Q. Should the schools strengthen programs in art and music, or should they stress the 3 r’s?
A. This question turns out to be a little like “Should parents concentrate on exercise and sleep routines for their child or should they stress nutrition?” As you can see, in both cases, all three are necessary. In each case, they represent three parts of the same whole. Art and music are skills of communication and avenues for learning just like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Each of these subject areas teaches a way to understand the complicated world in which we live. Thanks to the highly regarded work of Howard Gardner, professor of psychology at Harvard University, we now acknowledge eight intelligences. Musical/Rhythmic, Visual/Spatial, Verbal/Linguistic, and Logical/Mathematical make up four of the eight. Dr. Gardner’s work has led the field of education away from the outdated concept of fixed intelligence based only on verbal and mathematical ability (IQ) and toward the creation of schools and programs that help children develop and flourish in music and art as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Another way to look at this is to re-focus music and art so that they enrich traditional ways to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Singing songs and putting ideas to music provides one of the best ways we know for fostering learning concepts, improving memory, and building vocabulary. Listening to music, classical or other high quality melodies from various cultures, are linked to logical thinking and mathematical ability. Drawing, painting, sculpting, and all kinds of crafts help develop eye-hand coordination. Understanding art, appreciating all aspects of its beauty and message, are associated with listening comprehension.
Music and art are social skills. They provide avenues for communication. Singing and creating artistically are ways to express oneself with feeling. Listening to music and being exposed to art appreciation are ways to understand information with feeling. Besides giving and receiving messages, activities connected with these subjects transmit feelings.
Both music and art provide important ways to teach social studies. Songs and music are what make the study of another country come alive. Their words, beliefs, ideas, and concepts are all embedded in musical tones and lyrics. Art forms like pyramids, mosques, Japanese watercolor, or Indian garb all send a message about people, their differences and their similarities. Specific people who come from specific places are the ones who generate colors, shapes, patterns, and figures.
Music and art also provide important ways to teach science. “The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” is one of many famous science songs. “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes…” plays a well-known role too. Making paper mache planets is one of many tried and tested science projects. How about science fair entries? I have never seen one yet that has not been artistic.
It is a limiting idea to consider focusing only on the three r’s in education. Motivation and enjoyment are basic to the learning process. Take away stimulation and fun from education, and you take away learning. Music and art need to be an integral part of life at school. Each one has important contributions to make in its own right, and both together with the 3 r’s, form a whole much greater than its parts. Education is the 3 r’s, art, and music, altogether.
Sally Goldberg, Ph.D. is a parenting specialist. Visit her on www.earlychildhoodnews.net/parenting-tips to get her most recent tips.