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Why Teach the Arts?

The Arts Educate the Whole Child

The arts form an integral foundation for living and learning: arts education authentically contributes to the development of the whole child. Human development is tracked through physical, cognitive, social, and emotional milestones as skills and behaviors emerge from birth to adulthood. From birth, human beings are neurologically wired to learn about the world through their senses and movement. The sensory input received through the body influences the developmental journey of each child: learning how objects smell, taste, feel, or sound contribute to a child's physical and cognitive development; learning to sense another person's expression, gait, or tone supports the evolution of students' emotional and social regulation.

Authentic arts-based experiences provide ample opportunities for children to engage and respond to these experiences. Selective arts activities can be integrated in the classroom to improve body sense, increase physical coordination, stimulate neurological activity, and expand mental and emotional attentiveness for improved performance. Singing, drawing, dancing, and pretending are organic activities that demonstrate and reinforce these developmental skills. The interdisciplinary nature of the arts helps students make connections to themselves, others, and the surrounding world.

Watching students engage in the arts helps teachers identify strengths and deficits in each realm of development. Teachers can leverage arts activities to further develop strengths, nurture weaknesses, and ameliorate developmental gaps.

For example, if a child's eyes cannot track across the page for reading, the child may benefit from stress-free opportunities for visual tracking such as playing catch with a balloon in dance class, or drawing on paper with a pencil or in the air with their hand. These activities relax the body and enhance the mind-body connection by enabling the child to practice eye convergence, visual tracking, and hand-eye coordination in a low-stress environment. Arts activities can provide consistent relaxed practice of developmental skills.

Observing students participating in arts activities can also reveal the effects of overwhelming stress and trauma on the ability to perform normal activities. This is evidenced when people forget words or stutter when talking to a crowd. Relaxing arts activities reduce stress, helping students feel supported and empowered during their academic and personal progression. This section describes several frameworks to help teachers understand the critical importance of teaching within the arts, partly because of their intrinsic academic value, but more importantly to activate an essential mind and body connection for sound learning and healthful living.

Remember, humans are neurologically wired from birth to organically experience the world through the senses. The natural and authentic engagement of the senses in childhood is often embedded within an aesthetically-centered experience where children develop proto-skills for artistry and creativity. Designed to illuminate the connections between arts experiences and human development, check out this blog post “How developmental milestones relate to arts activities” that links arts activities to the developmental milestones from birth to five years.

Click here to review arts connections to the developmental milestones from birth to five years.

Five reasons to teach the arts in your classroom

We have divided the rest of the chapter into five reasons for teaching the arts in the classroom.


The arts develop the brain and body connection. Arts education authentically provides experiences for sensory stimulation and motor development necessary for growth and development.


The arts improve cognition. Arts education improves cognition: this section describes two frameworks that outline the benefits of arts education with regard to cognitive ability.


The arts help students learn social and emotional skills. Experiences in the arts elicit reflection and conversations to develop self-awareness and empathy to improve interpersonal skills.


The arts allow students to practice resiliency. Arts education provides strategies for students to build self-reliance through creativity and personal expression.


The arts provide a rigorous academic experience. The arts are research-based academic fields that advance knowledge and practice in each art form.

Develop the Brain and Body Connection

The physical realm of development refers to the ability of the brain and body to engage in life and learning, which involves activating the senses and refining fine and gross motor skills. The activities in this section reinforce developmental skills essential to learning through potentially pleasurable physical activities, including dancing, singing, acting, and drawing. Teachers can use these activities with the whole class in a relaxed and mindful way, reducing stress and improving learning readiness for every student. By observing students' performance in these activities, teachers can identify challenges and strengths, mastery of developmental indicators, emotional regulation, and the effects of stress or trauma.

The following describe arts activities that can be done in 5-10 minutes as simple rituals throughout the school day. In this way, all the art forms can be used as a type of "brain break" with a focus on nourishing essential skills and massaging mastery of developmental milestones. Keep a copy at your desk to remind you of the arts activities immediately available to you to help students regulate their brain and body connection.

