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Investing in Children Through the Arts

Date: 26 September 2018

When the National Association of Colleges and Employers asked employers what skills they prioritize when recruiting, they unequivocally listed ability to work well on teams, decisive problem solving and effective communication. Social-emotional learning provides the foundation for teamwork, resilience and other skills that are integral to success in school and in life, and helps shape the workforce of tomorrow. Studies have shown that activities grounded in the performing arts help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and collaboration skills. For example, drama allows children to create fictional spaces and take on roles where they can practice communication and work on mastering complex skills, such as empathy. And yet, these arts resources are frequently unavailable or under-utilized, especially in economically disadvantaged areas where children need the most support.

Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and Institute for Child Success (ICS) believe that every child is born with enormous potential, and that local communities can help them realize that potential through the power of the performing arts. Research shows that in a child’s first few years, the brain forms 1 million new neural connections every second. Those connections provide the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.

In 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts an Art Works: Creativity Connects grant — furthering the goal of setting our youngest learners up for success. Implemented through a partnership between Wolf Trap Institute and ICS, the goal of Creativity Connects: Arts in Early Learning is threefold: to convene key community leaders in early childhood education and the arts; to spark meaningful conversations about the effectiveness of early childhood arts integration; and to foster the creation of actionable plans to incorporate the arts into early childhood classrooms in each community. As districts in states across the country — including California, Georgia and Illinois — begin to implement social-emotional learning initiatives, incorporating the arts into these strategies may be one avenue worth exploring. Similarly, as states continue to increase funding for early learning initiatives, considering the advantages of programs like those included in Creativity Connects could provide policymakers with new ways to help prepare their youngest students.

In March 2018, Wolf Trap Institute and ICS hosted a symposium at the Milwaukee Art Museum, focused on supporting early childhood social and emotional development through the arts – identified by community members as a critical focus. Attendees participated in active artist workshops and interactive panels with leading experts on the arts, early childhood education, and social and emotional development. The symposium provided participants with tools that will allow them to impact children in Milwaukee. In addition to continued Creativity Connects’ work through programs in Milwaukee Public Schools, an artist-in-residency fellowship will support a local artist to further develop their art in service to Milwaukee’s children.

Investing in children’s early learning is an investment in our future and one that lays the groundwork for the long-term flourishing of a community. In the case of Milwaukee, the symposium helped jumpstart conversations that could assist in making the city an attractive location for business with a well-developed workforce, build a caring and committed community for future generations, and improve long-term social and economic outcomes for all. Wolf Trap and ICS feel inspired by the progress to make this vision a reality across the country, but to succeed, it takes a whole community making this investment together. Visit to learn strategies for integrating the arts into the lives and educations of our youngest learners or join us at an upcoming Creativity Connects: Arts in Early Learning symposium, Oct. 18 in Denver or Dec. 5 in Los Angeles.

This guest post comes from Akua Kouyate-Tate, vice president of education at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, and Jamie Moon, president at the Institute for Child Success.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits