Art is Smart
“Nobody is bored when he is trying to make something that is beautiful, or to discover something that is true.”
— William Inge, American playwright
These years are a time of transition. Kids are confused about who they are, who their friends are, who they’re going to become. Friends, especially same-sex friends, can expand a child’s interests and make her feel good to be part of a group. But peer pressure can also lead a child to take unwise risks or behave badly. To pile on more stress, children’s bodies are beginning to change, and they often start a new middle school at this time.
For many kids, interest in school decreases in middle school. But art classes are one place where they might feel connected and engaged. U.S. Department of Education research shows that eighth graders who have arts instruction are less likely to drop out of school by grade 10 than eighth graders with no arts at all.
The arts build the whole person. This is especially important during this time when kids feel pulled in many different directions. Here are some ways that the arts help “ground” our children during these difficult middle school years:
- The arts teach leadership and encourage important skills and habits that transfer into every aspect of a student’s life.
- Kids learn to think independently and learn that discipline and practice pay off in improved performance, whether in the arts or in math.
- The arts can extend attention spans to help kids stay more focused. This is particularly useful at an age when kids are increasingly distracted by social media, video games, and the Internet.
- The arts help improve reading. Various studies have found that the arts help kids drastically outperform their peers on reading tests and show greater use of complex language skills than peers. Kids often read about activities they’re interested in, whether it’s information about a dance or music performance in school or off-campus, or directions about how and where to store their paintings.
- It’s an emotional time for young people. The arts provide a constructive way to express and release anger.
- The arts boost social skills. They encourage working in teams and learning from others.
- The arts increase children’s open-mindedness by exposing them to other cultures and connecting them more deeply to their own cultural background.
- Dance and music can get kids out of their heads and into their bodies, which is especially important when their bodies are changing and may feel strange or new to them.
Students with arts programs are self-assured students, and show greater confidence about academics overall. This confidence can stay with them for life.
Not only do the arts help your child now; they also help in the future. If he wants to go to college (or you think college is a good idea), arts instruction is vital. College admissions departments want well-rounded students who can talk about their interests and experiences outside academics. The U.S. Congress issued a statement about the impact of the arts on learning through all levels of education: “The Congress finds that the arts are forms of understanding and ways of knowing that are fundamentally important to education.”
Arts programs in schools can give middle school students an earned sense of accomplishment — making them feel more confident, more connected to school, more open-minded, better problem-solvers, more sensible risk-takers, more curious, and more focused. The arts can keep kids excited about school — and help encourage their attendance through middle school and beyond.
Parents are an important part of a school team. They need to talk to principals about why the arts matter and explore ways to help support the arts in their children’s schools.