Why the arts make the difference

By Stacie Sanders Evans, Young Audiences/Arts for Learning Executive Director

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I recently took a foundation representative to see what our Maryland Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program looks like when an artist is in a preschool classroom.

Afterward the representative asked me a question that has stuck with me: “Why does this program really matter–what real difference is it going to make for kids?”

If you are like me, life hits you weeks later and you always have a better answer when the moment has long passed. I have my answer now.

Arts-integrated education programs, like the residencies offered through Maryland Wolf Trap, matter to Christopher. After we observed the lesson, the teacher, Ms. Miles, and teaching artist and musician Sue Trainor debriefed, discussing what worked (and didn’t) during that day’s lesson. In this session, Ms. Miles had taken the lead in incorporating music and drama into the literacy lesson with support from Sue. Both Sue and Ms. Miles mentioned what a big moment it was for Christopher to fully participate in the lesson centered on the book the class was reading.

Christopher had played the part of the goat during the reading, and held his friends’ hands while traveling across the room singing. When the children were asked to sit, he joined his friends on the carpet to reflect on the elements of the lesson they liked the best using the song prompt: “That’s what I like, uh-huh, that’s what I like, uh-huh.” Each student was asked to show what they had liked about the lesson by adding a movement to the end of the song. Christopher stayed with the group and listened intently as his peers shared.

I actually didn’t know who Ms. Miles was referring to because Christopher looked no different from any other student in the class. But today had been an important step for Christopher, who often finds it difficult to pay attention, and wanders away from the group when he is distracted by the task at hand. Today Christopher was engaged and the lesson kept his interest. In these formative years, children develop a strong sense of how they feel about learning, school, and themselves. These impressions can hinder or fuel a child’s confidence and achievement for years to come. Today we were the fuel.

This program matters to Ms. Miles who said tearfully that Christopher’s success was the moment she lived for as a teacher. “These shining moments keep you going,” she said.

Ms. Miles is an incredibly gifted teacher whose dedication to her students is evident from the moment you walk into her classroom. But, like every great teacher, she is hungry for these moments–and this is what motivated her to bring this 16-session Wolf Trap residency program into her classroom and fully take advantage of the embedded professional development.

Ms. Miles now has more confidence and skill in using singing, rhythm, and creative drama to actively engage children in stories. She has an arsenal of arts strategies that keep 25 little bodies and minds fully engaged in her lessons. Instead of a simple read aloud of a book she is using the arts to bring these stories to life.

This program matters to all the children in the classroom. What Ms. Miles and other participating teachers find is that these kinds of arts-integrated lessons stick–children are better able to recall the sequence of events and characters of the story, comprehend the story, and recognize the new words being introduced in the story. More importantly, students in our program have an increased interest in books and stories. All of these skills are essential to school readiness.

Fortunately, these moments also matter to the foundation who joined us in the classroom, which recently granted us an award that will make it possible for us to reach seven additional high-need Baltimore City preschool classrooms and 175 more early learners through the arts.

Learn more about the Maryland Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program here.

 

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