The Importance of Art in Child Development
By Grace Hwang Lynch
In recent years, school curricula in the United States have shifted heavily toward common core subjects of reading and math, but what about the arts? Although some may regard art education as a luxury, simple creative activities are some of the building blocks of child development. Learning to create and appreciate visual aesthetics may be more important than ever to the development of the next generation of children as they grow up.
Developmental Benefits of Art
Motor Skills: Many of the motions involved in making art, such as holding a paintbrush or scribbling with a crayon, are essential to the growth of fine motor skills in young children. According to the National Institutes of Health, developmental milestones around age three should include drawing a circle and beginning to use safety scissors. Around age four, children may be able to draw a square and begin cutting straight lines with scissors. Many preschool programs emphasize the use of scissors because it develops the dexterity children will need for writing.
Decision Making: According to a report by Americans for the Arts, art education strengthens problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The experience of making decisions and choices in the course of creating art carries over into other parts of life. “If they are exploring and thinking and experimenting and trying new ideas, then creativity has a chance to blossom,” says MaryAnn Kohl, an arts educator and author of numerous books about children’s art education.
Visual Learning: Drawing, sculpting with clay and threading beads on a string all develop visual-spatial skills, which are more important than ever. Even toddlers know how to operate a smart phone or tablet, which means that even before they can read, kids are taking in visual information. This information consists of cues that we get from pictures or three-dimensional objects from digital media, books and television.
“Parents need to be aware that children learn a lot more from graphic sources now than in the past,” says Dr. Kerry Freedman, Head of Art and Design Education at Northern Illinois University. “Children need to know more about the world than just what they can learn through text and numbers. Art education teaches students how to interpret, criticize, and use visual information, and how to make choices based on it.”
Inventiveness: When kids are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they develop a sense of innovation that will be important in their adult lives. “The kind of people society needs to make it move forward are thinking, inventive people who seek new ways and improvements, not people who can only follow directions,” says Kohl. “Art is a way to encourage the process and the experience of thinking and making things better!”
Improved Academic Performance: Studies show that there is a correlation between art and other achievement. A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (three hours a day on three days each week through one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate.
Turn to the Arts to Boost Self-Esteem
As parents, you do everything to help your child navigate through the ups and downs of childhood and survive with self-esteem. You praise his every accomplishment. “You tied your shoe!” “You finished that book!” “You made your bed!” You encourage him to make friends with other children who support him and have similar interests. You probably even sign him up for after-school activities to keep him physically active. You might register him for music or dance lessons and listen to endless recitations of his part in the school’s play. And all of this is great—essential, even.
But did you know that activities, especially arts-related activities, are important for so much more than just keeping your child busy? They’ve been proven to boost a child’s self-image.
Whether in an individual setting or as part of a group, arts education improves a child’s confidence. For example, studies have shown that when children participate in art activities with peers, the feedback they give to each other builds self-respect by helping them learn to accept criticism and praise from others. And that’s not the only way it can improve self-esteem, though. Here are five other ways the arts help your child on the road to a better sense of self.
The arts instill pride. When your child puts his heart and soul into an art project—and spends hours working on it, cultivating it, and making it beautiful—he’ll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment when it’s complete. “The arts are a great leveler, as we are all in the same boat, learning to create and succeed in new and unexpected ways,” says Dory Kanter, an educational consultant and arts/literacy curriculum writer and teaching trainer. “Children not only become appreciators of each other’s work, but also develop skills of self-reflection in the effort to bring their personal vision to fruition.”
The arts help your child develop real-life skills. Depending on the specific arts activity your child chooses to become involved in—whether it’s music, drawing, acting, or dance—he’s sure to learn important real-world skills including critical and creative thinking, hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and social skills like taking turns, sharing, and negotiating. “In my experience, students make a personal connection to a subject through the arts, and as a result, they deepen their thinking through a creative response,” says Kanter. “In addition, students learn persistence and higher level thinking through creative problem solving when given the opportunity to spend time creating a completed, invested work of art.”
The arts lead to higher test scores in the classroom. Self-esteem increases when a child feels confident in the classroom. Skills learned from studying the arts including concentration and dedication, affects classroom values and test scores. In fact, a 2005 Harris Poll found that 93 percent of Americans agreed the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education for children. In another 2009 study, 12 years of data was collected for the National Educational Longitudinal Survey to look at the effect of education, visual, and performing arts on the achievement and values of children. The study found that students who were highly involved with the arts outperformed less-involved peers, even within low socioeconomic groups. Arts-related study, no matter the art, is critical to building a child’s self-esteem—whether in a studio, classroom, or playground.