Children have few doubts about themselves as inventors, storytellers, and image-makers—they explore and create simply for the joy of it. They quickly notice anything new or unusual, and aren’t intimidated about asking questions.
Then, around the age of 10 or 12, the inner critic kicks in. Kids start to censor themselves, constantly judging and editing their output. The inborn artist gets suffocated, and grown-up kids spend their 30s and 40s trying to resuscitate him or her by taking seminars in “creative problem solving.” With the help of creative camps and classes, that inner artist could be kept alive and healthy into adulthood.
Art for Future Endeavors
Classes in the arts are not just for “artsy” kids. Visual and performing arts help preschool or primary age children develop imagination, hand-eye precision, planning, and persistence. They lay the foundational skills needed for a future in design, business, brain surgery, or creative homemaking. Visual art in particular contributes to academic success by building spatial awareness, concentration, critical thinking, fine motor skills, and the development of right brain/left brain communication.
While painting or playing an instrument can increase academic success, they can also provide a small island of achievement for a learning disabled or otherwise average student. Psychologists have found that because of the un-pressured nature of visual art and the part of the brain that art making employs, kids with ADD or ADHD are often capable of focusing on projects for extended periods of time and creating exceptional work.
Tweens and teens that participate in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and to perform community service. They read for pleasure nearly twice as often. For at-risk teens, involvement in the arts has a measurable impact in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems.
And yet drama, music, arts, and dance classes are sometimes the first to be considered for elimination in the event of budget cuts. Even if they remain, arts-related classes are still considered optional “electives.” If Picasso was right, that we are all born artists, it’s no wonder that remaining an artist is a challenge as children grow.
Build On Their Interests
Budding artists will inevitably become frustrated or bored without some instruction, but instruction in what? Watch and listen to your child to get an idea of where to start. Is she continually twirling through the kitchen? Does he doodle on napkins in restaurants? Do they sing in the shower? Build mud towers? As you recognize where their interests lie, you can provide the materials and instruction to fan that spark.
“The arts nurture children by helping them develop an eye for beauty in their surroundings and giving them a lifelong appreciation for art,” observes Lisa Leafgreen, education manager at the Arvada Center. “I remember a student in my two-year-old class who came in very shy and behind his peers developmentally. Over the course of 24 weeks, I watched him bloom and become more confident. My favorite moment was when we were finger painting and he began to paint his grandpa’s hand and arm. He was so involved, that his palette became everything around him.”
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Mizel Arts and Culture Center in south Denver are two examples of places where artists of all ages can really dabble. They provide an ever-changing variety of camps and classes in both visual and performing arts. Kids can throw pots in a morning ceramics camp and then make a scene in an afternoon theater camp, or get tapping in a Broadway dance camp. Both vocal and instrumental musicians can participate in choral and orchestra camps, as well as take private lessons.
Remember that many local recreation centers also offer a wide variety of arts opportunities. Check with local elementary schools and preschools near your home, too. Even if your child doesn’t attend that particular school, many offer art camps on certain weeks in the summer that are open to the community.
Quiet on the Set
Although the stereotype suggests it’s the “ham” that belongs on the stage, teachers and directors assert that in reality the opposite is true. Probably 75 percent of the students they see in classes are quiet kids who are finding a voice and a mode of expression through theater, music, or dance.
Students trained in performing arts will have a competitive edge in whatever career they choose. Why? Recent studies suggest that early exposure to music directly affects development of the brain’s neural circuitry. Other studies show that performing artists are more likely to raise their hand in class, more likely to run for student government, and more likely to communicate well in an interview. They will have a broader understanding of history, cultures, and human nature as a result of character study and text analysis. They learn discipline and responsibility through the rehearsal process. They gain poise through dance and movement. They learn to take constructive criticism. They learn to articulate ideas and collaborate. They gain spontaneity and creativity through improvisation. They have a crystal clear understanding of a non-negotiable deadline—opening night.
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts offers extensive performance classes and camps in the metro area. Classes are process-oriented up to age 12. In middle school, students have the opportunity to focus on technique, method, and real theater training. While they do see many students go on to careers in film, stage, designing, and directing, their real mission is to help people lead artful lives and to help kids to become aesthetically conscious.
“The performing arts make the world predictable. It’s a safe, controlled place where you know what’s going to happen next because it’s in the script or on the score or in the next dance step,” says Cindy Troupe, director of the Actors’ Company Theater School (ACTS). “It can be very soothing for a teenager who feels like his or her life is out of control.” ACTS offers a variety of skills and production camps in the summer and throughout the year for preschoolers to adults.
Michelle Romeo, founder and artistic director of Rocky Mountain Theater for Kids, encourages parents to consider the bigger, life-long advantage of artistic opportunities for kids. “I don’t want them to just be performers but artists—to see and listen and interpret the world artistically.”
Artsy Camps and Classes
- Monart School of the Arts, Parker. Teaching “non-drawers” to succeed through perceiving and using an alphabet of shapes to realistically interpret what they see.
- Art Students League of Denver. A fine arts school, gallery, neighborhood art fair, and collaborative space for artists that partners with performing artists, public schools, museums, and other art centers to reach diverse communities.
- Peanut Butter Players, Lafayette. Children’s theater that offers a summer workshop program of four one-week sessions and a huge summer musical involving 200 to 250 kids. Everyone who auditions will get a meaningful part.
- Digistars. A digital platform for teaching kids in grades one to eight to write, act, direct, film, and edit their own films.