Arts Integration Connections

Arts Integration and the Whole Child

Explore how arts integration supports the tenets of Whole Child initiatives


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Whole Child
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“The strategies of arts integration are educationally powerful because they are grounded in deep connections between the arts and cognition, and between learning, social, and emotional development.”—Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond1

In 2006, The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) convened the Commission on the Whole Child to recast the definition of a successful learner2. The Commission’s publication, The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action, describes the need to move away from a fragmented, one-size-fits-all education that has “marginalized the uniqueness of our children and eroded their capacity to learn in whole, healthy, creative, and connected ways” and instead to “weave together the threads that connect not only math, science, the arts, and humanities, but also mind, heart, body, and spirit…”3

Arts integration offers a powerful way to meet the Commission’s goal for returning to “whole, healthy, and connected ways to learn” and support its tenets4, particularly providing emotional safety, active engagement, and personalized and challenging learning.

Arts integration provides an emotionally safe place to learn.

Whole Child Tenet 1: Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

Arts integration offers a safe, student-centered environment where students feel valued, respected and cared for. Teachers build a safe community where students give and receive respectful feedback in ways that honor each student’s efforts. In this environment, students feel safe to risk responding, creating, and sharing their work. Feelings of safety create the foundation needed for all creative work.

“An art form—a play, a mural, a recital—is a third space, a mediating zone of safety in which students can take risks.”5

Teachers in the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program, an arts integration program serving 16 schools in the Washington DC metropolitan area, consistently report that students are increasingly willing to risk responding6 when involved in arts integration. They cite increased participation in the classroom by all students, even those who rarely spoke or participated. They also report that students’ participation in arts integration uncovers formerly unrecognized abilities and actually transforms how these students are perceived by their peers and teachers.

The publication Critical Links points to the impact of arts participation on high school students who are considering dropping out. In a research study, students cite their participation in the arts as the main reason for staying in school. Their responses reflect issues of emotional safety and support:

“Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.”7 (emphasis added)

This Whole Child tenet on safety focuses also on students’ ability to manage their behavior. Each of the art forms has its own specific set of behavioral expectations, rules, and routines that teach students how to manage their behavior. For example, dancers learn about personal space and how to maintain it so as not intrude in others’ space within a crowded classroom. Actors learn how to hold their focus and concentrate despite distractions and to be aware of the volume of their voices when they speak. Musicians learn how to follow their leader and communicate with each other so they can work together seamlessly.

Other aspects of emotional safety cited within this Whole Child tenet include developing skills in conflict resolution. Arts integration provides opportunities for students to develop their understanding of conflict and their skills in cooperation and collaboration. Conflict and its resolution is a key element of drama. Students examine characters’ motivations, how characters’ needs often conflict, and how they resolve their conflicts. Students often work in teams. For example, when student teams create a dramatization to show their understanding of a moment in history, they develop skills in listening to team members’ ideas, considering alternatives, and negotiating solutions. They learn that sometimes their idea will be chosen by their group and sometimes they need to be strong enough to let go of their ideas and pursue another’s strategy.

Arts Integration actively engages students in learning

Whole Child Tenet 3: Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

When students learn through arts integration, they participate in carefully planned experiences that move them from being spectators to being active participants in their learning. For example, when students create a dance to show what they know about the water cycle, they enter fully into the experience rather than stand outside it. They become water vapor, condensation, precipitation, and evaporation. These engaging experiences help students to build their understanding and demonstrate it.

Engagement in the creative process is compelling and fulfilling. The Whole Child Newsletter8 cited the Search Institute’s interviews with teens about what they find inspiring and engaging. Out of the 220 types of inspirations identified, the highest ranked category of inspiration and engagement was the “creative life”—specifically involvement with the arts.9

This Whole Child tenet also recommends that teachers provide students with opportunities to monitor and direct their own progress and to empower students in decision-making, goal setting, and time management. When students engage in the creative process, they are involved in ongoing monitoring, self-assessment, and choice. They set goals and assess and revise their work on an ongoing basis to better meet their goals. They work within real time constraints to meet deadlines for sharing their finished work.

