Bloom Arts Foundation interviewed Pediatric Occupational Therapist Briana Pollard to deep dive into the challenges of accessing Arts Education, how it benefits kids and what parents can do at home to expose children to the arts.
It’s no secret that Arts Education in the US suffers from budget cuts. Despite 88% of Americans agreeing Arts Education is beneficial for students’ future, there is a lot that needs to be done to ensure students have access to arts education in schools.
Briana Pollard is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist who works at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She understands the profound effect Arts Education can have on our children. Pollard agrees that Arts Education should be a mandatory subject in the US, not only for its healthy approach to self-expression but also because it expands students’ mindfulness about different cultures:
“We have, for a very long time, looked at Arts Education with a narrow lens. We need to understand that not only could Arts Education give children another healthy form of expression, engage their minds and bodies in a way that can help them be better primed for learning but also it is not mutually exclusive from the core of the curriculum. Arts Education can further a child’s understanding and appreciation of history, social studies, geography, culture appreciation, language and math. Arts education can elevate us to appreciate each other’s backgrounds and make us better citizens,” explains Pollard.
The benefits of Arts Education are well-known; even The California Education Code requires complete Visual and Performing Arts curriculum be taught from Kindergarten through 12th grade. However, schools in California are struggling with providing any arts-related instruction, with 4 in 10 schools having access to arts education. Despite knowing the benefits, why is Arts Education still not a priority for schools and governments? Pollard shares her explanation:
“We have lost sight of so many things. We panicked. We see that our kids are slipping in world ranking for Math, Science, Technology, Reading and Writing and so our knee jerk reaction is to cut everything and focus on the core. We have very few dollars to spend, so let’s cut the programs that are less valued. I agree that we need to address these fundamentals but what we did is make an environment that is less enriching and gives children less opportunity to learn about the world around them through their senses. Arts give children a chance to learn about themselves and engage both their mind and bodies. It provides opportunities for children to regulate their bodies and emotions to assist them in getting to an optimal level of learning for other information. Arts Education also expands the mind to be able to be creative in its thinking which could be the launch pad needed for innovative thinking for great engineering and technology needed for the future. Arts Education can provide really incredible opportunities for kids to share their cultural backgrounds with their peers as well. Every culture has their own unique art expression in how they paint, play music, dance, sculpt or through theater. I always find it interesting that the higher achieving schools typically have a strong arts education program, so why is this the first thing we cut when we are looking to have higher academic achievements?”
School’s budgets are often hotly contested, especially when education is in the spotlight, like in election seasons.However, even after March 2020, when the pandemic uprooted traditional models of education, access to arts education was still not a focus of conversation in the allocation of resources and pandemic related aid given to schools. The Federal government’s support, Cares Act, included $12.3 billion in direct funding for K-12 public education, and still schools struggle to find funding and leadership to support arts education.
Arts Education also expands the mind to be able to be creative in its thinking which could be the launch pad needed for innovative thinking for great engineering and technology needed for the future.
Although the pandemic increased the costs for schools, the truth is that Arts Education has always faced the same challenges. Pollard points out the main obstacles for students to access Arts Education:
- Limited funding for teachers/instructors, supplies, etc.
- Space in schools is limited. There are more students per classroom and less classrooms for teachers. Once beautiful music rooms and art classrooms are being turned into home rooms due to lack of space.
- Time. Before the pandemic, there was little time spent on Arts Education because of the need for time to be focused on the core curriculum. Since the pandemic even less time is given as there is fear that the kids lost so much formal instruction and are behind and need to be caught up. So all time needs to be focused on reading, writing and arithmetic.
“Many parents are dependent on after school programming while at work. But there is not much regulation on afterschool care/programing. High quality programs that have art are expensive and often not accessible to the masses. Most families are left with little options where bare minimum is provided in the program such as assistance with homework and a safe place to play while they wait for pick up,” says Pollard.
“Music and dance are wired in all of us.”
Despite lacking access to Arts Education, families can still support their children’s education and curiosity by exposing them to arts in creative ways at home. When is the right moment to introduce children to music and dance? “There is never a wrong moment. But the amount of evidence that supports early introduction is undeniable. We are born with an innate interest to connect with music and move our bodies. In the womb we sooth to the beat of the heart and as we continue to grow, the use of rhythm continues to be used as a powerful tool to regulate our mind and bodies and settle our big feelings. There is a reason why clapping, banging and moving our bodies to music are expected developmental milestones that we all do. Music and dance are wired in all of us and when we engage in it, we are much more regulated and have a deeper sense of connection”.
BAF: What is the best way to start exposing children to the arts?
B.P: Having fun with it. No pressure. Everything’s better when it is exposed through play and fun, followed by discussion. And when a child sees their caregivers and other adults around them also engaging in arts and art appreciation, it goes a long way in influencing the relationship a child develops with art.
Pollard, a mother of three boys, encourages parents to get involved in their kids’ arts education by listening to music together or discussing what they hear in the music: “What instruments they hear, discuss how certain rhythms can cause you to feel different things. How music can tell a story. Discuss how musical scores are used to facilitate the story of their favorite movie or tv show. Can you imagine what Star Wars would be like with no music? Some composers, such as John Williams, use a certain melody for each character in the movie. Can you identify and hum princess Laya’s song? Darth Vador? Luke Skywalker? Discuss with your kids which music makes you feel calm, gets you excited for the day, makes you want to dance, etc.”
As a pediatric therapist, Pollard has a lot of advice on this matter because she has seen how beneficial it is for children’s development: “If you have instruments in your house. Don’t be afraid to let your kids explore them and touch them. Explain to them they are tools and need to be played respectfully but they should not be afraid to explore them.
