigator series of e-books designed to help educators, students and parents navigate the field of arts education.

Motivation, attitudes and attendance all improve when kids have the arts woven into their school curriculum, the group says. The first e-book cites that a student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair and three times more likely to win an award for school attendance.

The website for the series is artsusa.org/networks/arts_education/navigator.asp. The five e-books, which are all coming out this year, will be available in both English and Spanish.

American Girl dolls are also getting involved in the push for arts education. Saige, the company’s newest doll character, takes action when budget cuts take away her beloved art classes at school. This spring, American Girl and Americans for the Arts hope to inspire real-life Saiges with a contest called Elevate the Arts. Schools can compete for up to $10,000 in grant money by submitting a class art project and an essay about why art in school is valuable. The deadline is May 31. Go to americangirl.com for the rules.

What do kids learn from the arts? Stanford University researchers have several answers. The visual and performing arts can:

• Teach children that problems can have more than one solution.

• Celebrate that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

• Teach children to deal with changes.

• Help children express what cannot be said in words.

• Help kids discover a range of feelings.

Research also has shown that learning is all about making connections, and the arts are one route toward that goal.

Susan Riley, an arts education integration specialist, agrees. Art, music and drama are important pursuits on their own, but they’re also invaluable when woven into seemingly unrelated courses like math, language arts and social studies, says Riley. Doing this allows teachers to “build chefs,” not merely “cooks who follow a set recipe,” she says.

The arts make abstract concepts more concrete. For example, math concepts such as symmetry, reflection and rotation are more easily understood when students explore them through dance and movement.

For younger kids, the Zero to Three National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families offers these suggestions for introducing art at home:

• Let art be part of playtime. Offer chunky, easy-to-grip crayons, thick pencils and washable markers.

• Let your child experiment with age-appropriate art materials. Independence is very important for toddlers.

• Experiment with a variety of art items, such as painting with cotton balls, sponges and string.

Betsy Flagler is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at p2ptips@att.net.

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