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The Arts in the Classroom

This week we kicked off the official Celebration of Arts Week here in The Gem City! If you’re reading this from afar you might not know that Quincy, Illinois is home to the nation’s first Arts Council and we enjoy a rich tradition of music, visual arts, theatre, history, and humanities.

We recognize the value of the arts in the classroom and embrace that tradition as we integrate arts into our curriculum through school-wide activities as well as within academic work in the classroom.

We began our 19-20 school year with a camp theme that merged with art activities. While it was rollicking fun we understood the important role the arts plays in healing.

All of our students arrive on campus with histories of trauma and attachment disruptions. One essential approach to healing from these adversities is through artistic expression.

A National Endowment for the Arts-sponsored  Summary of Creative Forces Art Therapy Research Findings, published in February of 2019, states that art therapy helps to foster improvement in psychological/behavioral functioning, can promote neurological and cognitive functioning, has been shown to alleviate social/relational difficulties, and can yield improvement in the domains of physiological, physical, functional, and occupational abilities.

All classroom teachers want to see those kinds of improvements in our students who are struggling to heal from terrible adversities. What I love is that it promotes so much healing while enhancing the academics of those students who are not working to overcome the effects of trauma and attachment disruptions. Everyone wins!

Here at Chaddock we spent the first few days of the year working on building community and providing therapeutic art activities to ensure a great start to the academic year. We built on the camp theme by having students follow their regular bell schedules but instead of starting right in with expectations and academics the students worked on completing projects to earn “badges”.

In one classroom students created beautiful painted feathers which were grouped together to inspire reflection on what makes their hearts soar! In another classroom students created origami doves and cranes to create a beautiful installation in the hall. In my classroom we learned the benefits of and practiced meditation and mindful breathing - I consider that an art! Students in other classrooms worked toward badges in cooking arts, kind deeds, and crafts.

Not only is there an abundance of research to substantiate the efficacy of the incorporation of arts into the curriculum but you can witness the joy in the children’s faces as they engage in art activities. You see their focus. The emotions they work through as they engage in an artistic process are visible.

When I asked my students how throwing themselves into an artistic activity made them feel they reported:

  1. I got to be creative.

  2. Calming

  3. I got to show who I am through art.

  4. I got to be unique.

  5. The project made me calm.

  6. I learned about myself.

  7. It made me confident.

  8. I was afraid to try it but it felt so good to do something that made my heart pound and have it turn out better than I thought.

  9. I discovered something new.

  10. I can do things I didn’t know I could do!

What’s lovely about these happy results is that they are associated more with the process and less with what is produced. That’s particularly great news for those of us orchestrating classroom activities.

In the classroom we rarely have enough time to complete an art project during the span of a lesson and that’s okay because we’ll foster the results of improved social/relational difficulties as well as all of the other improvements I described earlier from our students simply engaging in the process. That leaves us free to permit students to complete their creations either at subsequent class lessons or even at home.

“Leaves us free…”  I like that phrase. I like the way the arts free us in so many ways. Often the classroom can feel so constraining with standards, scopes and sequences, tight schedules, state mandates, district mandates, etc. The arts can work so beautifully within the context of those constraints to free us and set our souls soaring.

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