Integrate art in learning for well-rounded individuals

Learning of science may be enhanced by relationships with the arts

In Summary

• The power of visual arts to enrich human experience is recognised worldwide

Pupils look up in the assembly
Pupils look up in the assembly

Art is one of the universal languages that all human beings understand and use to communicate. We use it to understand who we are, our places in the world, the meaning of our lives, to express ourselves and to speak to others across time and place.

Art, in one form or the other, is demonstrated in all cultures of the world, making it a unifying factor in a very divergent world. The power of visual arts to enrich human experience and society is recognised and celebrated throughout the world. Human beings have an essential drive to create and understand visual imagery. This drive is one of the basic traits that make us human.

Integrating this intrinsic drive into the learning curriculum can only improve the learning experience and produce well-rounded individuals. Using art creatively as a teaching medium can help learners visualise difficult concepts in various subjects, making them easier to understand.

Typically, the arts (fine arts, drama and music) are often taught as specific skills and abilities to help children with the development of motor skills, language skills, social skills, and so on. Lately, teachers are weaving the arts into the curriculum to teach subjects such as mathematics, history, literature with excellent results.

When children are younger, arts education helps develop their capacity for collaboration, for creativity, and even for asking questions. As they get older, their executive function is much more developed, their ability to sustain attentional tasks is much greater. Arts education offers the chance to refine and polish a skill over time or revise a project until it is as good as it can be.

For students who have trouble expressing their thoughts and ideas through their writing, drawing and labelling pictures that represent their opinions can help them to organise ideas into a coherent concept. It can be an excellent in-between step for children who are just learning to write, or a way for older children who are more visually oriented to solidify their ideas before they write them down. Visual prompts make it easier to understand texts and inject some creativity into ‘dry’ subjects.

Engaging physically with the educational material can help students ground new information in familiar experiences. It can also enable students to dig deeper into units of study and truly understand a concept. Acting out a scene in a history book, making a musical, role-playing, graffiti conversations and making models are all ways that provide an opportunity for children to be active participants in understanding a topic.

For many learners, rote memorisation is challenging. People have used music to help them memorise since well before the invention of “The Alphabet Song”. Integrating the arts across subjects and having groups write small, simple songs to remember different things — for example, the stages of photosynthesis or our solar system’s planets — can help with memorisation. These songs performed for the class provide a break in regular learning and are also a fun way to involve the entire class.

Despite the divergence between arts and sciences, research has shown that the learning of science may be enhanced by relationships with the arts. The 'Art' in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) was added as a recognition of the ability of art to inspire creativity in scientific thinking, educate young learners in a holistic manner and offer another pathway for making and communicating meaning.

Gladys Sigei is the arts teacher at Crawford International School

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