Why art is important in children’s learning

Art can play an important part in children’s learning. This post shares five key reasons why.

“Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.”

Article 31, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Many education theorists have argued that art has a central role in children’s learning and development. For example, John Dewey – the founder of American progressive education – argued for the need to integrate art into people’s everyday experiences. Eillot Eisner then talked about the criticality of art in public school curriculum and Maxine Greene wrote about its significance in allowing people to imagine the world from multiple perspectives

All of these amazing thinkers built their arguments on the same issue: that art has been marginalised from school curriculum in place of syllabus focused on maths, English, science and technology.

A recent example of this can be seen in the English Baccalaureate that lists maths, English literature, science, geography/history and language as compulsory core subjects. The creative arts are elective options, making them more difficult to study at a GCSE level difficult.

Perhaps the hierarchy of artistic knowledge versus scientific knowledge can be traced to Plato’s theory of ideas that positioned an individual’s intellectual ‘world’ as being more important than their physical and imaginative worlds. In other words, Plato believed that embodied knowledge, that is produced by activities such as making, dancing, moving and singing, was inferior and separate to cognitive knowledge produced only in the mind.

While maths, English, science and technology are all important, art also has immense possibilities for children’s learning. It should, therefore, be given equal weight in school curriculum. Below I share five reasons why.

These points have been inspired by Elliot Eisner’s book ‘The Arts and the Creation of the Mind’…

Five key reasons why art is important in children’s learning:

  1. Art creates an understanding that there are multiple ways of interpreting the world. More than most other school subjects, art celebrates diversity, individuality and the unexpected.

2. Art creates different ways for children to experience the world, including through their senses. These embodied experiences are important as school curriculum is centred around language-based learning. Art offers alternative ways for children to learn, including through touch, smell and and sound.

3. Art teaches children that subjective judgements are important in creating relationships between things. This is important as in other subjects such as maths and science, relationships are often formed using rules and cause/effect reasoning.

4. Art encourages children’s empathy towards others through the use of imagination. While children’s exposure to art is not enough to guarentee an empathic experience, art does present the opportunity for individual’s to enter into an aesthetic experience and use their imagination to engage with it emotionally, intellectually and perceptively.

5. Art teaches children to think, feel and express themselves through an artistic medium. Knowledge is therefore not limited to what words can express.

Further links

A wonderful animation video made by Jon Nicholls that shares ideas from Elliot Eisner’s book ‘The Arts and the Creation of the Mind.’

This article in Frieze Magazine features eight leading artists’ talking about the exclusion of art from England’s secondary school core curriculum. 

The Time to Listen report outlines the value of the arts and cultural education in the United Kingdom. The TALE project gathered 6000 responses from young people aged 14-18 in secondary and special schools across England.

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