The arts are a necessity for the soul (and make kids smarter, too)

Some people may think of art as a luxury they can't afford for their children. Music, dance, and art lessons can get expensive but art should not be thought of as an indulgence. The arts should be available for children in every school; every child has the right to be exposed regardless of the price. Fine arts should be a mandatory part of every school's core curriculum. The arts give students creative tools for life; they are a necessity for the soul to grow.
Visual and performing arts play an essential role in how children learn to read, write, and do math.

Even if a child's art work just hangs on the refrigerator, that child will feel proud. It's a personal creation and pride that arises from that accomplishment can spark more self-expression. Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

Photo: This Degas pastel, The Star, embodies all art.

The arts are basic to a child's biological, emotional, and educational development. Exposure can help students build self-confidence, express their creativity, and perform better in math and reading. Through creative arts, children can learn valuable skills that support using imagination, self-discipline, and confidence.

Children who learn these skills are also less likely to drop out of school. Some kids who have it rough at home see art as a safe haven. Choreographer Twyla Tharp says, "Art is the only way to run away without leaving home." Art can be a saving grace for some who truly need it.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I started listening to more classical music because I read that music stimulation forms new and permanent connections in children's brains even as early as in the womb. I continued with ballet until I was full term with both my children. Dancing together to beautiful music was an amazing feeling.

When my daughter was 12 months old I enrolled her in UNT's music program. Learning music is just like learning a foreign language; each takes practice and dedication. I've read that students who took piano lessons scored an average of 34 percent higher on tests of spatial ability. The arts make you smart! I've always thought ballerinas are geniuses! You must be able to listen to music while: doing math to figure out the combination, have mental concentration, timing, and coordination to tell your brain to move your body a certain way, and at the same time feel the music in your heart.

This past week I had a student play the piano in music for the first time. He loved it so much he came back to the classroom and made a ribbon for his shirt that said "piano star". He was inspired and so happy the rest of the day. Teachers know that all children learn differently. The arts can be a way to enhance creativity in those high achieving students and stimulate the children who might otherwise be left behind.

Last week for my class was a very cultural week! Thanks to the Greater Denton Arts Council, our school was invited to see the Denton Ballet Academy's performance of the Nutcracker. In preparation for the field trip I decided to dance in my pointe shoes for my children. I wanted them to see close up and appreciate that ballerinas are athletes. It was also important to me to make ballet cool!

When the lights dimmed in the theatre the kids were on the edge of their seats. I loved hearing the boys say, "Wow! Dang, that's hard! How did they do that?" Of course the girls are all about the beautiful ballerinas. When we got back to school we had inside recess. I turned on Nutcracker music and let them dance. A creative spark was ignited!

It's sad to see with our poor economy the arts are the first to go. Some schools may assign other teachers to teach the arts in addition to another subject. In my classroom my children are learning Japanese, German, and now French. When my qualified volunteers come to teach us, I turn into a student too! I wouldn't teach something I didn't know myself. Students have the right to learn from qualified instructors.

My second graders recently had visitors from France. The children are starting to hear and recognize similarities in other languages now. It's simply amazing! I can't say enough about how languages should be taught at an early age. Not only does it make a child worldlier and breed humility; but it expands their brains and allows them to see the world is not so very big after all. Children can relate to more people and gain additional ways to express themselves. Thereafter, they don't hear an accent and think it's weird; it's simply another culture and language to absorb.

Artists inspire future artists. How wonderful it is to have school curriculum that introduces children to important creators such as: Picasso, Van Gogh, Mozart, Duke Ellington, Shakespeare, Baryshnikov... We all have a favorite song and painting. Wouldn't it be great for children to tune into their favorites early on and be able to recognize a certain artists or composer?

All children should have the opportunity to benefit from art. We should help them learn to seek it out. It's not hard to find when you are looking for it.

Click on these links for more inspiration:
University of North Texas Early Childhood Music
Dallas Goethe Center
Denton Ballet Academy

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