The Arts Playbook

Pencil Play: Visual arts activities to support human development

Playful Moves: Dance and movement activities to support human development

Vocal Play: Music activities to support human development

People Play: Drama activities to support human development

Click here to download and print the entire "Arts Playbook" PDF.




Click here to download and print the entire "Arts Playbook" PDF.

Improve Cognition

The cognitive realm refers to the development of the brain and the ability of the mind to engage in learning. Neuroscience studies the formation, structure, and function of the brain. Psychology focuses on a child's skills in perceiving, processing, expressing, and conceptualizing information that is both taught and experienced. Teachers can identify when students are cognitively prepared to learn by considering students' capacities for decision making, attentiveness, focus, reflecting, analyzing, following instructions, or staying on topic. Arts education intrinsically contributes to cognitive development because art making involves problem solving, creativity, imagination, and higher-order thinking. Observing the cognitive ability of students during art making helps teachers evaluate and strengthen students' cognitive skills.

Included below are summaries of two frameworks that describe the benefits of arts education: The Studio Habits of Mind and 21st Century Skills. Elliot Eisner's list titled, "The Ten Lessons the Arts Teach" is also provided.

8 Studio Habits of Mind

A team of researchers observed effective visual arts classrooms and identified eight dispositions, or what they termed habits of mind, (and four teaching structures), that describe the real benefits of an arts education and how a classroom could operate like an art studio. The 8 Studio Habits of Mind and and the Four Studio Structures provide insight into what the arts teach and how they are taught and are observed in the performing arts and the visual arts. A full description of these dispositions and teaching structures can be found in the book Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits fo Visual Arts Education.


Learning to use tools, materials, and artistic conventions, and to care for tools, materials, and space.


Learning to engage with a project on a personal level and to focus on and persevere through art tasks.


Leaning to mentally picture what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a work of arts.


Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning.


Learning to carefully observe the world around you and examine works of art more closely, so that you see what might not be readily or obviously visible.


Learning to think and talk about art by making interpretive claims and evidenced-based judgements about works of art.


Learning to reach beyond your baseline capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to learn from mistakes.


Learning about art history, current practice, and interacting with other artists and the broader artistic community as an artist yourself.


21ST Century Skills: The Six C'S

The 21st Century Skills embody mindsets that are critical for students to develop. The ideal implementation strategy is to incorporate the 21st Century Skills into all learning experiences within the district, including across grade levels, subjects, and embedding them into each educational experience.

Success and achievement in the arts demands engagement in imagination, investigation, construction, and reflection in multiple contexts. "These meta-cognitive activities nurture the effective work habits of curiosity, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration, each of which transfers to the many diverse aspects of learning and life in the 21st century" (19, Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning located at:

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills suggests, "Anyone who has ever seen a student become excited, energized, and confident through artistic exploration has seen first-hand how arts education engages children and contributes to their overall development...while each of the arts disciplines has its own unique set of knowledge, skill, and processes, the arts share common characteristics that make arts education powerful preparation for college, career, and a fulfilling life." (21st Century Arts Map.)


Communication is at the heart of the arts. Through studying the arts, students develop a vast repertoire of skills in processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating meaning. Effective communication builds collaboration and cooperation.


Critical thinking is the essential, intellectual process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information as a guide to belief and action. Through critical thinking and problem solving, that students learn the higher-order thinking skills necessary to engage in artistic processes and, therefore, begin to achieve artistic literacy.


Creative practices are essential for teaching and learning the arts. The arts are steeped in process and involve the interplay of artistic skills, individual voice, and the unexpected. Creativity is given great emphasis in the arts and requires a learning environment in which students are encouraged to imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect. The arts' natural fusion of logical, analytical, thought and playful unexpectedness provides students with extraordinary opportunities to exercise their creativity through artistic processes. Creative processes evoke deep, meaningful engagement in the arts, can be fluid, vary from person to person and project to project, and require intense cognition that can be developed through arts engagement.


