Health & Fitness

Teaching kids about the arts helps develop their social, emotional skills

The newly renovated Five Millers Family Foundation Gallery, South Florida and My Gallery and Me at Miami Children’s Museum.
The newly renovated Five Millers Family Foundation Gallery, South Florida and My Gallery and Me at Miami Children’s Museum. Miami Herald file

When you introduce your children to museums, dance and theater, you’re exposing them to more than just a fun extracurricular activity, you’re introducing them to the world of art, culture and inclusiveness. And that means piloting them toward excellence.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has found strong evidence proving that art has a positive effect on young children (infants through 8-year-olds), which aids in the development of their social and emotional skills.

Exposure to the arts, be it as simple as finger-painting to as extensive as seeing a Broadway-level show, is not simply a creative pursuit, but rather a means to help children learn about other, seemingly unrelated subjects. Study after study, in fact, has shown that children who explore and participate in creative and artistic outlets perform better at reading, writing and math; develop self-confidence and self-esteem; boost self-reliance; and increase empathy and compassion.

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Rachel Spector, MSW, has over 20 years’ experience in the field of early care and education; she currently oversees funding for early childhood development at The Children’s Trust. thechildrenstrust.org

Here’s how you can add more art appreciation to your child’s life:

  • Create a stimulating environment. Make their sleep and play spaces colorful and interesting with mobiles, posters and creative toys.

  • Bring art into your home. Simply having art on the walls can help immerse your child in creativity. That doesn’t just mean paintings; sculpture, music and books are all pieces of the puzzle.

  • Establish an always evolving art station. Make it age-appropriate and change it up as your child grows. Start off with chunky crayons before moving onto materials such as colored pencils, watercolors, modeling material, ribbons, glitter and so on, and keep them accessible for use at any time.

  • Point out illustrations in books. Talk about colors, shapes and mediums used. Who is the illustrator? What do you know about their life? Are other works of theirs similar? Illustrations can also lead to conversations about literature and the author behind it.

  • Discover the art all around you. Point out the designs of clouds, the colors of the sunset, the shape of tree branches, etc. Visit park statues and city murals; bring a sketchbook with you and encourage your child to draw what they see.

  • Participate. Family involvement will encourage kids to better appreciate art. So, doodle alongside your child or bring your own sketchbook to nature outings. Take kids to museums, the ballet and music festivals. Don’t just be a bystander — ask questions so your child is absorbing and learning as much as possible.

  • Research. Find books or other resources that relay the history of famous artists, writers and performers, and talk about that with your child; how the artist lived, the period they lived in and how their culture most likely affected their subject and style, which gives an added history lesson.

  • Be crafty. Use special times such as holidays to incorporate art into your child’s life by handcrafting your own Valentine’s cards, dying Easter eggs, carving pumpkins, decorating birthday cakes and so on. If family is coming over, encourage your child to put on a show for guests. The appreciation (and applause) from a short program will go a long way toward creating inspiration — and building confidence.

  • Take the next step. Use your child’s interest to springboard to other activities. If, for example, your child likes photography, give them access to a digital camera or help create photo scrapbooks of their work. If they prefer drawing, make collages for display around the house. If your child is more into dance or music, enroll them in classes. Two great places to look for what options are available are the Find A Program function on The Children’s Trust website (thechildrenstrust.org/find-a-program) and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs (miamidadearts.org).

  • Embrace disorder. Allow kids to dream, play and get messy. This includes giving them permission to be free and whimsical. When kids are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they develop a sense of innovation that will be important in their adult lives.

  • Look to your community. Visit your local library, patronize museums, plan a day trip or even consider hosting a foreign exchange student to give your child a glimpse into another culture.

  • Travel. Build cultural awareness by exposing your child to the way others live. You don’t have to go abroad to do this; it can be as simple as visiting Little Havana, Little Haiti or another of Miami’s proudly ethnic neighborhoods, or attending a culturally significant parade or show.

Rachel Spector, MSW, has over 20 years’ experience in the field of early care and education; she currently oversees funding for early childhood development at The Children’s Trust. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.
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