Learning Through the Arts

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood, and a current educational consultant, keynote
speaker and author

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."   ~Albert Einstein

Why are activities with music, movement, drama, and art so successful with young children? Through activities with the arts, children learn to express the "mysterious" - their rapidly growing understandings, their thoughts, and their feelings. The process of making art allows the artist to give image, word, sound, or movement to something that is often intangible - that is what young children do every day. They are born artists and scientists. Young children explore the arts with both a creative and a scientific "eye." The artist in them searches for creative expression, and the scientist figures out the way to do it! Our role is to provide them with the materials and inspiration, then to stand back and let them go!

The Arts Stimulate Brain Growth

The exciting "brain" news is that participating in art, music, movement, and storytelling activities not only develops language, mathematics, science, and social skills, but these activities also strengthen the synapses between brain cells!  Research shows that these synapses grow stronger through active participation in the arts. These essential activities at an early age can actually create new neural pathways and fortify those that are already present! For example, neuroscientists feel that the combined arts used in rhythmic movement activities (words and music) can help the young brain develop to its fullest capacity. At infancy a child has all the synapses needed to speak any language, to learn and appreciate music and movement, and to create visual art...but these synapses must be used in order to be developed.

Stimulate Healing

Dr. Bruce Perry (and the CIVITAS Healing Arts project) has found the amazing healing effects of the arts on young children in trauma. Through neurobiology, we can see how the brain is affected by trauma and how the arts can actually help the brain development of children who are exposed to traumatic experiences at an early age.  CIVITAS research has shown that specific parts of the brain are stimulated by specific artistic enrichment modalities.  For example: the base or brain stem responds to touch; the midbrain to music-making and movement; the limbic region to dance, art, play therapy, and nature discovery; and the cortical region to art, storytelling, drama, and writing. Through artistic stimulation, children's brains are healing and growing! 

Learning Activities With Visual Art...

  • Encourage children to use their hands to manipulate clay, finger paint, weave, paint, and draw. This helps build fine motor skills - the same skills that children need to learn how to write letters and words.
  • Ask children to express their feelings using color, texture, and structure. Children often use colors in their drawings and paintings to express a mood. And the textures of clay provide a perfect place to work out frustrations!
  • Use art materials to observe, predict, experiment, and problem-solve. Open-ended art activities in which children have to make choices as to how to create a sculpture or picture help foster the development of these scientific thinking skills.
  • Invite children to talk about their art with words and stories in order to promote language development.
  • Use discussions with other children and shared experiences to shape social and emotional interaction skills. By inviting children to "title" their art, you invite them to use art as a language.
  • Introduce new art materials, such as painting with feathers. This invites children to build a strong sense of success and mastery.

Learning Activities With Music and Movement...

  • Try yoga, jumping, running, and dancing games to help children develop large muscle skills, strength, balance, rhythm, and coordination.
  • Use rhythmic clapping games, tip toe dances, and finger plays to develop small muscles of the hands and feet.
  • Through singing repetitive songs and circle dancing games, introduce the math skills of patterning, sequencing, and counting.
  • Engage children in rhyming songs and in singing word games to build the essential language learning skills of communication, listening, and speaking.
  • Use music and movement to express emotions and develop autonomy and social interaction. This helps foster social and emotional development.

Learning Activities With Creative Drama and Storytelling...

  • Invite children to act out and create stories to develop vocabulary, sequencing, listening, and memory skills.
  • Explore familiar fairy tales and nursery rhymes to encourage children to learn to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
  • Encourage children to act out their own feelings and the feelings of others in stories and dramatic play center activities. This helps provide a greater understanding of their own feelings and those of others.
  • Explore play themes with a variety of culturally diverse materials to promote multicultural awareness.
  • Invite children to express a "story" with their bodies. This provides opportunities for children to develop body awareness.

The Arts Stimulate Heads and Hearts

As humans we are a combination of emotional mind and rational mind.  These two "minds" work in tight harmony to create our experience of life.  Activities in the arts invite children to play with the balance of "head and heart." There are no wrong answers in creative activities.  And risk taking is definitely encouraged!  Through improvisation and experimentation with the arts in a non-judgmental environment, children learn more about themselves and their world.

  • Subjects:
    Early Learning, Arts and Crafts, Dance, Music, Drama, Theater, Musicals, Visual Arts
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