Collaboration is the process through which two or more people or groups work together to realize common goals. Collaboration requires that each person in the group contributes and fills a specific role. An inherent part of arts instruction, examples of collaboration may include all the students in a performing cast or ensemble; the partnership between a single artist and his or her peers and audience; or, a shared visual arts project that incorporates the ideas and techniques of multiple artists.


Students in today's schools need to be prepared to participate as citizens in a global society. Citizenship includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for civic virtue and active engagement in our society. Citizenship connects with arts education in numerous ways, including giving students an opportunity to exercise choice and decision making about the creative and artistic process. Citizenship engages students in the why behind the art, pushing students to engage in art making that reflects the historical, cultural, and societal issues that are often described and portrayed in artistic creations.


In a world saturated with increasing technological advancement, it is important that youth are taught the skills required for human connectivity. Helping young people develop their character helps them authentically connect with each other by building individual dependability and expanding young people's ability to show compassion and feel concern for others. Schools, along with parents, community members, and teachers, contribute to character education by explicitly teaching and reinforcing thoughts and actions that encourage students to contribute to the way people work, play, and learn together as families, neighbors, and communities.

Click here to download a printable version of Elliot Eisner's "The 10 Lessons the Arts Teach."

10 Lessons the Arts Teach

Learn Social and Emotional Skills

The social and emotional realm refers to the social abilities and emotional capacities that students need to learn effectively: all learning is a social and emotional experience, and competence in these areas is essential for success. Classwide engagement in arts activities in each art form can improve emotional literacy and social skills.

A 2019 report from the Aspen Institute titled "From A Nation at Risk to A Nation of Hope" summarizes years of research and provides resources for teachers to improve the social and emotional skills of students.

Personality Preferences

The field of psychology provides many frameworks for understanding human behavior and improving interpersonal relationships. The information below describing learner types is from Breaking the Learning Barrier for Underachieving Students by George Nelson. The Myers-Briggs research is used to categorize personality preferences to build respect for individual needs and increase appreciation and respect for various perspectives. Five principles of teaching that increase the ability to reach all students are identified as Principles of Nexus teaching. Arts-integrated teaching strategies provide child-centered activities for teaching in the nexus.















One of the main theses of George Nelson's work on education and personality preferences is that teachers can reach the diverse needs of learners when practicing teaching in the nexus. Teaching in the nexus includes the principles listed below and addresses a specific lesson structure in the accompanying timeline.

1. Allow choice.

2. Enjoy the humor of life.

3. Do the unexpected.

4. Relate to the values of the students.

5. Elevate thought.

Practice Resiliency

Creativity is resiliency in action. Creating anything involves significant trial and error coupled with multiple failures. Participating in the arts provides students with opportunities to persevere through the uncertainty embedded in the creative process, building persistence through practice. Along with learning the craft of each art discipline, students develop the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills necessary for practicing resiliency in their learning and their lives. The following statements describe how participating regularly in each art form actively engages the brain and body in unique ways to foster resilience.


In the book Teachers' Guide to Resiliency Through the Arts by Flox, Sadin and Levy, the creative process is described in five steps. Designed for application in day-to-day life to develop habits for resiliency, this five-step process can be used daily in classrooms or for large scale projects as a framework to optimize performance.

When using this five-step process to address a challenge, step one and step two can be reversed if you choose. Start in the place that feels most comfortable; these five steps are also useful in implementing a previously created teaching vision for the year.


    Read, consider, and revise your vision for how you would like your life and work to be. Or, imagine how you would like to feel right now. What would you like to have happen? Breathe and relax.

    2. OBSERVE

    Observe/notice/take Inventory of the current situation. Ask yourself these questions and write the answers.

