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Why Art is Important in Education
By Connie Bergstein Dow

What's The Problem?
There is no question that education in the U.S. is in need of some serious revamping. As stated in the 2007 report of a comprehensive study of the American workforce, “Whereas for most of the 20th century the U.S. could take pride in having the best-educated workforce in the world, that is no longer true.” (NCEE, 2007)

In proposing solutions, the authors of the study point to the development of creative thinkers as one of the keys to success: “Seeing new patterns and possibilities is the essence of creativity . . . If we are merely competent – even if our competence is world class – we will not be able to produce the new services or products that are path breaking and highly desired . . . Creativity, innovation, and flexibility will not be the special province of an elite. It will be demanded of virtually everyone who is making a decent living, from graphic artists to assembly line workers, from insurance brokers to home builders.” (NCEE, 2007) The various artistic disciplines, by definition, nurture creative thinking in children. In addition, an important gift from the world of art is that art in its many forms provides unique and multi-faceted teaching strategies to open up the world of learning to all children.

“Extras,” or Important Teaching Strategies?
The many faces of art (music, drama, visual arts, dance, poetry) have often been thought of as “extras” in traditional school curricula in the US. Increasingly, research is showing that art can be an alternative and effective path to teaching the core curriculum subjects. U.S. educators cannot afford for artistic disciplines to be simply extras in our schools, often first to face the financial chopping block in an education budget. Art must be embraced as an important tool for helping students succeed and complete the various education benchmarks: kindergarten readiness; mastery of grade school and high school subjects, standardized tests, and learning standards; and the passing of high school graduation exams. In addition to accomplishing these basic benchmarks, we must help children develop creative thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as communication and social skills. Ultimately, all of our students must be ready for college, junior college, or trade school, and then the increasingly competitive global job market.

How can art help our students reach and surpass these educational goals? Our population is becoming more and more diverse. Consequently, those who teach our children must have more techniques at their disposal to reach these diverse and different learners. Art in its many forms can reach children on a variety of levels, and often in a way that traditional approaches and methods may not. Movement is one example that is often overlooked as a teaching tool in the classroom.

Dance as a Teaching Tool
The children in a kindergarten class are restless and reluctant to settle down to learn their letters. What if the teacher used some simple dance activities instead of, or in addition to, the traditional approach? The children could stand and move in place, learning the letters and sounds that begin the names of specific movement skills. The teacher might ask the class, “What sound does the word ‘march’ begin with? That is the letter ‘m.’ Let’s march in place.” The teacher can repeat with hop, jump, jog, twist, tiptoe, turn, prance, run, balance, shake, melt, stomp, and stretch, all performed in place. Another easy movement activity that the children can perform in a small space is to make the various letter shapes with their bodies, performed while sitting or standing. (Dow, 2006)
Studies are showing that incorporating dance in the schools can lead to measurable improvements in student performance in the core curriculum subjects. A study of at-risk first graders in Chicago public elementary schools “who were taught basic letter and sound connections through improvisational movement improved more in those basic reading skills than did the control group of similarly at-risk students. The development of linguistic abilities mirrors the development of dance phrase making…dance can help children discover the 'music' of language." (Deasy, 2002)

Approaches such as the above illustration lead to developing students’ multiple intelligences, as identified by Howard Gardner. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences identifies the linguistic and mathematical intelligences, but in addition to these, he describes the musical, naturalist, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences (Gardner, 2006). As explained in a recent article in the Journal of Dance Education, “the more intelligences we use, the more holistic our understanding. So it stands to reason that teaching methodologies that involve multiple intelligences will educate students more fully. Creative movement interweaves many (if not all) intelligences simultaneously.” (Kaufmann and Ellis, 2007)

