A quality education, by definition, enriches and expands thought processes beyond predictable, concrete memorization and reasoning into the abstract, creative realms, thus expanding knowledge and enriching one’s overall life experience. For example, bilingual people develop a dexterity in their thinking that monolingual people don’t, because their brains gain fluidity through translating back and forth from one language to another… and often that also entails the fluidity of bicultural translation as well. Musicians also develop the part of their brain that thinks in sound; practicing and playing music supports the ability to take in patterns of beat, rhythm and sequencing all at the same time in complex, layered thought. If you are a true artist music-making also folds an emotional layer into the technical mechanics. The brain with musical inclinations also has mathematical inclinations; Pythagoras first called out the math music connection in 500 BC. He comments on counting, rhythm, scales, intervals, patterns, symbols, harmonies, time signatures, overtones, tone, and pitch.

For a child, physical action is the entry point that eventually leads to reflection, the physical practice gradually moving up into theory. The intuitive understanding that “this handful has more than that handful” precedes counting, reflection, and figuring out the principles involved. Often the young child will seem to embody the sound, or the paint, or the concept (they become the truck they are pushing). Early musical experiences are full body experiences; dancing, jumping, clapping and rhythmic hand games, nursery rhymes, and finger plays. As children get older they can include jump rope and full body activities like the hokey pokey, that require listening, copying, and staying in time with others. Like the bilingual child perfects the accent as he hears the sounds of a language, children exposed to music at an early age actually train their ear to hear the notes and hit them as they sing… along with developing and supporting mathematical thinking about patterns and intervals.

Dance grows from the music and then becomes its own field of study developing muscle tone, coordination, spatial awareness, and a sense of the body as it moves through space and time. Dancers count to stay on the beat and coordinate their movements with others, stay rhythmically in harmony with other people and, like the musician and mathematician, they write down every flex and point and position adjustment in a language quite their own.

This complexity of thought, self-awareness and awareness of others, discipline, communication skills, problem solving, out of the box thinking, and creativity are all foundational life skills that are brought into the lives of young children through their experience of the arts. Everything under the label of “liberal arts” can stretch us beyond the everyday and allow us to touch that place that shows us that we are more than we thought we were. Even crafts can elevate to the level of art when they are creative, intentional and stretch our capacity —-carpentry, teaching, sewing, cooking are all part of this bigger part of being human and self-actualizing.

Exposure to an artistic way of thinking, seeing, listening, doing and moving reconnects our educated, compartmentalized adult minds back to our wholeness of being. It opens the mind to the unexpected, and makes room for experimentation, creativity, and joie de vivre throughout the life span. We make sure that children experience the arts when they are young so that they will have the capacity to see life through this unique lens, developing their individual capacities for expansive, creative thought.
For those who continue to think of art as “window dressing” to a real education, there is also a practical side to the arts that serves the pragmatists who believe that educational investment should always lead directly to money and achievement.

Setting aside the creative, artistic, aesthetic experiences, children learn many things through the arts that prepare them for academic work. A child holding a long paint brush at the easel, and moving it across a paper that stretches from above the head to below the knees and is twice the child’s width, develops a sense of spatial awareness, distance perception, hand eye coordination, muscle tone, strength, coordination, intentionality, pattern, design, symmetry, attention span, coordination, as well as foundational math skills like sorting, classification, discernment of shape, and understanding of length, the relationality between objects and the relationship of objects to space!
Similarly, drawing develops coordination and balance in the hands, arms and core, eye dominance, and hand dominance; all contribute to the brain’s development and physical capacity. The ability to moderate and increase pressure, to make discrete and precise marks using a pincer grasp takes practice and repetition and strength in some of the smallest muscles in the body. Drawing also teaches the eye to see, sort and differentiate between similar symbols, valuable skills in forming letters, numbers and shapes as well as in pattern design and construction.

Children learn and construct information throughout their early years from a wide variety of media and experiences. Carpentry, collage and other construction activities are about parts; balance, planning, patterns, structure, perspective, problem solving, measurement and ingenuity. Sand, clay, and playdough are sculpted and molded using all the above skills and more; to make deliberate, delicate movements one must learn to visualize the shape prior to forming it from the wholeness of the clay. Unlike construction with blocks or a puzzle where many pieces come together to make a whole, in this experience the child begins with a blob and deconstructs/reconstructs to create something new. This concept is the foundation of many scientific theories and experimental investigation, starting with the sum and defining the parts. Creating things in this manner requires visualization, planning, abstract thought, and anticipation of what is going to happen next as the parts come together to balance and visually communicate.

Experimentation with three dimensional objects and mixed media construction, dance, music, drawing and painting, and sensory materials permeate the preschool curriculum because these activities help the teachers achieve their goals of building foundations for the children’s eventual academic learning and success. It’s an added bonus that at the same time the children can develop aesthetic appreciation and learn about their own agency and ability to create something uniquely their own.