Escher, Einstein, and Ellington? Warhol, Wagner, and Washington? Seurat and Dr. Seuss? Balanchine and basketball?
There are those who consider the arts as separate, elite, apart from the regular world, mysterious, and unknowable. But, no child finds it “mysterious” to dance with delight before he knows how to express that delight in words. No child finds It “unfathomable” to paint and draw an idea, or to hum a newly-created little tune, or to enthusiastically relate a story. The arts come naturally to the young: music, dance, art, and drama flow freely through us at the beginning of our lives.
What can we, as educators, do to encourage, nourish, and maintain that creative and inventive spirit as our children journey to maturity?
One way is to ensure that the arts remain a significant part of their education. Research has shown that ongoing activities in the fine and performing arts benefit young minds by stimulating learning in a number of ways. Students learn self-discipline, social interaction, analysis, and self-motivation. They learn to take criticism from their peers, teachers, and audiences. They experience pleasure in their own accomplishments: they gain self-confidence. They learn to be problem solvers, to be creative thinkers, to be decision makers, to become life-long learners. Further research indicates that exposure to. and study of, the arts aids comprehension and stimulates interest in the traditional academic areas of the curriculum. In addition to all this, the arts prepare students for the real world by teaching them that most problems in life have multiple solutions.
How can the arts be integrated into the everyday classroom ?
Classroom teachers often complain that they can not take time out from the core curriculum to teach units that prepare students for an arts encounter. Therefore, educators serving within museums, galleries, and performing arts facilities might introduce and conclude their interaction with young people in ways that assist the classroom teacher connect the arts to major subject areas such as math, science, social studies, and language. In addition, museum educators and outreach docents could suggest introductory activities that integrate the arts directly and efficiently into the mainstream curriculum for the classroom teacher to use.
How can this be done?
As follow-up to institutional visits, classroom teachers can be given arts-related materials. Photographs, postcards, prints, posters, slides, books, videotapes, cassettes, and CDs can be used to illustrate and reinforce various ideas and principles.
Here are a few examples.
In MATH class, the geometrically precise paintings of Victor Vasarely or Piet Mondrian are placed around the room for students to observe and ponder. To illustrate the concept of pattern and repetition: a Japanese kimono design, a popular song with a recurring chorus, the columns on a city building, the measured steps of modem dance. To indicate an understanding of the function of certain numbers, a student-written skit is performed presenting a little “conversation” between fractions.
In SCIENCE class, the study of animals and plants is augmented by images such as Albrecht Durer’s “Hare,” or a Navajo drawing of a sheep, or Diego Rivera’s “The Flower Seller,” or Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture “Bird in Space.” Many composers are inspired by nature: Alan Hovhaness’ “Symphony No. 50: Mount St. Helens,” Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals,” Michael Jones’ “Seascapes.” A unit on the human body includes images of the human form in motion found in paintings, sculpture, and dance. A close examination of students’ artwork under a microscope reinforces techniques in laboratory science.
In SOCIAL STUDIES class, interested students research society’s view of musicians, dancers, artists, or actors during a particular time period, or trace it from anonymity in ancient times to celebrity status in present day. A unit on map study includes Ando Hiroshige’s “Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road” and the handcrafted stick-charts of the Micronesians. Photographs of historical homes and period rooms or furnishings reflect the ideas and preferences of their time. A study of American history includes a mention of three unique and indigenous art forms: jazz, modem dance, and musical theater.
In LANGUAGE class, art postcards are used to create a personal alphabet book for younger children, while older students find parts of speech in contemporary songs. Children select an artist, musician, playwright, or choreographer whose birthday coincides with (or within the same month) as their own, and polish their library skills researching that life. Vocabulary expands rapidly with the addition of words used in connection with the arts: discussions of art and music provide adjectives, while adverbs predominate in dance and drama. A unit on compare-and-contrast is augmented by using pairs of art prints or selections of music. Perhaps most significantly, the arts provide creative inspiration to young writers.
To make school educators more aware of the relevance of the arts to students’ future success, and because so many students find enjoyment in the arts, teachers should be acquainted with careers not only in the arts themselves, but in careers related to the arts. If a child excels in math, loves to dance, but has no desire to become a professional dancer, he could be encouraged to consider being an accountant with a dance company. If a child is drawn to chemistry, loves painting, but has no desire to become a professional artist, she might consider a career as a conservator in an art museum. A student who is interested in history, loves the theater, but does not see himself as a professional actor, could be a research historian for a film production company. A child who has talent for language, loves music, but has no desire to be a professional musician, might consider a career as a publicist for a local orchestra.
What part do museums play in integrating the arts into the everyday classroom?
It was museum educators who first linked and connected various areas of knowledge and presented them to their community’s school children in tours of their collections. Museums can reinforce their support for integrating the arts into the classroom by demonstrating routes for integration to teachers and administrators during in-service workshops, and by designing outreach materials, classroom visits, and tour themes in consultation with supervisors of school curriculums that reinforce links between institutional collections and curricular competancies. In addition, museums can make their libraries accessible, develop traveling collections, and provide teachers and children with a valuable place to explore ideas and acquire knowledge.
Gayle M. Southworth is arts consultant for Phi Delta Kappa International and provides workshops they sponsor on integrating the arts into the everyday classroom. A former classroom teacher, Ms. Southworth has been a museum educator at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in Honolulu, HI, the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio. TX, the McNay Art Institute in San Antonio, TX, and the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington. DC.
Southworth, Gayle M. “Integrating the Arts: From Conclusion to Classroom,” The Docent Educator 5.1 (Autumn 1995): 18-19.