It is a simple fact that funding for schools is dropping. Schools are reacting to this situation by dropping arts, music, dance and drama programs or reducing the time spent on them. Plus, the No Child Left Behind legislation has placed the emphasis in elementary schools on reading and math to the detriment of arts classes.
Having fewer opportunities to explore the arts is a shame because the arts are so important in the development of children. They give them an outlet for expressing their feelings other than in verbal or written form. Beyond this, they encourage creativity and self-expression and the development of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Furthermore, there is evidence that involvement in the arts is related to improvement in math and reading skills. And there is the inescapable fact that the arts can bring joy as well as learning fun to children, resulting in the creation of a satisfying interest in them throughout their lives.
The following learning activities are designed to take up the slack from the disappearing arts programs in the schools by giving you and your children an opportunity to explore the arts during the summer or school year. Such an exposure could result in a lasting passion for one or more of the arts. One part of this concentration on the arts could be for your children to attend arts programs in your community.
Dance is a great way for children to gain better balance and coordination. It also is a different way to exercise that is a lot of fun as well as a way to express creativity. Here are some ideas for family dancing fun.
1. Dance to a dance exercise video.
2. Put on some music and have everyone dance as if they were different kinds of animals (chicken, elephant, cat and so on).
3. Have family members teach each other different dances.
4. Put on different kinds of music and just respond to the beat.
5. Watch videos and television shows with dancing, from ballet to "Dancing with the Stars."
6. Attend a dance production in the community.
Drama and the Theater
1. Search the newspaper for local productions by theater groups and colleges to give your children a taste of what the theater is like. Then try to attend one of these productions or see a rehearsal.
2. If there is a children's theater group in your community, your children may be able to take part in a program that will let them learn more about acting or the behind-the-scenes activities involved in putting on a play.
3. Go to the Zoom Playhouse at pbskids.org/zoom/activities/playhouse to find plays for the family to perform. You don't need to memorize a role; just read it over several times so everyone can read their role easily. These plays are really CUTE!
4. Pantomime an activity such as washing the dishes, taking a bath, climbing a ladder or skating, and see if family members can guess what you are doing.
5. Go to the library and find a book of plays. Read one in a dramatic fashion to your children.
6. Watch a play on television with your children.
7. Once your children have become better acquainted with the theater, encourage them to put on a production for friends and family. They can recruit other children to help in the production. There will be jobs for actors, play writers, producers, directors, scenery designers and props people.
Music education has taken a backseat in education for more than 30 years. The true shame of this is that research shows that children who are exposed to music do better in school. Plus, early musical training contributes to the development of the left side of the brain, which is involved in language processing. And music helps children learn to think creatively. Start your children listening to and making music as early as you can. Here are some activities to bring more music into your children's lives, whether they are toddlers or in high school:
-- On holidays like Presidents Day and the Fourth of July, play John Philip Sousa patriotic tunes and march around the house.
--Have a family picnic in a park and enjoy a free band concert.
--Visit www.schoolhouserock.tv with your school-age children. They can have fun learning grammar, multiplication and science to such lively tunes as "Multiplication Rock" and "Conjunction Junction."
--Make musical instruments, from drums to tambourines, for your young children to play. Look online for "homemade musical instruments" for more ideas.
--Start your children on music lessons. Such lessons will build their confidence and self-discipline.
--Attend a local production of an opera or view a performance of the Metropolitan Opera at a movie theater.
Your household probably has one or more old digital cameras or camera on a phone that they can use. It is not enough to have them just push a button and take a picture -- even if it's a great picture. They need to learn some of the basics. Number one is for them to explore how their camera works. Reading the manual and playing with all of the options is very important for older children.
The second thing your children need to learn is what great photography looks like. This is not difficult to do, as most libraries will have photography books by acclaimed photographers. It is also possible for them to go online to see the works of such renowned photographers as Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Annie Leibovitz and Alfred Eisenstaedt.
The final thing that they should do is take pictures. Not every shot will be great. In fact, probably only about one in 20 will be one that they should keep. As they continue to take pictures, they will be learning about composition, lighting, contrasts and colors.
