"The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation." -- Michelle Obama
From her earliest days in the White House, our First Lady has encouraged the nation to consider the arts as an integral part of a healthy nation. Now, as Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative urges the country to consider our children’s nutritional well-being, I am struck by the opportunity to consider the role of the arts as part of a healthy and well-rounded childhood. What follows are excerpts from my initial research for a parents’ guidebook to arts and culture as critical to child development and quality family life. The central idea here is that kids need experiences more than stuff. As Americans for the Arts says, FEED YOUR KIDS THE ARTS!
Here is a quick look at key moments in your child’s development, drawing connections to arts experiences that can reinforce and enhance their growth. The Milestones focus on two age groups, THE PIONEERS (2 – 4 yrs old) and THE EXPLORERS (5 – 9 yrs old) which I'll focus on in the second post. Please keep in mind that these are broad guidelines — you know your child best!
THE PIONEERS (2 – 4 yrs old)
Photo credit: Alexis Buatti Ramos
KEY WORDS: WONDER, INVESTIGATION AND PLAYThese are the discovery years for your child. Everything is a new adventure, an adventure that packs a powerful punch in terms of growth and development.
Why Go to the Theater at this Age?
For the Pioneers, engaging in arts and cultural activities will:
• support language development by building vocabulary, stimulating natural desire for conversation and allowing young children to synthesize experience into feedback.
• encourage social and emotional development by linking individual world experiences to the more universal world of the exhibit, event or performance.
• build empathy by connecting your child’s feelings to the feelings expressed by the artist or artwork, as well as your own feelings about the experience.
THE PIONEERS: Important Arts Smart Milestones
Photo credit: Alexis Buatti Ramos
• Learning how to learn involves the development of curiosity alongside simple problem -solving, questioning, experimentation and investigation skills. Growing ability to focus on their investigations/learning.
All new arts experiences will reinforce this natural desire while encouraging kids to build and practice key learning skills.
• Developing autonomy and the desire to make their own decisions and strong sense of self and of like and dislikes.
Arts-based activities can stimulate this development by providing an outlet for your child to identify favorite colors and shapes, songs and sounds, stories and characters, etc.
• Recognition of pride and satisfaction that comes from completing something.
Picture your child hunting for all of the purple paintings in a museum, and then going back to look at them again. Maybe he counts them again to double check his work, maybe he finds something new, maybe he wants to count red paintings the next time. All very positive experiences leading to the next milestone…
• Repetition. The Pioneers love to retell stories, sing songs and recognize graphic symbols, such as a stop sign and enjoy doing this over and over again.
During these years a balance between the familiar and the new is key. Nothing beats the thrill for a young child of “knowing something,” as they learn to recognize pride, build self-esteem and discover the unique satisfaction of solving a problem.
• Growing social bonds and the perception/appreciation of others’ feelings.
All of the arts-based outings will support your child’s growing sense of place in the world, her relationship to others and her understanding of the “rules” of social activity. For example, when going to the theater she will learn to watch and participate, when to clap, when to talk, when to engage with others, when to watch by herself. By talking about it afterwards, she will also learn to recognize others’ feelings, both through the characters’ experiences and through your own exchange of personal feelings, “I felt sad when Max said goodbye to the Wild Things, did you?”
This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Arts Smart: Raising Creative, Cultured, and Capable Kids, by Dr. Edie Demas. It may not be reproduced without written permission of the author.
Dr. Edie Demas, has served as the Director of Education for The New Victory Theater since 2001, during which time she has more than doubled the number of school and community-based partners and launched the New Vic in the Classroom Program, which currently provides 850 workshops free of charge to New Vic Education Partners. In order to establish this program, Edie created a teaching ensemble, currently comprised of 40 professional artists and the six education staff members. In 2008 the New Victory’s Education department received the distinguished Arts Education Award from Americans for the Arts and Edie herself received a BAXten Award from the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, recognizing her contributions to the field of Arts Education/Theater for Young Audiences and support of Teaching Artists.
This summer, Edie will move on from The New Victory to complete her book, Arts Smart: Raising Creative, Cultured, and Capable Kids. In addition to writing Edie will continue to research, teach, and consult in the field of arts education from her new home in Los Angeles.