Over the course of my over 20 years of teaching at Country Day, I've seen firsthand what an essential piece the arts play in a child's development and feel so lucky to be part of a school that embraces learning through play and allows teachers the flexibility to implement the curriculum in ways that meet our particular class' needs. If you look at our classroom it appears, at first glance, to be filled with toys, blocks, dress up, and other childhood items, but to a CDS teacher's eyes it is filled with the carefully curated tools children need to practice social skills, engage cognitive skills, enhance physical skills, and discover our world. Research shows that the reduction in time spent on art in schools nationwide is taking a toll, as discussed in an Atlantic article The Diminishing Role of Art in Children's Lives.
Art is one of the most popular centers in our Monkeys classroom this year. Mrs. Roomian and I have designed our art space to be accessible to the children and make it easy for them to self select materials and pursue artistic visions independently. Despite the appearance that the children are just drawing, which some might argue is taking valuable time away from academics, a lot of work and careful planning our classroom art experiences to meet a number of curricular goals.
For example, we know that a necessary precursor to writing is building the arm strength needed to support the body at a writing surface, move the writing arm independently and with control, and have enough stamina and hand strength to write without tiring quickly. One of the best ways to develop these motor skills is working at a vertical surface, such as the whiteboard we mindfully have built into the classroom, or at easels, writing 'upside down' on the bottom of a table, or doing activities like bark rubbings.
Occasionally we will plan focused art experiences which target specific skills, such as painting with golf balls or marbles to build arm muscles while creating "spider" art for Halloween, or promoting fine motor control and pinching using eye droppers while learning about color mixing.
We intentionally select art materials available for students to choose for free-choice art to not only open up the artistic possibilities for the children, but also to help practice fine motor and pencil grip when using brushes and markers, learn how to exert the desired amount of force when drawing with crayons and pastels, or how to control the hand to use scissors and glue. Our class is working on these vital skills without even realizing it as they express themselves creatively.
Teacher involvement, guidance, and awareness is essential. Recently we noticed that a few children had the idea to create a treasure map, and with just the right amount of teacher support the whole class became involved and we seized upon the learning opportunities this presented. This one activity incorporated math concepts like measuring and sequencing the steps to find the treasure, included vocabulary building and language skills such as using the correct prepositions and directional phrases when discussing the map route, collaboration as the children worked together to put their vision on paper, and social skills built by sharing their ideas and creations with one another. As a result of the excitement generated, what began as a student inspired treasure map making activity became an inspiration for a greater unit on pirates in dramatic play.
As you can see art is a valuable part of every day in our classroom! For more reasons art is essential, check out the PBS Parents post on The Importance of Art in Child Development, or ask your child's teacher.