My Child, the Arts, and School

How the Arts Build Academic and Social Skills: Grades 3 to 5

Learn how to support your child in the arts at school


Art is Smart

Pablo Picasso

“Every child is an artist.”
Pablo Picasso, painter and sculptor

The arts can encourage and motivate kids in all aspects of their school lives, including teaching academic skills. When kids act out a story, discuss a painting, or perform a play, they improve their reading and writing skills. Noticing musical patterns and rhythms can help them with math because they’re organizing information quantitatively.

During the middle (8-10) childhood years, children are becoming more interested in their relationships with their peers and in their own place in the world. The arts help them figure out who they are by exposing them to other cultures, new ways of thinking, of expressing themselves, and of communicating with others.

Today, many schools are spending a great deal of time preparing students to take standardized tests, and the arts are being squeezed out of the curriculum. That’s unfortunate because it’s very hard for kids (and adults) to be productive when they do only one type of activity all day long. The arts not only give kids a creative, expressive break in their school day, but also provide a multi-sensory approach to learning, incorporating three major learning styles: visual, auditory, and physical. Most people learn best through one of these three different styles.

Here are some tips to find out if your child’s school has adequate arts programming:

  • Ask your child how often she studies visual art, music, dance, or theater. Ask her to bring home her artwork. If she does, display it around the house.
  • Visit the school and see if there is children’s artwork on the walls. Are bulletins posted about extracurricular arts programs? Is there an art room or other space designated specifically for the arts? Are there afternoon arts clubs for your child to attend?
  • Meet with your child’s teacher or principal and ask if every grade receives arts instruction every week. (Visit http://www.aep-arts.org/database/ to see what your state requires). Is there a budget for the arts? Is there a designated arts teacher either in visual art, music, theater, or dance? Is there a school arts committee of the PTA or PA? (If you’re interested, perhaps you can join.)

If your child’s school has very little arts programming, here are some further things you can do:

  • Ask the principal to explore the possibility of hiring an arts teacher or partnering with a cultural institution.
  • Inquire if a classroom just for arts classes can be identified or a time set aside in the gym every day for creative activities.
  • Find out if field trips to museums and other cultural institutions can be scheduled.
  • Get involved directly by starting an arts committee made up of parents, teachers, and school officials to design arts programs and afterschool activities, and fundraise for these arts programs.
  • If you have an artistic skill, talk to your child’s teacher and offer to teach it in your child’s classroom. Reach out to other parents, asking if they have creative skills or arts knowledge they could share with the school community.
  • Agree to find local teaching artists, and encourage your school to increase its commitment to the arts.
  • And don’t forget to attend a PTA meeting and talk to other parents about building an arts program.

Learning in and through the arts in school encourages positive risk-taking, supports problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, promotes sharing ideas, and enlivens the imagination.

You are the expert on your child and your child’s needs. It’s important for you to reach out to the principal and explain why the arts are important, or if the school already knows they’re important, you can help the teachers and administration increase its arts programming.


Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Tiffany Bryant
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment

Further Information

To learn more about arts education for yourself or to help persuade school administrators:

Catterall, James S. The Arts and the Transfer of Learning.
An overview of the Critical Links report argues for more research about the benefits of arts learning, especially in affective areas (such as motivation and engagement) as well as transfer of skills, particularly when learning is understood as “situational, interactive, and extremely complex.”

Davis, Jessica Hoffmann. Why Our Schools Need the Arts. New York: Columbia Teachers College, 2007.
The arts provide unique opportunities for learning and development because they involve tangible products and ambiguity, focus on emotion and process, and foster connection to others.

Deasy, Richard, ed. Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development. Washington, D.C.: Arts Education Partnership, 2002.
A compilation summarizing and discussing 62 research studies that examine the effects of arts learning on students' social and academic skills.

Horn, Jeanette Horn. “An Exploration into the Writing of Original Scripts by Inner-City High School Drama Students,” Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic Achievement and Social Development, edited by Richard Deasy. Washington, D.C.: Arts Education Partnership, 2002.
A report on how student attendance and interest in the arts improved after an ethnically-diverse student group collaborated on a theater project.

The Center for Arts Education

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Adapted from original content produced by the Center for Arts Education (CAE) , a nonprofit organization which promotes arts education in New York City public schools.

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