By Gabrielle Corley, Education Team Member
Everyone seems to love something about the arts. Whether it’s dabbling with clay, singing in a choir, or listening to a free park concert, there is something for the creative soul that resides in all of us. But did you know that the arts, in all their varied forms, have some serious brain benefits as well?
Research shows that art in any form helps with cognitive development in children. Research done at the Truman Institute at the University of Missouri has shown that participation in the arts has a powerful influence on students, ranging from critical thinking and problem-solving skills to greater tolerance and empathy for others. There are also correlational studies that show that students who participate in an art activity (music, theater, dance, or visual arts) are more likely to graduate and pursue higher education.
So what can parents do to encourage art experiences at home? You probably already encourage your child. You might have watched a play with together, or bought her a new box of crayons, or enrolled him in a dance class. There are so many ways to inspire a greater interest and appreciation for the arts: here are some ideas you might find appealing.
Public Art abounds in the St. Louis Metro Area. The City Garden downtown is outdoors, completely free and accessible 24/7 all year round. You can find famous sculpture by artists like Keith Haring and Tony Smith mixed with water features, stone, architecture, and design. Likewise, the Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills, features acres full of famous sculpture and eye-opening exhibits. It’s also outdoors and free, although not open all the time. Museums and Galleries are also numerous across the Metro area. Of course, the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park is world-renowned (and free except for special exhibits). It also has a stunning outdoor sculpture garden. Art Saint Louis, downtown, features juried multimedia shows that highlight St. Louis-area artists and focus on various broad themes such as experiences and feeling, light and dark, and intricate detail. Admission is free.
Let your kiddos dance and shout with the region’s many outdoor summer concerts. They are in nearly every neighborhood and almost always free. Some of the most popular concerts are at the Botanical Gardens in the Shaw neighborhood, the Jungle Boogie concerts at the St. Louis Zoo, and Music on the Main in historic old St. Charles.
Theater experiences are all around the area as well. Two On The Aisle on Educate.Today’s sister site, hecmedia.org, has reviews of every local theater production and a theater calendar. Shakespeare in the Park features a different production every summer in Forest Park and has extended runs. It is very kid friendly with traveling mimes and court musicians sometimes making an appearance. Nearly 1,500 free seats are available for every Muny performance in Forest Park on a first- come, first-served basis. Each season has a stellar lineup including two child-focused productions. Paid seats are also available and reasonably priced.
At home, tune into Educate.Today on January 24th for an all-day live show called ‘Inspiring Your Heart with Art’. You can tune in (and out) at any time so you can fit a little inspiration into your day. There will be guests and experts discussing and demonstrating their art, and an exciting line-up of art project ideas to inspire creativity. The show will later be archived and accessible to all at any time.
Books are another avenue to introduce new topics and inspire young artists. For example, before visiting a museum with elementary learners, share a picture book like Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes, by David Goldin. It’s told from the viewpoint of a discarded ticket. The author combines actual artwork, found pieces and digital art to introduce young readers to all that museums have to offer.
If your student has a tech interest, Create Music with Scratch (Project Code), by Kevin Wood and illustrated by Glen McBeth combines arts and technology in an intriguing way. This book builds on scratch (easy to learn computer coding) skills to compose music. Your child can try ready-made blocks of code to produce simple projects and use them as inspiration and models for new ideas.
Middle grade kids often love paging through non-fiction books with LOTS of things in them. The Arts: A Visual Encyclopedia by DK is chock full of items that chart the evolution of the world’s greatest cultural achievements in painting, sculpture, photography, music, and dance. It offers many jumping off points for further exploration.
A fun title that gets kids moving is also a good way to encourage artistic skills. Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out! Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is exactly that. While creating a dynamic collection of songs, rhymes, and stories with origins in African American history, the author recalls most of the examples from her childhood in Missouri and Tennessee, and shares her own versions as well as memories and anecdotes. Extensive research highlights the histories behind these classics.
Older students might want to learn a little history as well. Artists: Their Lives and Works by DK, explores the vision and techniques of the greatest painters and sculptors throughout history, and tells the fascinating stories behind each masterpiece, including the historical context in which each artist worked, their influences, creative development, friendships, loves, and rivalries.
A budding teen musician might also be interested in something career motivated, like Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs by John Crossingham. This book covers everything from music being our universal language, to learning to play instruments, to promoting a band.
And finally, don’t forget to check out Educate.Today anytime for a great line-up of programming featuring visual artist interviews and demonstrations, discussions with playwrights and theater folk, musicians, and more. There really is something for everyone!
Art is all around us. Just by walking down the street with open eyes, you can find many jumping off points for encouraging your student to think about art and how it inspires their lives. Play, participate, enjoy, and nurture those creative souls and brains.