We’ve all heard the praises of teaching science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM—but we often let the arts fall by the wayside. The current push from STEM to STEAM education urges teachers to bring art-based learning back into the curriculum, but the question is: Why? What does art have to offer young learners?
Art is an incredibly influential force in learning. Often our first assignments are art projects, be they messy finger paintings or colored alphabet pages. In addition to this simple nostalgia, art has the potential to teach young learners important principles like communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Marnie Forestieri and Debby Mitchell talk at length about the importance of art in their book Simple STEAM: 50+ Science Technology Engineering Art and Math Activities for Ages 3 to 6. Here’s what they have to say about how important art is in the curriculum:
“The arts are vital for engaging, inspiring, and promoting a sense of innovation. Research studies of programs using performing-arts strategies in the classroom provide evidence that the arts improve children’s language and literacy skills and allow them to develop innovation, initiative, social skills, and creative representation.
As schools and programs shift heavily to core subjects such as math or reading, there is a lack of awareness of the importance of the arts. When children produce art they are learning to take risks by expressing themselves and being original, skills needed to innovate across different subjects. Art disciplines include visual art, performance, music, dance, and so on. Integrating arts into other subjects helps children understand concepts more clearly.”
Art is important to the groundwork for abstract thinking and awareness. Giving children the opportunity to express themselves is also vital for their continued social and emotional growth, especially after they reach an age where free play is no longer part of their daily curriculum. That freedom of expression encourages children to develop their ideas and feelings in a manner that they can one day use to help others or make changes in the world. Innovation has to start somewhere, so why not with paint and paper?
Art projects that require children to work together are particularly useful. The collaboration encourages joint problem solving and communication, and children learn to share their ideas with others. It builds confidence to see your own creation praised and examined by your peers, and that confidence can extend beyond the classroom.
Art is so much more than a bygone piece of classroom life. It is a platform for enabling innovation and creative thinking, which is a vital piece of any learning environment.