Engagement also increases when students are connected to the school and broader community. Through arts integration, students participate in curriculum-related experiences, such as field trips that bring students out of classrooms and into community theaters, museums, and concert halls to see how professionals create and perform/exhibit dances, dramas, visual arts, etc. These community-based experiences help students see connections between their classroom work and the authentic, real-world work of arts professionals in community life.

Arts integration is personalized learning.

Whole Child Tenet 4: Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

In contrast to a one-size-fits-all curriculum, arts integration offers personalized learning. It offers ways for each student to act on and make sense of the content they are learning. Through the creative process, students bring their personal perspectives to bear on solving a problem. Unique approaches and solutions are valued; students’ personal interpretation and perspective count.

An aspect of personalized learning described in this Whole Child tenet is getting timely feedback from teachers. As students move through the creative process to imagine, create, rehearse, and share their work, teachers continually monitor student work, providing in-the-moment feedback to help students clarify and refine their work.

This Whole Child tenet also recommends forging closer ties between families and the school. The arts can blur traditional school and community boundaries by inviting local artists to show or demonstrate their creative work in the classroom. When engaged as role models and mentors, artists can further connect the school and community.

Arts integration is academically challenging.

Whole Child Tenent 5: Each graduate is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Arts integration challenges students intellectually; it offers access to arts knowledge, skills, and processes. Each art form is an area of study with its own history, principles, and practices, and offers a broad and challenging content accessible to diverse learners. Additionally arts integration provides opportunities for students to develop critical-thinking and reasoning skills, and problem solving competencies.

Additionally, this Whole Child tenet focuses on developing students' global awareness and competencies, particularly in relation to culture. The arts offer powerful tools for understanding human experiences, both past and present. They are time-honored forms of expression that tell us what humans have thought and felt across cultures and generations—what motivated them, what troubled them, how they coped in the face of adversity, and to what they aspired. They build respect for the different ways others have of thinking, working, and expressing themselves and develop cross-cultural understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of America’s heritage.


Arts integration, as an approach to teaching, supports many tenets for the development of the whole child by providing emotional safety and promoting full engagement in learning that is personally meaningful and challenging. The arts offer wholeness to learning that integrates thought, feeling, and action, weaving together “the threads that connect mind, body, and spirit.”



Lynne B. Silverstein
Senior Program Consultant
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Editors & Producers

Amy Duma
Director, Teacher and School Programs
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Works Cited

  1. Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond, “Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century,” 152 in Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond, eds., Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century, (Chicago: Columbia College Chicago, 2004) 152.
  2. The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action, A Report of the Commission of the Whole Child, (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2007), 4.
  3. Ibid. 2.
  4. Whole Child Tenets http://whatworks.wholechildeducation.org/featured-topics/arts-integration/
  5. Lauren M. Stevenson and Richard Deasy, Third Space: When Learning Matters. (Washington DC: Arts Education Partnership, 2005), 22.
  6. The evaluation by RealVisions, stated: “Teachers attributed the increased level of [student] motivation to a number of things: among others, … the chance to express themselves and find their voices, …and the promise that all students could be successful…” and “Teachers report their students have become more confident, more comfortable taking risks, and more socially adept.” Report: Montgomery County (MD), Arts Integration Model Schools Program, Evaluation Report, June 2007 by Drs. Bennett Lentczner, Linda Whitesitt, and Elda Franklin. Nancy Wolcott, ed. © RealVisions 2007.
  7. N. Barry, J. Taylor, and K. Walls, “The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention,” Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Achievement and Social Development, ed. Richard Deasy (Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership, 2002), 75.
  8. The Whole Child Newsletter, October 19, 2010 http://wholechildeducation.org/resources/newsletter.jhtml?id=44409
  9. Watch Peter Benson: Innovation from Within, May 2010 on TEDx TC www.search-institute.org/sparks

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