Though ranked as one of the top three contributors to overall brain development, art is often one of the first programs to get the axe when the public school budget needs to be cut. School board members frequently fail to see the value of art education, arguing that traditional education is about teaching students how to read, write, and perform mathematic calculations. Along with music, art is seen as a program that is superfluous and not the best use of tax monies allocated for public schools. Yet, given its significant role in stimulating neural growth in both hemispheres of the brain, shouldn’t it also be an essential part of a curriculum designed to nurture the minds of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools?
Art activities stimulate both the cerebral cortex and the limbic system in the human brain. The cerebral cortex is the thinking brain. It is the portion of the brain where problem solving and critical thinking skills are developed. The limbic system contains your students’ memories and emotions, and also houses the doing brain. By incorporating art into your classroom curriculum, you are helping your students build new neural pathways that connect both sides of the brain. This means that as they paint a picture or create a collage, they are learning to initiate ideas out of the thinking parts of their brain and then implement them with the doing brain.
For a teacher, the payoffs of incorporating art can be huge when you consider the implications for overall behavior in the classroom. Students who have frequent opportunities to explore their creativity are also learning to self-regulate their behavior because both hemispheres of the brain are being simultaneously strengthened. Within moments of engaging in a creative activity, new neural pathways begin growing and a child’s brain can literally operate like a vehicle on a super-highway; able to zip back and forth between thought, emotion, and action.
What does all this brain activity translate into in the visible lives of your students who regularly have opportunities to participate in art?
1. Your students who are kinesthetic learners have an opportunity to optimize learning by engaging in art activities.
2. Art stimulates the imagination of your students, increasing their ability to both problem solve and enhancing creativity.
3. Students learn to express themselves using a variety of mediums that are a part of a classroom art program. This means that your students have a positive outlet for stress and negative emotions.
4. Art expression boosts your students’ self-esteem and increases self-confidence.
Art can be used to reinforce the educational process in almost every discipline. From counting and using fractions to spelling and increasing vocabulary, the learning experience can be enhanced through the use of color, texture, and design. If your school does not have a specific budget for art materials, by being creative, you can incorporate tactile activities into reading, math, and the language arts, purchasing supplies that will be used to teach in these specific subjects.
The world of art is a place where students can leave what is and move beyond to a realm of what could be by conceptualizing and creating with paper, crayons, paint, and clay. Art makes learning fun and can turn a dry lecture into a learning experience that a child will not soon forget.
Perhaps most importantly, as you incorporate art into your classroom you are not just teaching minds; you are helping your students’ brains to grow and develop. If, in the future, even one of them becomes a modern Rembrandt or the world’s next Einstein, you will have played a significant role in his development through the medium of classroom art.