Arts Education for the Development of the Whole Child

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Arts Education for the Development of the Whole Child

Dr. Rena Upitis

Professor of Arts Education

Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

Table of Contents

Executive Summary [- iv]

Arts Education for the Development of the Whole Child 1

Table of Contents 1

Executive Summary 1

Findings 1

Recommendations: Teaching the Arts through Multiple Means 2

Definitions of Art and Arts Education 7

Progressivist and Conservative Trends in Education 9

The Development of the Whole Child 12

Why do the arts matter? 14

Intrinsic Benefits of the Arts 14

The Arts and the Development of Humanity 15

The Arts and Achievement in Other Subjects 17

Learning Through the Arts: Research Findings from a Pan-Canadian Longitudinal Study 18

Other Research Studies Linking Arts Education with Academic Achievement 21

Other Contributions of the Arts Towards Educating the Whole Child 23

Risk-taking, Social Skills, and the Development of Self-Confidence 24

Metacognition and the Arts 25

Self-Regulation 25

Memory, Motivation, and Attention 26

The Arts, The Economy, and The Workplace 27

Executive Summary

Holly Ogden

Doctoral Candidate, Faculty of Education, Queen’s University
Elementary-aged children deserve an education rich in the arts. Arts education – in its many forms – supports the development of the whole child, and prepares the child for a life filled with opportunities for learning and joy. All elementary teachers have a fundamental contribution to make to arts education. This review shows that:

  • There are both distinct and overlapping roles for arts specialists and for generalist teachers, as well as for members of the community, to engage in the creation of effective programs for arts education.

  • There is a time and a place for learning in the arts, about the arts, and through the arts.

  • Dance, visual arts, music, and drama are equally important and equally “core” to the curriculum and to the development of the whole child.

Throughout this review the position is taken that it is a blend of true partnerships between generalist teachers, specialist teachers, arts subjects, and art-makers of all kinds that is most likely to yield the richest arts education for the developing child.


These conclusions are based on a comprehensive literature review, which addresses a series of salient questions to identify ways of supporting and advancing an education for the development of the whole child. They are as follows:
What is Art? This review defines the arts to include the fine and performing arts – painting, sculpting, writing poetry, playing an instrument, singing, dancing, acting, creating mixed media productions, and film-making. Indeed the arts are much broader than this definition, but the fine and performing arts reflect the more narrow interpretation contained in the Ontario Arts Curriculum. Each of these arts activities engages the learner wholly – intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. Learning in, about, and through the arts involves active engagement in learning that unites mind and body, emotion and intellect, object and subject (p. 3).
Why do the arts matter? Experiences in the arts offer many intrinsic and extrinsic benefits to elementary children. Intrinsic benefits include opportunities to develop creativity and imagination, and to experience joy, beauty, and wonder. The arts also present occasions to make the ordinary special, to enrich the quality of our lives, and to develop effective ways of expressing thoughts, knowledge, and feelings. There is also evidence of extrinsic benefits, as learning in, about, and through the arts contributes to increased engagement in learning in other subject areas, and to the development of students’ self-confidence, social skills, and metacognition. But the research evidence linking arts and achievement in other subjects is, at best, mixed. Fundamentally, one needs to ask – why would music teaching increase math scores better than direct teaching of math itself? And for that matter, who takes classical ballet lessons to improve their geometry scores (p. 13). The Canadian workforce requires employees to think critically and creatively, solve problems, communicate well, adapt to changing circumstances, and continue to learn throughout their careers (p. 22). An education rich in the arts nurtures precisely those skills and attitudes that are required in the contemporary workplace.
How does research on brain function apply to arts education? Recent brain research has examined the critical and optimal periods in brain development, the influence of experience on brain development, the relationship between cognition and emotion, and the transfer of learning from one context to another. In analyzing this research, it is imperative to consider both the large gulf between research findings and direct classroom application, and the conditions – including oversimplification, misinformation, and overextension of research findings – that give rise to so-called neuromyths associated with brain research (p. 25). While researchers, teachers, and neuroscientists agree that a child’s brain needs to be stimulated in a variety of ways to foster development, carefully designed studies are required to understand how the brain functions and to provide helpful evidence-based strategies for improving instruction. Existing brain research suggests that experiences in the arts – particularly extended musical experiences – contribute to a fully functioning brain and body. The research also suggests that we have a responsibility to provide rich arts teaching for all students. It is not the case that arts instruction should be concentrated on the so-called talented, as it is far more likely that experience, rather than genetics or brain structure, breeds accomplished artists (p. 30).
How do out-of-school arts experiences influence children’s development? The –Ontario Arts Curriculum (2009) makes explicit reference to out-of-school lessons as important vehicles for supplementing in-school learning. Studies show that children of all abilities and social classes benefit from both out-of-school opportunities – including community arts programs, informal learning in the arts, and private instruction – and from the positive influence of parental engagement in arts activities. In order for the arts to thrive in elementary schools and beyond, the arts must also thrive in the communities and practices that surround and support schools. Communities can contribute to arts education through well-structured artist-school and artist-teacher partnerships. The findings clearly suggest that elementary-aged students enjoy arts instruction outside of school, it’s not as if students don’t like music, it is school music that falls short of their expectations (p. 32).

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