Make Sure Your Child Gets an Arts Education

Encourage your child's creativity, at home and at school.




Q: My 10 year old is very artistic, but there is no art program at his school. Is that normal? What can I do to foster my child's creativity?
A: Unfortunately, many schools in the last ten years have experienced budget cuts in art programs, according to Glenn A. Ray, Ed.D., executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Arts Education.

Yet art is an important tool for learning. Through art children learn self-discipline, creativity, and confidence to succeed. It helps them learn about the world and see it in new ways. It provides a way to express thoughts, feelings, and hopes. Art can also help children become better learners by helping them analyze, interpret, and work hard to complete a goal. "There are more and more studies showing that participation in the arts has an impact on student achievement," says Ray. "The arts are wonderful tools for helping kids learn in their most optimal way."

Here are some suggestions for fostering your child's creativity and love of art, and for supporting art education at school. These come courtesy of the National PTA and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, as part of their joint "Be Smart, Include Art" project.

Talk about art. One of the best ways to get your child excited about art is to be enthusiastic yourself. Talk about the history of a special work of art in your own home — a quilt, a piece of pottery, or a painting.

Take a walk in your community, looking and talking about the buildings you and your child see. Talk about their differences — types of roofs, number and placement of doors and windows, construction materials and decoration. How does the way a building looks (its form) help what it's used for (its function)?

Finally, encourage your child to talk about art. What does he like or not like and why?

Provide materials. Encourage your child's interest in art by providing materials and a place to create art. Crayons, modeling clay, scraps of yarn and fabric, different kinds of paper and found objects such as shells, twigs, buttons can be used to help your children make their own art. Provide a special place to work, such as an old table, and a drawer or shelf to store the materials. Making art can be messy, but it is important to encourage a child's creativity. Provide bibs and aprons for your children and papers and cloths to cover surfaces and floors.

Encourage creativity. Help your child come up with original ideas and build upon them. You might do this by reading only the beginning of a story, then asking your child to draw a picture showing how the story might end. Or make a squiggle on a piece of paper and ask your child to use it as the beginning of a drawing.

When your child creates a work of art, accept the child's work and his or her viewpoint of it so that you encourage the child to explore art further. Be positive and give praise sincerely. For example, point out a detail that is creative. You can always comment on something in the work, such as its design or its originality. Ask the child questions about the artwork.

Stimulate interest. See if your community has a local art museum or cultural center and whether classes or programs for youth and families are available. Watch for special events such as art fairs. First arouse your child's interest by talking about what you will see or do. A visit to a museum featuring ancient Egyptian art objects might sound boring to children. So tell them that they're going to see mummies, old jewelry, and good luck charms created to ward off evil spirits. While touring the museum talk about the shapes and colors that make the objects interesting and attractive.

You can also make art interesting by relating it to something that your child already enjoys. A child who is fascinated by the sea might find the paintings of Winslow Homer exciting. A pre-teen who loves science fiction may enjoy seeing paintings by Salvador Dali or M.C. Escher. Encourage pride in your cultural heritage by helping children find art and artists representing your culture — for example, Harlem Renaissance art, Navaho weaving, origami, etc. Ask your librarian for help. Go through the books with your child. Then visit an art museum.


Support art education in the community. There are ways that you can become involved in making and keeping art education a vital part of your school and community. Become an advocate for improving your school's art program.

Work together with other parents, your local PTA, members of art organizations, and other community members to stress the importance of art education in the home, community, and school. Consider meeting with your school's principal to see what the PTA and other art support groups can do to support an effective art curriculum. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Sponsor a series of family "art outings" to local galleries, art museums, and art fairs.
  2. Participate in local or national art programs.
  3. Look into opportunities to exhibit children's artwork at banks, libraries, city hall, airports, and other public places. Adults may be surprised at how interesting children's art is and how much interest children have in creating art.
  4. Arrange a series of after-school art classes for children, parents or both. Plan a special exhibition of work produced in class to bring the program to a successful close.
  5. Encourage teachers to invite community artists to the classroom to talk about their work.
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