Arts and the Future
Introducing various art forms as basic teaching tools is not a particularly complex process, nor does this creative approach require more materials than would generally be available in the typical classroom in the United States. Studies increasingly show that art can enhance learning, help children to develop thinking and problem-solving skills, and improve performance on standardized tests. The recent Guggenheim Museum study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is a good example. This study showed measurable positive results after introducing visual arts and art appreciation into the elementary school curriculum. “The study found that students in the program performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills — including thorough description, hypothesizing and reasoning — than did students who were not in the program.” (Kennedy, 2006) Exposing children to music has been shown to have similar outcomes, so much so that the U.S. House of Representatives passed Concurrent Resolution 121 in April, 2007, that states: . . . the skills gained through sequential music instruction, including discipline and the ability to analyze, solve problems, communicate, and work cooperatively, are vital for success in the 21st century workplace; . . . the arts are a core academic subject, and music is an essential element of the arts. (Government Printing Office, 2007)

Research continues to tie student success to the inclusion of arts in the school curriculum. The arts can no longer be “extras” in our educational system; they must be offered in all of our schools to give students the best possible chance of success. It is vital that educational leaders in the U.S. use innovative funding, staffing, scheduling, and teaching techniques in order to bring the many benefits of art to all of our children.

Deasy, Richard J., Editor. (2002) Arts Education Partnership. Washington, D.C.
Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, 2002. www.aep-arts.org. Study: The Impact of Whirlwind's Basic Reading Through Dance Program on First Grade Students' Basic Reading Skills, 20.

Dow, C. (2006), Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! Enriching Movement Activities for Preschoolers. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 63-64.

Gardner, Howard (2006): Multiple Intelligences New Horizons. New York: Basic Books, 8-19.

Kaufmann, Karen and Ellis, Becky (2007) Preparing Pre-Service Generalist Teachers to Use Creative Movement in K-6, Journal of Dance Education, Volume 7, Number 1, 9-10.

Kennedy, Randy (2006), Guggenheim Study Suggests Arts Education Benefits Literacy Skills New York Times, http://www.learningthroughart.org.

 National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) (2007), Tough Choices Tough Times THE REPORT OF THE new COMMISSION ON THE SKILLS OF THE AMERICAN WORKFORCE. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, XVI, XVII, 24-25.

U.S. Government Printing Office, (2007), U.S. HR Concurrent Resolution 121, http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov

Author Bio
Connie Bergstein Dow, a dance educator for the past thirty-five years, is an author and former professional dancer. She has performed and taught movement classes in the United States and Latin America. Her education includes a B.A. from Denison University, and an M.F.A. in Dance from the University of Michigan.

Personal Information:
Connie Bergstein Dow
121 Elm Avenue
Wyoming, OH  45215  
513-821-7171 (h)
513-484-3778 (cell)

Supplemental Readings:
First Steps in Teaching Creative Dance to Children, by Mary Joyce, McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 3rd edition (1993)

Brain-Compatible Dance Education, by Anne Green Gilbert, American Alliance for Health and Physical Education, (2006)

Standards for Dance in Early Childhood, National Dance Education Organization, (2005)

A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision (3rd Edition) Bennett Reimer, Prentice Hall; 3rd edition (2002)

Art and Creative Development for Young Children, Delmar, a division of Thomson Learning Inc., Robert Shirrmacher, 4th Edition (2002)

The Colors of Learning, Integrating the Visual Arts Into the Early Childhood Curriculum, by Rosemary Althouse, Margaret H. Johnson, Sharon T. Mitchell, Teachers College Press and NAEYC. (2003)

Growing Artists Teaching Art to Young Children, Joan Bouza Koster, Delmar, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc., 2nd Edition (2001)

Structuring Drama Work A Handbook of Available Forms in Theatre and Drama
by David Booth, Jonothan Neelands, and Tony Goode
Cambridge University Press; 2nd Edition (2000)

Drama Classroom: Action, Reflection, Transformation
Philip Taylor, RoutledgeFalmer; 1st Edition (2000)

Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, Kenneth Koch, Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (2000)

Favorite Poetry Lessons (Grades 4-8) , Paul Janeczko, Teaching Resources (1999)

Connie Bergstein Dow, a dance educator for the past thirty-five years, is an author and former professional dancer. She has performed and taught movement classes in the United States and Latin America. Her education includes a B.A. from Denison University, and an M.F.A. in Dance from the University of Michigan.