National Arts in Education Week is in full swing. Those advocating for enhanced theater, music, dance and visual arts curriculums in K-12 schools are doing so out of true belief, especially because of the benefits arts education brings to students.
In general, research has shown that children involved in arts education have enhanced cognition skills and greater attention to learning, according to The Dana Consortium’s “Learning, Arts, and the Brain.” The study found that the students’ attention and memory-retrieval skills crossed over into other subjects.
Many other studies have found that arts education leads to higher test scores. An Arts for Life Award blog post quotes several studies proving this point:
- Of more than 25,000 middle and high school students researched by UCLA, those with high arts involvement scored higher on standardized achievement tests than those who weren’t involved. They also watched less TV and performed more community service.
- Students in music performance courses scored 57 points higher on the SAT’s verbal section and 41 points higher on the math section than those with no arts participation, according to the College Entrance Examination Board.
- The Increasing Student Achievement Through the Arts study found that Chicago ninth-graders in a program that integrated arts education with traditional studies were reading one grade level ahead of those not involved with the program.
The test scores are good, and the brain is working at an enhanced level. What else can there be?
Think about self-confidence. “Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences,” a Washington Post article stated.
It’s not just theater. Music and dance students go through the same type of rehearsal process before performing on stage, at halftime or in competition. Visual arts students create multiple iterations of a work before finally completing the one they are confident to display at the school or community show.
Which leads to another skill learned from arts education, according to The Post’s article: Perseverance – which will be much needed in the workforce.
Arts-education benefits start as early as preschool and can be of great help in child development, according to a PBS.org article. Three-year-olds drawing a circle and 4-year-olds cutting off straight lines with scissors, along with the simple use of coloring pictures with crayons, are the earliest forms of arts education and are essential in developing motor skills. These projects simply advance as the children get older, all the way into working with multiple media when in high school.
Theater also helps develop verbal communication skills. Obviously, to paraphrase Prince Hamlet, the dialogue’s the thing, but simply reciting the lines doesn’t get the writer’s message across. Actors must voice subtleties, inflections, emotions and foreign accents.
Theater and dance are also excellent to learn non-verbal communication. The previously referenced Washington Post article states, “Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to break down the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.”
While dialogue is the key element in any theatrical production, body movement also is crucial. Much is said by actors’ facial expressions, the way they move on stage and their body gestures. With video becoming a part of arts curriculum, non-verbal motion takes a more dominant role.
And in dance, of course, there is no dialogue. It’s all non-verbal. The story is told through body movement and the interaction of the dancers.
That movement in dance pieces uncovers another benefit of dance education: health. While dance is an artistic activity, one could also categorize it as physical education or athletics. A Better Health Channel blog post lists some of the health benefits of dance:
- Improved heart and lung conditioning, and aerobic fitness
- Increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
- Improved muscle tone
- Weight management
- Stronger bones and less risk of osteoporosis later in life
- Better coordination, agility and flexibility
- Improved balance and spatial awareness
It is possible that these health benefits could carry over into other active artistic activities – such as musical theater or marching band.
Arts education has myriad benefits to students that carry over into other areas of school and to life, now and into adulthood. Beyond an artistic skill, this education can improve cognitive abilities, real-world interaction, and student health.