The Arts are Brain Smart!

This week I have parent conferences and I have been preparing for these meetings.  As kindergarteners going into first grade – every family wants to know how is their child doing; is their child ready?   I prepare a whole child snapshot to communicate where their child is at in cognitive development, social/emotional development, creative development and physical development.

I was reminded this week as I looked at the cognitive development piece how much the arts work deeply to build critical brain processing capacities in children!  It is so powerful I am astonished more has not been written on it.  I am dumbfounded that school systems have not discovered the growth it can give those children who have delays.  The arts can raise achievement on levels that really matter for the life of a child.

During the year, I have collected different pieces of art and it provides me with such valuable information of how well this child is processing at very specific levels.  As I work with children on reading and writing – I can always go back to the arts and see how it reveals any processing issues and give me clues to providing what is missing in a child’s development.   How incredible is that?  Art in and of itself – is an assessment tool.

Here’s a quickie look at what I see and what I have come to understand through my studies – Reading,writing and arithmetic require several foundational skills for success-

  • Discrimination – auditory, visual and haptic
  • Memory – auditory, visual, short term, long term, rote, and sequential
The arts build these so beautifully!  Just look at this fast picture of cognitive processing that is required in these simple activities:
Guided Drawing:
  1. Requires auditory perception – to interpret what is heard and follow the directions.
  2. Requires auditory memory – to take information presented orally and process that information.
  3. Requires visual memory – to actively retain visual information presented and process that image.
  4. Requires visual discrimination – to discriminate shapes and instructions visually in terms of foreground, background, form, size, and position in space.
  5. Requires sequential memory – to follow oral and visual instructions in order of presentation
Creating a multi-step Art Project: (such as Habitats, constructions, collages, etc)
  1. Requires receptive memory – to actively retain physical features of project and associated relationships
  2. Requires sequential memory – to recall and process instructions in order of presentation
  3. Requires short term memory – to recall teacher guidelines
  4. Requires visual discrimination – to relate to the field of construction, objects, and their positions.
  5. Requires auditory memory – to process effectively the instructions presented orally
  6. Requires auditory perception – to interpret and follow oral instructions
Oral Storytelling and Acting Out Fairy Tales:
  1. Requires auditory discrimination – to hear and identify words spoken
  2. Requires auditory perception – to recognize and interpret what is being spoken for meaning
  3. Requires auditory memory – to take in words spoken orally and process it for meaning and recall what was heard
  4. Requires sequential memory – to recall, in order, the events in the story
  5. Requires long term memory – to retrieve the story and recall it effectively
Another amazing fact!  The integration of the arts provides what children need at an individualized level.  When you guide children in a drawing – each child’s work is reflective of where they are at on the developmental spectrum.  The children who lag in fine motor and visual discrimination skills need guided drawing as a pre-cusor to reading and writing.  Guided drawing trains the eyes and hands.  There is no need to form special pull out groups – all levels get addressed by the very nature of the activity and its deeper ability to pull out individual creative expression!
I will write more about my thoughts and ideas about what art processes I bring regularly and why I bring them.  I have had three interns in my classroom this year and the gift of that has been the reflection of what I do and why.  I know why but I don’t always explain it on the deeper levels.  It is so exciting to have eager ears in your classroom.
Have a wonderful week!

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  1. Sara says:

    Sally….Thanks for giving me your blog address…and now I can visit you often!

    Love and hugs,

  2. Mama Goose says:

    Hi there, Just HAD to read this one, as I was scrolling down the list of recent posts. I am writing my master’s thesis at the moment on using the arts as a vehicle of transmitting academic instruction. I love what you wrote in this post. Do you have any suggestions in literature I could glean from? If anything jumps out….?


  3. Emily says:

    Thanks for this post! We’re still at “honey pie, crayons only go on the paper…” but even still I can see how much control he’s gaining every time we pull out the crayons and paper. I’ll be adding your blog to my reader!

  4. This is a very interesting way to look at development Sally. Thanks for posting it!
    Donna 🙂 🙂

  5. Wocket says:

    Oh, me too on the research literature. Secondary education honors, just starting really. Found a heap but the more the better. 🙂

  6. Tim says:

    I teach Early Childhood Special Education. I am your newest follower. Thanks for posting.

  7. @ Mama Goose – I am thinking. I might make a post of my favorite reads around this topic . . .

    @ Wocket – I am interested in reading more about the arts and the learning process. Do you suggest anything? I loved Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element.

    @ Tim – Welcome and Thank you for following my blog!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Sally,
    I work as a speech and language therapist in Phoenix, and I couldn’t agree with you more! I work with a lot of kids who have severe communication problems or cognitive impairments, and multi-sensory activities can make a student absolutely blossom! Art, music, movement, etc can unlock a lot of things in a child who otherwise can’t express themself. I co-treat with our occupational therapist a lot, and it is amazing the responses we get sometimes. Thanks for writing about such an important and beautiful topic!!

  9. kkherma says:

    Hi Sally! I teach accelerated K4 and am always searching for crafts/hands-on activities with substance…that will aid in their learning and not just be “cute.” I have found so many great ideas, or at least starting points through your blog 🙂

    I found this posting particularly awesome because I take one “kid suggestion” every morning and teach them how to draw it on the board (I am no artist, but I’ve learned that everything is pretty easy to make when you break it down to main shapes then details). Once my kids finish their work they are allowed to take out a sketch journal and practice drawing (and labeling) the selected image of the day. They love it and now I realize that it has true academic benefits- woohoo!- doubly great 🙂

    • I love that idea! What a wonderful way of bring drawing to the classroom. I am going to try it! Thank you so much for dropping in!

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