Can I Kick It or Can I Kick It Out?: Music and Arts Education for Children and Young Kids

Christian Charley

Look in the corner of your room and go find the recorder you were given back in elementary school. Now go ahead, pack it up, grab breakfast from mom/dad, then get on the bus and be on your merry way. You may have loved to play the recorder, or you may have hated it, who’s to say. Either way, that art class of yours was always something you looked forward to, because it was so different from your structured schedule of a day like english or math. You loved it. It was fun, and it was a good break. Now, the next day comes, and you go to school in fondness of this class, but your principal comes and says “there will no longer be any art classes in the curriculum (or calendar, since you probably wouldn’t know what the latter word was at the time), and the only explanation he offers you is “we don’t think it’s necessary.” How would that make you feel? Maybe you resonated with a lot of what I just wrote, or maybe you’re lost with the experience of the scenario. If it’s the latter, chances are you enjoyed goofing off in band class (or maybe you were the best student there? The plot thickens!) As you pretend that I’m clearing my throat at the moment, scenarios like what was just described are a lot more common in the academic curriculum than you may think. 

Music and the arts are regarded as something that is beautiful, something that is essential, and something that can evoke emotion with a simple melody. We know about music from an early age, and sometimes, we even participate in it from an early age. As all things pass by, music becomes part of our daily lives as early as kindergarten. 

It’s even essential to the school system…well, at least it should be.

Really, some schools have started to see any form of arts education, especially music, unnecessary, saying that their students really only need to focus on their academics. Why is that the case? Is art not very “schooly?” Is it specific for people who only have the talent? Here’s the answer: it’s not. In fact, music and the arts education play a much more important role in academics for kids and young children than one may think. How, you might ask? Let’s kick it like Q-Tip and figure that out right now.

“Education policies almost universally recognize the value of arts.”

“Art”: Is that what they call it?”

So first of all, we should establish some ground work real quick. We’re talking about arts education, so that means music, arts n crafts, plays, dancing, all that jazz. You good on that? Perfect. Now, scrap everything I just told and let’s start over. What is art, exactly? Why is it so beneficial to our education? This question alone has been tackled a lot more often than you might think. 

Art, at the end of the day is the culmination of creativity. That’s the basic lens you can look at it from. When one tries to teach art in the world of academia, they are trying to teach people how to be creative as an overall mindset. Not just in crafty supplies, but as a perspective moving forward in life (remember that last sentence for later in this blog, thank me later!). There’s a lot that many people have been able to show art education has on academics, especially when it comes to music. For instance, arts have been known to provide gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. That’s what the entire world thinks! Well, it’s at least what Edutopia writer Fran Smith thinks, as she dives into the numerous evidence stating how much education policies thrive on an arts education. There’s even signs to show that it helps improve that fact through the years arts education is still allowed for a student. Take that, No Child Left Behind act.…I’m kidding, I’m sure you’re great. 

Mother educating son on Guitar

But again, let’s remind ourselves. What exactly is art? 

Notice the amount of times art has already been said. That’s because the very concept of the fact it’s an “arts” education is also argued as well. Just change the wording and everything set, right? Some people think that’s the case, specifically talking more about creating an education that thrives more on the concept of creativity rather than art. Danny Gregory, a journalist for Phi Delta Kappan, believes this to be the case and strongly argues why, specifically for children becoming teenagers. Seriously, this man has a passion for everything that can be considered art to be…well, “not art.” For some odd reason, and I’m sure some of you reading this can relate, when art is tacked onto one’s academic career, they’re suddenly isolated from their peers simply because the interests don’t align. Ya know, peer pressure and all those things we gotta deal with when we’re young dumb and broke. 

Turns out, Smith was right! And Gregory! Well…neither were really wrong. 

In fact, someone can prove both of them right. Let’s bring in our guest Stajka Rajic, a researcher who conducted a study with a game titled Musical Monkeys (an experimental survey game where children would play to see how their cognitive skills would enhance) to see the relationship between music and academic performance. Sure enough, the study showed that because of music, students memorized better, worked faster, and thought more critically. This is believed to be because of the required memorization and commitment techniques needed in order to remember what music is being played. 

So yeah, music really does help in the academic world. Here’s the knee slapper part: everyone knows that. Seriously, there’s enough data out there in this world that has proven numerous times that music does help academic performance. So why, as I beg on my knees as a fellow musician to the world, why oh why do schools continue to remove them from their curriculum? 

“How often does performance and listening go on in the typical school classroom today? If the classroom is using music, they happen a lot. And if music is a model for spatial-temporal reasoning in the future, then teachers will have to look at musical processes as a resource to teaching and learning in other areas that include performance and problem solving as time unfolds”

– Lawrence Scripp

The Higher Ups Interventions

Like you can expect, there are still a lot of obstacles that need to be overcome. Sit down, NCLB act, you ain’t one of them right now. Take a moment to think about a time you were in kindergarten or middle school. Did you have an arts program? What were the teachers like? Did they care or not? Did they openly share about their situations in the classroom? What about promotions? Did your school ever promote the arts program? Did they pride themselves on it, or was it just there? If your schools were anything like mine, you’ll know that the arts education world was kind of a cult to find for itself. 

And here’s the kicker (play on the title…get it?): that’s not uncommon. Why?

Photo by Greta Hoffman

Well, the best place to go to for information of the most highest degree is none other than a conservatory, and it just so happens that a writer from New England’s conservatory named Lawerence Scripp talks about the specifics on what’s holding back the arts education world, specifically music, in academics: It has to share the same purpose as other academic disciplines, and it has to bear responsibility for learning and teaching in other domains. He also conducted an experiment that would showcase not how well someone could play music, but how well someone could remember it. It goes hand and hand with the experiment Rajic conducted. Wow, once again, it’s proven. There. Is. A. Benefit. So what’s the problem? 

To put it simply, it’s almost a trend to not care about art.

As the NCLB act sits in their chair blushing with embarrassment, school curriculums themselves will go as far as not fund their entire arts education program. Man, they’ll even make them go to their own building, not a part of the school. Isn’t that crazy? It’s like sending your kid to summer camp for free, and unintentionally. Many music educators have mentioned how neglected they can feel by the administration in their schools, often wondering where their program can go if it wasn’t simply organized by themselves. Whether this will change or not in the near future is ultimately anyone’s guess. 

At the end of the day, here’s what we know. We know that the arts education works. Music is helpful, plays are fun, drawing is colorful, and using the timeframe to beg your teacher to do your work for you because you have no idea how to paint is the way to go…ok maybe that one was just me (thanks, Mrs. Howell). Regardless, it’s clear that in no way shape or form does art education negatively affect a child’s cognitive development. It just seems to be a trend to believe that it does not benefit. The origin of something along these lines can be dated back to when my two people loved each other, and yet somehow there’s even more layers to it now than there used to be. In full honesty, Gregory may have been on to something, and Scripp seemed to agree to a certain extent. The education field of art itself isn’t seen as negative, it simply needs to be recognized. 

Well tell me where the parade is then! I’ll bring my instruments, my signs, my flags, all of it to showcase the love I have for arts education. 

Photo by Greta Hoffman

On a serious note, what does art mean to you? Does music run through your veins and into your heart until it finds a piece of you that it can relate to? Do plays give you chills, or go in one ear and out the other? Whatever it is to you, tell that to your kids, your nieces and nephews, your second cousins. While you’re at it, tell it to the school’s administrators and let them hear you out, to bring the recognition to art that it so deserves. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to continue to listen to lofi music as I finish this blog with bags under my eyes. I heard it’ll help me with critical thinking. 

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