The highlight of my elementary school days was in sixth grade when all the sixth graders put on an operetta. We auditioned, got parts, and performed the play The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for the other local elementary schools and the community. It was new and exciting to be able to learn the core subjects like history and literacy in a different format.
Many elementary schools have decreased their focus on the arts, which include visual arts, theater, music, and dance. Some schools have even eliminated art altogether to focus on core subjects like math, reading, and science. Core subjects are very important for students to learn, but removing art components is a mistake because art can be one of the best ways for some children to learn and express themselves.
Everyone has their own learning style. In a classroom of 20-30 kids, it can be hard to get the material across to all the students through traditional teaching. Art is a learning style in which students can see and experience what they are learning. Teaching core classes through art can reach students you may not otherwise be able to influence.
In my experience in elementary school classrooms, I have seen the effect of art on students. I helped a fifth grade student who has multiple disabilities. Sitting and listening to the teacher was a big challenge for him. He got bored and lost interest. Many teachers would punish him for not listening or following directions, but what they didn’t realize was he is not an auditory learner. He is a kinesthetic learner, or one who learns by physically doing a task. If he had increased opportunities to create or draw, teachers would realize that he is more proficient than expected. Often, he and many other students better express what they know through hands on activities, including art.
The arts provide students with multiple ways of learning the curriculum. In the McKay School of Education, you learn different ways to implement the arts in everyday teaching. In the Creative Dance class, you discover how students can learn angles and fractions through moving in various formations of shapes. As you learn in Child Development, dance also helps improve children’s gross motor skills through physical activity. Gripping pencils and paintbrushes are examples of how visual art helps children improve their fine motor skills, which is crucial in early childhood development. The theater class teaches how students can learn reading and vocabulary through acting by interpreting scenes of plays, as well as history through the various time periods of these theatrical works. Learning doesn’t always have to be textbooks, reading, and worksheets.
The benefits of art education are significant. As the arts are disappearing in schools, we as educators are facing the challenge of how to implement art education in our everyday teaching to give students an alternative way to be able to express who they are, how they feel, and what they know. In some cases, art is the only way students can do so.
What are some ways you have included the arts into your teaching?