The Blank Canvas of the Child’s Mind: The Benefits of Choosing an Arts Education for Kids
I was signing my kids up for an after-school arts program in New York recently and wound up having a very interesting conversation with another parent. She told me she had let her son try just about every type of sport out there but nothing really sparked his interest. So she switched gears and they gave music classes a try. She said it was the best decision she ever made! Her son discovered a hidden talent for the guitar and now plays in his school band, and even sometimes entertains relatives at family parties with mini performances.
Her son is far from the only child who prefers to exert creative energy over physical. Arts programs for kids are a wonderful opportunity for children to display their individuality while bolstering creativity and inspiring confidence. And there are so many to choose from! Arts classes aren’t limited to “art” per se; these programs can include music, painting, drawing, dance, drama, photography, crafting and much more.
The benefits of arts programs for kids are seemingly endless, but I wanted to know more about the specific advantages of arts-inspired extracurricular activities since I had just registered my own child for one. So I spoke to some directors of various arts programs offering arts classes for kids in and around New York, and they painted a colorful picture for me.
Using Art to Unplug
In a world where real-life activities take a backseat to electronic devices, it’s more important than ever to encourage your child to partake in more productive hobbies. “Unplugging from technology and engaging with the arts expands the imaginations of children, along with having the satisfaction of creating something with their own hands.
Working with clay develops creative problem solving skills, fine motor skills and builds confidence and has the added bonus of being electronics free. When your hands are covered in clay, you can’t play with electronics!” says Nancy Yates, Communications Manager of Clay Art Center in Westchester.
The Importance of Self-Expression
Arts programs encourage kids to be themselves in their own distinct way, which can function as an avenue for big feelings or even a distraction from the stresses of everyday life. “Participation in the arts allows children a necessary outlet to express themselves, to discover more about their own unique identities, and to make sense of their world, all with the guidance and support of an encouraging creative community.
At PGC, children are exposed to a wide variety of arts experiences and encouraged to find their place in our creative, supportive community,” says Jill Abusch, Artistic Director at Play Group Theatre in Westchester.
“Sometimes, music is the only thing that gets your mind off everything else. Bach to Rock music school provides music education for all ages, all instruments, and all skill levels. Their goal is to provide quality instruction, a nurturing and supportive environment where students can learn and grow as musicians – and have fun!” adds Elana Hayden, Director of Bach to Rock in Port Washington, Long Island.
Katy Knowles, Director of Education at TADA! Youth Theater in New York explains the importance of the arts and self-expression, saying “At TADA! we use the artform of musical theater to explore students’ interests and identity, and to create an environment where students can make connections with other students who have different life experiences.
By creating a safe and brave environment, we allow students to show up as their authentic selves, and share and celebrate who they are. Through the artform of musical theater, we see students celebrate and accept who they are, become empathic young people who cheer on their peers, and take brave, bold risks with confidence.”
How Art Boosts Self-Esteem
Arts programs not only stimulate self-expression, but they boost a child’s self-esteem. In fact, heightened self-esteem is probably the most common – arguably the most important – benefit a child will get from an arts education of any sort. “Art-making is inherently stress reducing, whether you are dancing, singing, painting or creating with clay.
Participating in a positive activity where kids can often see the ‘magic’ immediately in their work helps them to feel good, which builds confidence and self-esteem,” says Jessica Cioffoletti, Director of Arts in Education at ArtsWestchester.
“Being able to have the ability and the ease to speak or perform in front of an audience of any size is a useful tool these children take with them for the rest of their lives. Learning a show and then having the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience is one of the biggest confidence builders these young artists can have. Nothing puts a smile on their face like applause,” adds Heather Capelle, Owner and Artistic Director of Artistree Performing Arts in Mamaroneck.
Loren Anderson, Owner and Director of KAC Art Center in Westchester also emphasizes the effects arts can have on self-esteem. “In my experience, when a child creates something they are proud of, they develop confidence in their own abilities.
There is nothing better than seeing the look of pride on a child’s face when they realize they can create a beautiful painting, drawing or piece of pottery. Many kids who love art may not excel at more typical activities such as sports. At KAC I have seen these children flourish by being around like-minded children in an environment that values their specific talents,” says Anderson.
Encouraging Kids to Try Art
But what happens if your child is insecure in their creative abilities or feels they simply won’t enjoy or benefit from an arts program? Should you still encourage them to try? The answer, according to our arts experts, is a resounding yes. Art is all about overcoming insecurities while having fun.
Geri Kushner, Director of Music Institute of Long Island, shares a noteworthy quote: “Shinchi Suzuki, famous music educator and creator of the Suzuki Method, said ‘Every child is talented. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability, just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited.’”
The Many Benefits of Art Programs
Okay, so art clearly builds confidence. But there are tons of other reasons and for trying out an arts program for kids in New York. Beth Fritz-Logrea, Founder and Director of Logrea Dance Academy in Westchester cites the many impacts arts can have on a child. “The creative impact of the arts can be seen in many facets of a child’s life, including their confidence, discipline, creativity and development.
They acquire so many skills that greatly impact their academic school success and make them into more well-rounded adults. As we tell our parents, whether your child wants a career in dance, or just wants to dance for the joy of it, he or she will learn life skills at Logrea that will last a lifetime,” she states.
“I feel an arts education is so important for children because it teaches them the power of creativity and empathy. In theater, for example, our students learn to work together collaboratively as a cast and express themselves in a safe environment in the classroom and onstage,” says Heather Capelle.
“Music teaches confidence, enjoyment, sense of accomplishment, and belonging. Music is inclusive for children of all backgrounds and ethnicities. Music students learn to focus, how to study better, and how to be a better student in school, focusing on one concept at a time,” says Geri Kushner.
“The arts are truly powerful. Through the artform of musical theater, we teach students how to be empathetic to others, take brave and bold risks, and celebrate and be proud of who they are,” says Katy Krowles.
The Arts and Covid
The past two years have been intense, to say the least. Covid took a toll on everyone. But according to Debbie Molodofsky, Founder and Director of Amadeus Conservatory in Westchester, there has never been a better time to indulge in the arts.
“As we emerge from the virtual world of the pandemic, learning to play live music is a wonderful release and source of happiness for children. Many parents of our music students have told me over the last two years that learning to play music or sing has become a great solace to their children as well as an important source of fun and happiness. It has helped with their sense of individual accomplishment as well as self esteem,” she explains.
Getting an Arts Education at Summer Camp
With June just around the corner, you might be more focused on summer camp than after-school activities. But an enticing arts program could be a deciding factor when choosing where your child will be spending their summer vacation.
“At summer camp when kids are involved in activities in creative and performing arts, it helps campers build confidence and allow for self expression,” points out Dee Dee Horowitz, Assistant Director of Beth Sholom Day Camp in Long Island.
Here in New York, art students are fortunate to have some of the most talented and caring teachers in the world who want to see them thrive and flourish creatively. We also are lucky to have so many options for great art programs.
When asked about the importance of the arts, Dr. Gines Cano, Owner and Director of Crestwood Music Education Center in Westchester puts it simply: “I firmly believe the arts are a necessity and not a luxury in the 21st century. Being introduced to music and instruments is an essential part of developing one’s imagination, creativity and humanization.” I think we can all agree, and that the same applies to arts programs of any kind.