Article

Early Childhood Research Supports Arts Education

By Carol Seefeldt PhD
  • Grades: PreK–K

Local state, and national initiatives support integrating the arts into early childhood programming.

Psychologists and educators have long recognized the impact of early experiences on a child's intellectual and emotional development. Now, through technological advances, neuroscientists are providing hard evidence that connective pathways in the brain are actually created by repeated early experiences. Scientists are viewing brain activity through neuroscans and other technology-revealing that the experiences that fill a baby's first three years build neurocircuitry in the brain influencing how a child does in school, in relationships, and in society as a whole.

In light of this new research, a child's early engagement in singing, music, art activities, storytelling, and movement has even more significance, because these experiences can help create unique brain connections that will have long-term impact on the youngster's life. Certainly there is a window of opportunity for state arts agencies, local arts agencies, and arts organizations to utilize the excitement about early childhood development. This new brain research can provide more credibility for arts education and its role in early childhood learning, and youth and family services. The following are activities at the national, state, and local level that are capitalizing on this changed environment.

At the national level, Americans for the Arts, the Arts Education Partnership, and the arts community are proactively bringing a strong collective voice to inform these early childhood initiatives and strategies. Evidence of this was seen at a U.S. Department of Education satellite town meeting on early learning, where Secretary Richard W. Riley specifically discussed the important role of the arts in reading and developing a child's potential. Additionally, the Department is disseminating information on arts and reading program models. And in a 1997 White House conference on early childhood and learning, University of Wisconsin Professor Francis Raucher's research on the connection between music education and the development of special intelligence in preschoolers was featured.

In Connecticut, the Connecticut Alliance for Arts Education (CARE) has taken a leadership role in responding to their state's passage of the School Readiness Bill, which makes early childhood education a top state priority. The CAAE has developed a public outreach project to mobilize policymakers, education leaders, funders, and preschool professionals to reexamine the critical role of the arts in school-readiness programs and to prioritize resources to incorporate the arts. The Alliance has produced a booklet, an audio tape, and a series of radio reports for Connecticut Public Radio, all focusing on recent brain research and the importance of music, dance, creative dramatics, and the visual arts in early childhood development.

On a local level, Maryland's Prince George's Arts Council, in partnership with a school district, developed the Family Arts Center to provide arts programs for Head Start, Even Start students and their parents. Through artists' residencies, professional development for teachers, and early childhood art sessions, this initiative is helping children be more prepared for school, one of this community's educational priorities. In addition to the day programs, there are after-school and evening programs and resources that are available for staff, children, and families.

With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Head Start Arts Partnership is helping the arts take their rightful place as a major factor in creating developmental advantages for high-need children. Begun in 1993, this collaborative effort of six local arts agencies, professional artists, and four regional Head Start programs is helping staff and parents use arts activities and understand their value in encouraging intellectual and social development.

Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts has been a leader in training early childhood professionals in the use of performing arts activities to help young children develop the skills they need to learn and engage fully in school. Using music, dance, storytelling, and creative dramatics, artists and early childhood educators work together to design and implement new teaching strategies. For additional resources and information about arts and reading, early childhood and parent involvement program models developed across the country; updates on the America Reads Challenge; and other arts education topics, contact Americans for the Arts at 202-371-2830

Reprinted with permission from Early Childhood Research Supports Arts Education by Nancy Logan (Americans for the Arts, 1997). For more information, contact Americans for the Arts at 202-371-2830 or visit www.artusa.org.

Resources:

"Bringing Up Baby," a special series on early childhood development, aired on NBC's Today show and included a segment on music and intellectual development The series is available on video for $24.95. Call 800-420-2626.

"How A Child's Brain Develops," Time magazine February 3, 1997 Special Report on research that provides new convincing evidence about the brain connections that develop in the first three years of life. Copies are no longer available from Time. Your local library is the best resource.

"I Am Your Child," a national public awareness campaign to make early childhood development a top priority for our nation. The campaign, founded by Rob Reiner, was launched this spring with a nationally broadcast program that explains the incredible growth and development that takes place in the brain during the first three years of life and specific things parents and care givers can do to help foster healthy brain development during this critical period. A video of the broadcast, a CD-ROM resource guide, and a brochure, The first Years Last Forever, are available through the campaign's toll free number 800-447-3400.

Start With the Arts, a Very Special Arts (VSA) program that immerses children in arts-related activities for reading and school readiness. The program provides curriculum materials and training for educators. VSA affiliates, including VSA New Hampshire, Maine, and Montana, are using Start With the Arts materials and Tips for Parents to assist teachers and parents in integrating visual arts, movement, music, and poetry into reading activities at home and school. To obtain materials or for more information, contact Very Special Arts at 800-933-8721.

"Starting Points," a landmark report on the current crisis that jeopardizes our children's healthy development, with recommendations and strategies for creating vital starting points for our youngest children and their families. Copies available for $10.00 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, 212-371-3200.

"Your Child From Birth to Three," Newsweek Spring/Summer 1997 Special Edition on how the young brain grows and functions and what parents need to know to maximize their child's emotional, intellectual, and social development Discusses the role of music and early childhood development To obtain a copy, call 800-631-1040.

White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning. What New Research on the Brain Tells Us About Our Youngest Children. The April 1997 conference focused on findings about how children develop from the earliest years and explored implications for parents, educators, and policy makers. Effective model programs supporting parents and enhancing early childhood development were featured at the convening. Report available by calling 202-456-2960.

  • Subjects:
    Arts and Creativity, Working with Families and the Community
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