Raising “Art Smart” Students in the 21st Century

An introduction to 21st century workplace skills and why they matter to "art smart" parents


21st Century Key Skills

Learning and Innovation Skills

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Communication and collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills

  • Information media literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology

Life and Career Skills

  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Initiative and self-direction
  • Social and cross-cultural skills
  • Productivity and accountability
  • Leadership and responsibility

There is lots of talk in education about skills needed for the 21st century workplace. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, predicts that creative, right-brained people will be in great demand in the 21st century workforce. Our job as parents is to prepare our kids for a future we can only imagine. So, what are 21st century skills exactly? Why do they matter to “art smart” parents and how do we help our kids? 

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is a national organization of business, education, and government leaders working as a catalyst to prepare every child for the 21st century. Their mission is clear: “Every child in the U.S. needs 21st century knowledge and skills to succeed as effective citizens, workers, and leaders.” They understand the workplace is dramatically changing and will continue to demand innovation and creativity in order for our students to succeed in the global economy. Many schools are on this path and P21 wants to ensure our students are appropriately prepared for the future. 

To meet this challenge, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified skills and knowledge for success in the workplace and in life. Student learning is developed through core academic subjects, including the arts, language arts, world languages, math, sciences, economics, geography, history, and civics. In addition to this core knowledge, key skills are required in learning and innovation; information, media and technology; and, life and career (see sidebar). The goal is to take these skills and knowledge and use them to explore five important areas of understanding: global awareness, financial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy, and environmental literacy.

What This Means and Things You Can Do

Arts are fundamental. The great news is that 21st century readiness recognizes that every child should learn in the arts. The goal is not to turn every child into a professional artist but to give them grounding in the arts. A complete education includes arts instruction. 

What parents can do: Advocate to your local school board to keep the arts in your school system. Volunteer to share your own arts skills in your child’s classroom.

Arts are creativity. Creativity leads the list of necessary skills and the arts are the perfect place to cultivate imagination and expression.   

What parents can do: Seek out opportunities to learn more about the arts—particularly those that may be less familiar to your family. Many communities offer low-cost and free arts events intended to introduce families to the arts. 

Arts are communication. It doesn’t take long to figure out that kids—even siblings—express themselves in their own unique ways. The arts are forms of communication and strengthening communication is a key element of 21st century skills. The arts are a tool that helps kids express ideas and emotions in a way that works for them.

What parents can do: Do you sing or play your favorite music around the house? Do you doodle? Do you dance while you vacuum? Share these moments of artistic expression with your kids. Maybe they'll even dust.

Arts are technology. Lots of kids and teens are finding media to be an artistic outlet. Whether it is the camera on your cell phone or music editing software on the family PC, technology is an increasingly important tool for young artists. Twenty-first century skills embrace the need for media literacy and many student artists are leading the charge.

What parents can do: Put your kids to work on a family media project. Make a film of family stories to share at the holidays. Is the fridge covered in your kids’ art? Create a family online gallery to showcase their drawings and videos. 

Arts are 21st century. The arts encourage many of the life skills desired for the 21st century and these are skills parents want their kids to master. 

  • Problem solving is at the top of the list for good reason. Art rarely goes according to plan. Our kids often have to come up with new solutions to reach their artistic goals. 
  • Adaptability is part and parcel with arts learning. Learning how to adjust goes with the territory. Whether in rehearsal or in the studio, the arts foster adaptability and flexibility. 
  • Working well with others is an important component of 21st century readiness. The arts provide opportunities for our kids to develop these skills. 

What parents can do: All of these skills require practice. Take time to model problem-solving, cooperation, and collaboration at home. When your child completes an art work or a performance, reflect with them on how they worked through the challenges involved in the process. This will help them identify what they learned and what they can now do.



Patti Saraniero
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

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