Parents are faced with a dizzying amount of information on what, exactly, children should be learning in school or after school. They’ve been told “Creativity is Essential for 21st Century Skills”. So what exactly are those skills any why are they necessary?
Here’s a short quiz – it’s easy, True or False?
Question: Art is just for kids who like to draw. Unless a ‘gifted’ child likes to spend time doodling, sketching or drawing there’s no reason to spend valuable educational hours on a visual arts curriculum.
Answer: False. It has been proven through government studies that art education measurably increases a child’s academic achievement. According to the PCAH Turnaround: Arts Initiative, “Research shows that when students participate in the arts they are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, have higher GPAs and SAT scores and show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12. They are also more likely to be engaged and cooperative with teachers and peers and are more self-confident and better able to express their ideas.” What parent doesn’t want those benefits?
Question: A course of study in the Visual Arts will only benefit that small number of children who have ‘natural talent’ in hands-on artwork.
Answer: False. Art class isn’t just about making clay dinosaurs. A comprehensive, standards based art curriculum teaches the 16 elements and principles – those like line, shape, color, and emphasis – that teach children to effectively communicate in our overwhelmingly visual world.
It’s well known that there’s a connection between the Arts and creativity. It’s also known that a Visual Arts training enhances a skill known as ‘visualization’. Not coincidentally, those both contain the word ‘visual’. So what exactly is visualization, and why is it such an important part of children’s education?
Visualization can be explained with one simple question:
What did you eat for breakfast?
Note: This one isn’t true or false.
Answering this question defines visualization. First, the brain goes back in time and recalls an image – in this case it’s (probably) food – then labels it with words for the answer. That’s it. The ability of the mind to creates a picture to solve a problem or answer a question. Visualization skills are innate, yet children tend to lose them during the transition to adulthood. As with creativity, visualization skills need to be developed and encouraged in early childhood education so that they are not lost.
The ability for the brain to create complex images to solve problems is the key to creativity and innovation. Einstein didn’t change scientific thinking about the nature of the universe just because he was good with numbers. Rather, he often spoke about how he ‘was able to see’ the nature of matter and complex systems in motion, then follow with mathematical proofs. Clearly, visualization is a necessary if students are to study even high school level science and mathematics. However, at a basic level knowledge is not just a static standardized test. All of those building blocks start moving in real time. That’s where visualization is an essential skill. Children can know the names of the planets, yet without visualization skills there’s no understanding beyond rote memorization.
The last questions are actually disguised answers.
What does this have to do with the Visual Arts? well, Art is a visual language. If you teach children to decode art, they can understand why a Coke commercial will make them want to drink Coke.
Why start early? Why before Middle School?
Parents of teenagers know that children are most energetic and free thinking in Elementary School. By Middle School conformity sets in, and from that to teenage years parents can only hope they’ve distilled enough foundation to weather the storm. In sum, it’s never too late, but it’s always best to start early.