    3. ALIGN

    Actively align the situation by asking: how can I align the present situation with my vision? Take the following steps to practice alignment.

    4. REFLECT

    Reflect on what is working and what needs to be changed. And continue working to align further.


    Celebrate what works and move forward, acting on the new thoughts and behaviors.


    As a craft, teaching is a performance of trial and error that requires creativity and resilience. Teachers can serve students by modeling resilient behaviors and providing experiences for students to practice their own resiliency.

    Teaching is a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding profession. Teachers must self-manage with diligence to continue learning and growing, as well as to avoid burnout. Teachers are the most important factor for student learning within the classroom. In order to build relationships with many children and adapt to an ever-changing environment, teachers must manage their individual needs and improve their resiliency.

    Many various strategies exist that foster resiliency. Mindfulness, recreational activities, art engagement, and even simple rituals, such as playing your favorite CD in your car, all contribute to developing resilience. While building skills in the arts, teachers can take time regularly to use the arts to nourish their mind and body.

    Consider these ideas:

    The basics matter. Make arrangements to sleep and eat regularly. Schedule bathroom breaks as needed. (This is not always intuitive with the time demands in a teacher's day.) Move and exercise during your school day with the students. Create habits for self-management and teach self-management explicitly to students.

    Self-management starts with knowing what you want. At the beginning of the year, envision what you want for your life and your classroom. Clearly express your vision in your sketchbook. Describe and illustrate your vision with details in your sketchbook. Mark the pages for easy reference. This vision can guide your decision making during the year. When a challenge arises, use the five-step framework to relax, examine options, and creatively address the situation.

    teachers learning

    Experience Academic Rigor

    Each art form provides a rigorous academic learning experience. The arts are research-based academic fields that advance knowledge and practice in each art form. Music is a discipline, like math or science; dance is a discipline, like social studies or English language arts; theatre, media arts, literary arts and visual arts are all content subjects with learning standards in many state and national elementary and secondary school curriculums. 

    While it is wonderful to integrate a lesson on note value to study fractions and guide student achievement of math learning outcomes, the study of note value is also important as a singular subject of study. A study of music notation is as foundational to the study of music as the basic multiplication and division facts are to a study of mathematics. Each art form is a distinct content area with an accompanying set of standards and learning outcomes. Students developing physical skills for expression and communication and learning to connect the elements, principles, and practices of dance to make meaning of their individual life experience and their relationship to the world is a valuable and worthy task. Teaching dance, drama, visual art, or theatre as a distinct discipline signifies to students that these art forms are valuable subjects to study without attachment to learning goals in other disciplines held in higher esteem by our society such as math, reading, and writing.

    Many arts educators assure their students that they are in the business of human development, using their art form to help students become better humans, not necessarily professional artists. However, a career as a professional artist is viable. Arts educators and generalist classroom teachers (whether they know it or not) are training the next generation of innovative, creative, and influential artists who will contribute to our society, culture, and economy in the coming decades. The world does not function without the knowledge and skill of artists. “The value of arts and cultural production in America in 2019 was $919.7 billion, amounting to 4.3% of gross domestic product. The arts contribute more to the national economy than do the construction, transportation and warehousing, travel and tourism, mining, utilities, and agriculture industries.” 

    Source: National Endowment for the Arts, The U.S. Arts Economy in 2019: A National Summary Report, and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Data for 1998-2019 (2021)

    Learning in dance, drama, media arts, music, literary arts and visual arts introduces essential information and cultivates lifelong abilities. Whether engaging in folk arts or fine arts activities for personal development or social interaction, or experiencing the arts as a creator or an observer, participation in the arts strengthens individuals and communities. As discussed above, arts skills, habits, and dispositions such as critical thinking, collaboration, character, citizenship, and communication may transfer to success and deep learning in other disciplines. When appropriate connections are explicitly made, these skills also apply to additional life experiences when appropriate connections are explicitly made. A focused study of these rigorous art disciplines is valuable in understanding how the arts benefit the health, economics, academic rigor, and connectedness of our global landscape.


