Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Arts?

When I was a music teacher, I sometimes had parents expressing their conflicted feelings about putting their kids in arts activities or sports. (Our overscheduled children don't seem to have time for both... but that's a topic for another day!)

I know that sports are wonderful--teamwork, physical fitness, all of that. And if your child *loves* the sport in question, then the answer is easy. But we often saw kids who had more of a, shall we say, artistic nature being forced to participate in a sport they did not enjoy. The feeling seemed to be that the benefits of a sport absolutely outweighed any perceived benefits to the alternatives--art, music, or theater.

But let's think about this. Arts activities have some unique benefits:

*Boys and girls can play together. 
Sports by necessity need to segregate the sexes. Arts do not have such a restriction. In a choir, both are necessary for a full sound. In a play, there are almost always parts for boys as well as girls (except for "Steel Magnolias," ... but I digress.). Boys and girls get to experience working together for a common goal. That's cool!

*Arts can be a lifelong involvement.
Our family was in a summer musical once in which the ages of the actors ranged from 8 to . . . wait for it... 92! In arts activities, not only the genders but the generations can play and work together. For the individual, this means you never "age out" of the arts: You just improve and improve, and even if you blow out your ACL, you can still participate! And how cool is it for a child to participate with teenagers or adults in an activity? Talk about a self-esteem builder!

*What about physical fitness?
Pick your kids up after rehearsal for a musical and observe their healthy pink faces-- practicing a dance routine over and over can be all the exercise anyone could ever want! And a word about dance: Groups who engage in movement together actually bond strongly. It's science: dancing or moving in tandem releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) in the brain. Ken Robinson says that if there were only one course that should be required in every school, it would be dance. More and more, I agree (and I am NOT a dancer--just ask any of the kids who are following my lead for movement during rehearsal of our church Christmas musical!). But, wow--all the benefits! Fitness, coordination, cooperation, oxytocin--all wrapped up in one FUN package!

Besides dance, I would add "presentation skills" to the list of required topics in school. Think about it: There are the ubiquitous book reports in school, but the workplace also often requires presenting. People who are calm and confident when having to present their ideas to a group have a distinct advantage (and a happier time of it when that presentation looms). Teachers told me they could always identify the theater kids: They were the ones who were completely unruffled by having to speak in front of the class! Theater, singing, dancing--all of these help take a bite out of the Fear of Public Speaking. And people who are well versed in art care about creating visually appealing presentations. 'Nuff said!

So, parents, if your child would rather paint and sing than throw a ball--don't despair. They are reaping benefits that can continue through their lifetime!

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