Pollard suggests some of the activities are as simple as having a family dance party: “Look up dances online and try to duplicate them at home. Do freeze dance. Introduce a culturally significant dance or song to your home. Play music from around the world. Introduce musicals. ”
Art doesn’t need to be something unachievable or perfect, but rather something to have fun with and let a kid express whatever they are feeling. “Emphasize with our kids that there is no right or wrong in art. That is often frustrating to people but learning to see a mistake in a different view and make it into something new is an important lesson in life,” says Pollard.
“Paint. Collect nature when walking in your neighborhood and make a collage. Look up different artists online and do your own family rendition of the art. Read books about art. Visit a museum. Look for free music in the park to listen to.Check out cultural festivals with different dancing, music and food from around the world. Not only is art produced, but it also grows in nature. Discuss the colors you see in nature. The design of bark or the branching of tree roots,” concludes Pollard.
Some of these activities are easy to do, and yet, sometimes it is hard to understand or see how these little things can have positive consequences on children. Combining the Arts Education children receive in schools with these activities at home ensures positive outcomes that last a lifetime.
Emphasize with our kids that there is no right or wrong in art.
We encourage all families to take advantage of some of the free options that already exist all around us. Pollard mentions a few of them:
- Free days at museums for children and families.
- The LA county Library system has the discover and go program that gets families free access a month to certain museums in Los Angeles county.
- There are often free programs in parks throughout Los Angeles to hear live music performances through the months of May-September.
- LACMA has a free children’s membership till they are 17-years-old. As part of their membership they get to take one adult with them to the museum for free.
- Freearts.org is a non-profit that provides a free eight week course for children paired with a skilled and trained art mentor. They served about 1,000 children a year
- https://inner-cityarts.org/institutes They provide support in the classroom, free afterschool arts program, and free arts summer camps for kids who qualify for free lunch program.. They serve about 200,000 kids a year.
“Art is for everyone.”
There are a lot of studies that prove how arts education improves a child’s cognitive development. Although Arts Education is a tool for individual learning, the scope of it goes far beyond the individual and one person. Society as a whole benefits from its members being well versed in music and dance.
“First we would have kids connected to their bodies through movement and be more regulated and organized in their bodies and in better control of their emotions. Secondly, music and dance are an incredible way to have children connect and appreciate cultures from around the world. To learn about their peers and appreciate the cultural heritage of their friends. For some kids this may be the best way to share their background with their friends. There are so many cultures in the classroom and yet we don’t give much time to discuss most of them. I can only imagine how powerful it would be for that child in the classroom who never hears about the history of their culture discussed in their classroom to have the opportunity to learn and share with her peers the music of her culture or the dance and garb of their ancestors with her friends. Music and dance can give children an opportunity to be seen,” explains Pollard.
Art makes societies more inclusive towards people with special needs or that have disabilities. “Art is for everyone. We can adapt it to make it accessible to all and there is no right or wrong way to engage with art,” says Pollard. Dancing is a tool for self expression and since it involves body movement, it provides further benefits:
“It can help a child express their feelings and build self confidence, and It is a fun way to work on fine motor skills and physical development. It can be used to calm and regulate a child who may be having difficulty with organization of behavior, sensory processing and emotional regulation. Body based work such as dancing can really have a calming effect on a child and help prime them for sitting at a desk and attending their core academic classes. Dance especially engages the two senses of proprioceptive and vestibular input which can be very calming when engaged in the right way. Dancing can also help strengthen a child’s body to better their postural control, trunk stability and balance. Dancing can also better their understanding of their body and space. This especially helps the child who may have a difficult time walking without bumping into their peers, sits too close to others and is just generally unaware of where their body is in space. Music is often used to help regulate children. Music can also be used to help facilitate language development and assist children with auditory processing needs,” resumes Pollard.
In today’s world, denying technology is almost impossible. Nevertheless, how much time a child spends on a device is often discussed among pediatricians due to its harmful effects. But thinking of technology as a negative element is narrowing the mindset around it rather than seeing its potential to access tools that otherwise would be impossible. Pollard lists some ways in which art can use technology:
- It has been wonderful that most museums have made the collection available online for virtual field trips and public viewing. Now instead of just talking about the Mona Lisa we can see it in a virtual tour of the Louvre.
- There are very affordable live virtual art classes for art, dance and music.
- For sketching there are some wonderful artists who do quick 5-10 min tutorials on how to draw almost any cartoon character your child wants to learn how to draw. You can youtube anything. Our favorite artist to follow is at: Art for Kids Hub (on youtube)
- Many people have a streaming music device that can provide an opportunity to easily access all types of music for a child’s exposure.
- We can watch reality TV shows showcasing the most incredible dancers and musical artists. We can find youtube performances of cultural dances performed by people of all ages.
- There are apps that can turn your ipad into a piano and teach you how to play.
- Technology can take over family time or can be seen as taking away from arts. Take TV programming or gaming for example. But with that we have an opportunity for discussion. How did they write the script, what instruments do we hear in the theme song, can we drum out the music, can we dance to the theme song, can we draw the character, etc. “It is all about how we interact with technology”
The agreement around the importance of Arts Education in schools is unanimous; it is supported by health professionals like Pollard who not only understand the gravity of Arts Education but see first hand the actual improvements in our children. As in all education, caregivers play a pivotal role. They are ultimately responsible for demanding and ensuring children are not only continuously exposed to the arts but have equal opportunities to take part in the making and creating of art. Just like Pollard feels about technology and how we interact with it, it is up to us how we interact with Arts: we can either be passive or interactive with it.