    Elementary School Arts Programs

    Elementary schools may have a dance, drama, media arts, music, or visual arts teacher who teaches discipline-specific content to some or all of the students at their assigned school. Many elementary programs don’t offer a distinct program for each art form, but may have one or two  art-form programs represented in their school. Some elementary schools may not offer art-specific programs at their school; instead, they may employ one or two arts educators in one or two disciplines that may be specifically assigned to focus on arts integration rather than discipline-specific lessons. However, our experience shows that a focus on discipline-specific lessons before integration enhances student learning in arts-integrated lessons. 

    After-school or before-school programs are other ways elementary schools provide arts programs . For example, some elementary schools have an orchestra practice for 45 minutes before the start of school or an after-school choir practice several times a week. 

    Secondary School Arts Programs

    Some public secondary schools provide a program for every art form in their school; in many cases, some offer only one. But if you live in an area where music, dance, theatre, and visual arts programs exist in local middle and high schools, consider how you, as an educator, can help with the vertical alignment of these programs: how can elementary school experiences prepare students for their next experiences in middle school, and then onto high school? When programs exist in all grade levels in a single art form, students benefit when teachers are well-connected, share opportunities, and collaborate to align their standards and lessons to build upon each other. Think about ways you can orient learning experiences to prepare students for the next academic opportunity in their arts education journey. 

    Oftentimes middle school arts programs are designed as introductory programs because students did not receive basic arts instruction in elementary school. But even with introductory classes, middle school arts programs often branch into leveled classes for students to help them improve and expand their talents and abilities. Take, for example, the inclusion of a beginning band class, an intermediate band class, and a more advanced group. 

    In the high school setting, programs begin to differentiate even more, showing the breadth of academic skills and rigor that exists within each art form. Each art form discipline is also made up of sub-disciplines. For example, the visual arts moves away from general classes like Visual Arts 1 and Visual Arts 2 and instead offers specific courses in ceramics, 3-D installation, photography, and drawing. Dance programs may expand from a Dance 1 and Dance 2 orientation in middle school to modern dance, urban dance, ballroom, social dance, yoga, musical theatre dance, and a fully produced dance company featuring student choreography. Music programs may evolve from general music and a general choir course to a capella choirs, madrigals, jazz singers, show choir, and others.

    Post-secondary School Arts Programs

    Each artist’s journey looks different. Specialization and academic training in an art discipline can continue into post-secondary learning opportunities. The traditional post-graduation route is to attend a college or university: many fine arts options exist . Apprenticeships, technical institutes, and conservatory programs offer alternative routes to becoming a professional artist. Some artists maintain a  professional status throughout their career, and artistry is the foundation of their livelihood. Other artists expand their work into other disciplines, continue to utilize their creative skills and artful perspectives, and provide value in other careers. Regardless of what route artists follow, the world benefits from individuals who apply a rigorous approach to their study of an art form at any stage of their life. 

    The arts develop creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, character and citizenship which are essential in other fields such as science, math, business, engineering, design, sales, marketing, recreation, medical and public service. The arts and sciences are integral to each other in life and in the work force.

    The arts are academic fields supported by significant research-based literature that advances understanding, deepens knowledge, and improves practice. Relevant research in each art form, in arts education, as well as in arts integration can be found by searching specific art forms and within topics that span multiple art forms, such as creativity or literacy. Research discussing the arts in society shows specific ways that arts engagement impacts civic engagement, the economy, mental and physical health, and more. Research within each art form also demonstrates the vast benefits of arts education and arts integration, revealing improved academic achievement, cognitive benefits, and social and emotional benefits. 

    If you don’t have access to an academic library at a local university or in your place of work, consider searching and to find research related to your topics of interest in the arts and education.

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