When school budgets get cut, art programs are usually the first to go. However, several studies have shown that participating in fine arts benefits students across different subjects. Likewise, art education often levels the playing field for students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and even has implications in students’ social interactions.
Reading and Math
Students’ reading and math skills benefit from participation in fine arts performances. Children learning to read and write learn to associate letters with sounds. Not only does music help with that process, it has proven effective in supporting language learning, according to the National Assembly of State Art Agencies, or NASAA. Additionally, young children enjoy the experience of reading when combined with dramatic play. Research conducted by NASAA found music instruction helps students develop their spatial-temporal reasoning, meaning that students have a greater capacity to comprehend how objects or ideas relate in space and time. Performance arts, such as drama and music, therefore, activate key learning strategies that students need for the basic academic skills.
Performance arts help naturally build mental skills, such as imagination, observation, abstract thought and pattern recognition. For example, a 2002 NASAA study of high school students showed that those who participated in dance scored higher on standardized tests of abstract thought than did non-dancers. This connection makes sense; dancers need to picture how their movements look from the outside and how they fit into a larger context. Likewise, musicians study patterns of notes and sounds, a skill they can transfer to other learning. Thus, students creating and appreciating art build their observational skills.
Community and Confidence
Performance arts usually involve a community, which gives students the opportunity to socialize with others who share their passion. However, art has deeper implications for social development, as well. According to a 1999 study conducted by the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, participation in art has been linked to higher student motivation and engagement in school. Getting ready for a performance or completing an art project helps foster responsibility, as well. A 2002 NASAA study focusing on juvenile offenders shows that not only does dance promote confidence, it helps develop tolerance. Creating art is personal, and the acts involved have the ability to change children’s self-image for the better.
A sense of community and motivation to attend school is especially beneficial to students who are in the lower percentile socioeconomically. Many such students are at-risk for dropping out. Participation in drama, music or fine arts classes sometimes provides the sole reason these students attend school. Just like with sports, schools generally have a minimum grade requirement to participate in these programs, further motivating formerly disengaged students to succeed academically. Additionally, mastering a skill, such as learning guitar, and performing for peers fosters confidence and self-esteem that disadvantaged students might lack. Quite often these students have little experience with the arts outside of school.
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