A Heart for the Arts: Why Art is Beneficial for Kids
Parents who expose their children to the arts fill their lives with beauty, laughter and a love of learning. Kids become problem-solvers and creative, collaborative thinkers. They are more confident and expressive.
No matter where you live in metro Atlanta, kids have opportunities to participate in the arts. This can be in dance, music, art and drama classes, or while attending art festivals and live performances. Look for “The Wizard of Oz” at Alliance Theatre and “Pocahontas” at Serenbe Playhouse this year.
Atlanta Parent spoke with the experts at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education about why our kids benefit from all types of arts.
Dance involves a lot of focus, with the right and left side of the brain having to work together to create movements, which follow the chosen song or genre. And, of course, dance improves motor skills and physical fitness.
“Dance touches more senses than you think, with the mind, body and music working together,” says Sharon Story, Dean of Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education.
Children can learn discipline, how to focus and how to collaborate with a team of choreographers, stage managers, musicians and more to create a performance.
“Everyone dances, and you don’t have to be a professional to benefit. It is all about learning the joy of dance,” she says.
Story and her colleagues at the Centre for Dance Education work to make dance accessible to all students from first-time exposure in public schools to intense training for those who pursue dance as a career. The most recent project in Atlanta Public Schools brings West African, jazz and ballet dance classes into the schools.
“Students take huge pride in what they do through the arts, which creates pride for school work,” Story says. “When kids get their energy out, they are ready to sit in their chairs and learn.”
Dance studios across Atlanta offer many dance styles and programs to choose from, but the Centre works to make lessons more accessible as do other community organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club.
“Parents are investing in a highly-structured and disciplined program, which leads them [children] to a wonderful pattern for success,” she says.
Story also encourages parents to expose children to dance performances from a young age to develop enthusiasm and appreciation.
Music is essentially language put to song, and most children hear music around them from a very early age.
Through music, kids can stop and feel something they may not have before, think about word and sound combinations or musical instruments, and start to make connections with cultures and history.
“Benefits include self-expression, discipline and creativity. When composing, you have to think about an idea, weave this idea using a certain set of skills and work with an orchestra or musical group to bring it to life,” says Hollis Hudak, Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement at Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
She encourages parents to help develop a musical palate at home by always having music playing. This can be whatever you love, from jazz to blues to drum solos. “Just like palate development with nutrition with varieties of food groups,” she says.
You can sing, create games, marches or chants to the music to make it more exciting. Once your child expresses he loves drums, violin or piano, try and attend any live performance you can.
Along with other music venues around Atlanta, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra offers a few family shows per year, which welcome children to move around, mimic the conductor and take in the experience of hearing music in a large space like Atlanta Symphony Hall. Music for the Very Young is for families and children to experience music for the first time together.
“We take the very best artists from orchestral to African drummers, and let kids dance, walk and march to the music. We are planting seeds in the garden of music participants,” she says.
Being a part of a theatrical performance is all about teamwork, and through theater, children learn how to tell a story with words, music and movement.
“There is something special about engaging people in storytelling that is essential to navigating the world,” says Christopher Moses, Director of Education and Associate Artistic Director at Alliance Theatre.
When children are in acting classes, they learn about collaboration and problem solving and develop the confidence to speak in public. Kids also learn to appreciate peer’s stories, voice and diversity, which help create curious learners.
The Alliance Theatre offers a few family-focused shows throughout the year, and acting classes for all ages, as do many other smaller theaters in metro Atlanta. The Theatre for the Very Young is unique to Alliance and keeps the youngest viewers in mind when shows are developed.
“For new show development we invite little ones, and the shows are authentically built by their cues, which is wildly immersive and appeals to the five senses,” he says. “We are always looking for ways to deepen involvement, so families feel welcome.”
At home, Moses encourages parents to participate in shared storytelling and reading, and to act out family stories or books in a fun, creative way.
“Research proves theater is one of the most important ways to increase wonder and curiosity, and to develop creative individuals, which will pay off tremendously,” he says.
Creativity flourishes when children are involved in the making and appreciation of art, and they learn the process of trial and error.
“Making art is so important for the brain – trial and error, making mistakes, not everything is going to be perfect, but we need to try. Failure is so important for all of us,” says Virginia Shearer, the Director of Education at the High Museum of Art.
Shearer also believes in our fast-paced visual world, where children are bombarded with images and communicate with images like emojis, kids need to learn how to decode.
“Visual arts are critically important, and educators can teach kids how to navigate. We invite children to slow down, look closely, describe what they are seeing and share with observation skills,” she says.
From this process of making and observing art, children can begin to make connections between art in the past and today, with everyday objects like a Coca-Cola bottle and even in popular graphic novels.
Children have many opportunities for this exposure in Atlanta, when visiting the High and participating in classes or camps, or at local art studios and galleries.
“Being exposed [to art] helps everyone become empathetic, imaginative and creative, which helps build creative adults and contributors to the arts,” she says.
Parents have a big part to play, Shearer says, noting that early memories from experiencing arts together have a significant impact on children. At home, parents can decode images in books, have art supplies in reach, make connections with color and form with food at the grocery store, and travel around Atlanta to experience murals.
“Studies show the strongest arts experiences happen for children when they happen with their families. During Second Sunday [a free program at the High], we have chairs for both sizes at the same table to make art together and multi-age experiences,” she says.