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Why You Need to Create Art with Your Students


I have always loved art.

I understand the way I'm wired much better now than when I was a kid. I didn't know until I was an adult that I have attention deficit, which would have explained why school was such a struggle when I was a kid. I wondered if school was hard for everyone else, too, and if they were just really good at keeping it a secret. Somehow, I managed to make it through school, and art was a huge reason for that. While I struggled my way through other subjects, art was somehow easy for me, and I had a high school art teacher who let me take advanced art classes. I had found something I was good at in school, and it helped me build the confidence I needed to tackle challenges in other classes.

As a teacher, I see why art so often gets pushed to the back burner. Making sure your students master standards during the handful of hours you have with them each day is incredibly important. Teachers constant shift and re-shift those precious instructional minutes to make sure our students' highest needs are met. This is what good teaching is, and most of the teachers I know do it really, really well.

I wanted to share some thoughts and observations about art in the classroom, because art is something that tends to be cut when we're juggling lots of other priorities, and I'm not convinced that's a good or helpful thing. I want to be clear that my intention is not to add more to anyone's plate: we're in the trenches together, and I'm trying to figure out a balance right along with everyone else. My hope is that instead of feeling pressure, other teachers would feel permission--permission to make art a part of your classroom culture, knowing that the life skills your students learn when they are creative will lead to growth in other academic areas, as well.

At a basic level, artistic expression supports the growth and development of the whole child. When I watch my students create art, I see the final product as only a very small part of the process. Sure, their final art pieces are delightful and adorable, but what I'm always struck by is how important the steps are that lead up to that final piece. In just one art project, children can practice their gross and fine motor skills, follow multiple-step instructions, understand cause and effect relationships, develop their spatial awareness, make a plan, and modify their plan to meet a goal. Whew! Impressive, right?! Giving kids space to be creative not only supports their development as artists, but as people.

Art allows children to be innovators. I'm always amazed at the thought that, as teachers, we're tasked with preparing students for jobs that might not even exist yet. We want, and need, this next generation to be fearless when it comes to exploring new ideas, concepts, or processes. When I read stories about inventors and their world-changing inventions, the stories are almost always defined by repeated failures. The truth is, innovation is impossible without failure. If we want our students to be innovators, we need to teach them how to fail well. Creating an art piece allows students to make something completely original and innovative while solving problems, and mistakes are almost always made. The beautiful thing about art is that failure is rarely final--you can generally keep adding to your painting to transform it into something new. When our students stop seeing their failures as an end point, but instead as a starting point for something new, we have taught them to fail well.


The process of creating art builds critical social skills, especially when done in community. A sign of maturity in children (and adults, for that matter!) is the ability to cope with frustration in a healthy way. Disappointments and setbacks are a completely normal, natural, and expected part of life. The trick with frustration is not letting those emotions overwhelm us. Creating art in community also gives students the opportunity to practice giving and receiving constructive feedback.

Art connects kids to a larger worldview. Art is an important part of every culture, and is a way to preserve history, traditions, values, and scientific discoveries. Exposing kids to art from around the world is a very simple but powerful way to reinforce a deep respect for other cultures.

Teachers can communicate art's value by participating. Some teachers have an art program available to their class through the school. That's wonderful! If someone else teaches art to your students, consider joining the lessons. Don't just sit back and watch. Modeling a love for art is just as important as modeling a love for reading and math. Your students will follow your example! Participating in an art lesson along with your students communicates that art has value, mistakes aren't something to be afraid of, and that it's always okay to try something new.

I know that setting aside hours of instructional time for art usually isn't practical (or wise!), but I do hope you'll feel encouraged to add in an art lesson or two to your next unit. It's worth your time and your students' time, and the lessons they'll learn will carry far beyond the classroom. I know that's been true throughout my own life, both as a student and as a teacher.

So, what do you think? Do you make time for art in your classroom, too?



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