To me, integrating the arts in education, using the arts as a vehicle for learning, is one of the most important educational goals for our time. The arts demonstrate, on one hand, the shared experience of humanity, and, on the other hand, the intricate, subtle traditions and arts human beings use to express their experiences. The arts will never be frills, except to those who have blinded themselves to the richness and variety of human life. Teaching through the arts means challenging children to use their learning in a creative context. It is more than asking them to glue goldfish they have colored onto a piece of paper to demonstrate the number five. I am embarrassed to admit that at one time I used to do this type of activity. I have since learned otherwise.
My arts expertise is in music, having spent many grueling hours in theory class. Usually, preschool has music/movement pull-outs. Either the music teacher comes in and gives a “lesson”, usually singing children’s songs; sometimes using children’s instruments. Or, in tonier settings, the children troop to the music room for a lesson. I was a teacher in both types of settings. Nothing is intrinsically wrong with these, except for those programs where only children whose parents pay extra get music class (I kid you not!). Children enjoy these opportunities, and get a taste of making music. Always a good thing! But if this is all that is offered in a program, everyone is missing out. Here is the definition of arts integration by the Kennedy Center’s CETA program, Changing Education through the Arts.
Take a close look at this language! “…students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an art form. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.” I love the phrase EVOLVING OBJECTIVES. Nothing is static in the real world. People everywhere know this. Children and teachers need to be involved in passionate work that progresses and evolves. As a friend says, change is the only constant in life. Objectives may need to be met, but they don’t have to be the stopping point.
While working with brilliant young children (they are brilliant, you know), I would supply instruments to explore. I noticed that the children tried every way possible to make sound and silence with an instrument, say, a drum. Thoughtfully rotating a drum to explore its many surfaces, a child might try beating the side, the top, and even inside the drum to make different sounds. I would ask how the sounds were the same or different. How can you change the sound? Describe the sounds involved. With a small group of young children, there will be a lively debate! Oral language integrated! Make instruments available on a regular basis. Find those that reflect different traditions. Be available for support, and children will maintain interest. What matters is that a child is learning to think, to develop hypotheses, and to test those hypotheses....