Your children may not be very enthusiastic about poetry. This is a shame, because poetry can be a wonderful way to introduce rhyming words to young children and imaginative use of words to older ones. This week we are giving you poetry activities that will show children how much fun reading poetry can be. Start with poems that are amusing, like this one by Bruce Lansky from his book "Peter, Peter, Pizza Eater: And Other Silly Rhymes":
Peter, Peter, pizza-eater,
How I wish that you were neater.
Half the pizza's on your shirt.
Clean the mess, or no dessert.
Younger Children: Expose them to rhyming (a first step in learning to read) through the works of A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss and nursery rhymes.
Elementary-School Children: Look for humorous poems to draw children this age to poetry. They'll have fun online at www.poetryteachers.com, www.poetry4kids.com and www.gigglepoetry.com. They'll also find activities from rating poems to writing them.
Middle- and High-School Children: Some of the most satisfying and thoughtful poems for children this age are those of Shel Silverstein. Be sure to introduce your children to the poems in his book "Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
Schools may be preparing children to get jobs and be citizens, but too few are teaching them to enjoy the beauty of art -- leading to a lifetime pleasure. Put your children on the path to truly enjoying and appreciating art through some of these activities:
--Begin by strolling through an arts fair in your community. Your children will be able to see painting, sculpture, photography, as well as wood, glass and metal objects created by artists. They'll also be able to see other art forms, from quilting to collages to cartooning. Make the experience more fun by enjoying some food along the way.
--Build on what your children saw at the fair by letting them take classes in a particular art form that they find most appealing. Museums frequently offer such classes, and your community also might have a variety of art classes.
--Have your children embark on an art project at home.
Your children may have fairly well-defined musical tastes when it comes to listening to singers. Take this week to expand their musical horizons by introducing them to singers of different styles of music.
At the same time, have your older children introduce you to their current favorites and have a family sing-a-long. Later on, you should introduce them to the singers and songs that were popular when you were their age. Sing these songs together, too.
Preschoolers: As soon as your children can sing, introduce them to classic songs such as "Old McDonald Had a Farm," "The Wheels on the Bus" and "The Hokey Pokey." They also can watch "The Wiggles" show and similar ones on TV that have a lot of very enthusiastic singers.
Elementary School: Start by singing rounds such as "Row, Row Your Boat" and "Frere Jacque" with your children. Take them to an amateur musical production to introduce musicals to them. Or watch the classic "The Sound of Music" or "The Music Man" on DVD or television.
Middle School and Beyond: Get tickets for a Metropolitan Opera production that is being shown in your local theater. If possible, find a local light opera production that they can attend.
To most children, art centers on painting and drawing. This week expand their artistic creativity to sculpture by giving them the opportunity to create actual objects. Your children can use a variety of materials to create sculptures, such as Play-Doh, sand, wood, Styrofoam, rocks, soap, paper and ornaments. They can carve the materials, glue them together or shape them with their hands. We'll give you several ideas of projects; however, you can find many more by searching online for "sculpture activities for kids."
Play-Doh is a great beginning material for young sculptors. Unfortunately, if it is allowed to harden, it is likely to crack. To avoid this, look for oven curable clay in your local craft stores to make lasting creations.
Sand is also a great sculpting material. Wonderful castles can be created in sandboxes and at the beach. To preserve them for a few weeks, spray them with hair spray or use a mixture of 10 parts sand, 1 part glue and 3 parts water.
Your children also can make edible sculptures by using a combination of pretzel sticks and mini and large marshmallows. They can form them on a graham cracker base and glue them together with frosting.
Other objects to create are: totem poles, rock figures, nuts and bolts people, Tinkertoy animals and Lego objects.
Through painting, children learn how to communicate visually. It also enhances the fine motor skills of young children and the creativity of older children. You can help them increase their knowledge of famous artists by having them paint in the artists' styles.
They should begin by looking online or in art books at the paintings of several artists. Some interesting choices are: Georges Seurat, whose paintings are made of dots that somehow blend together. There is also Piet Mondrian, who later in his career only used vertical and horizontal straight lines and the colors red, blue, yellow and black. They also can view the work of Jackson Pollock and then fling paint from sticks or large brushes onto canvasses to imitate his style.
Do take your older children to an art museum, but take them with a sketching pad. Then encourage them to copy several paintings that they find appealing. You may be amazed at how good their sketches are.