With budget issues on the rise for many public school systems, many administrations are scrambling for ways to save money while still providing learning experiences for students. Sometimes extracurricular activities such as athletics or arts may be sacrificed or re-structured into a pay-to-participate format.

With budget issues on the rise for many public school systems, many administrations are scrambling for ways to save money while still providing learning experiences for students. Sometimes extracurricular activities such as athletics or arts may be sacrificed or re-structured into a pay-to-participate format.

Hoping to prevent cuts to such activities, arts advocates often seek out correlations between involvement in the arts and success on standardized tests. What they often find, however, is that involvement in the arts has its own benefits that can be acquired at a young age and improved upon with continuous involvement in arts programs.


Reaching out
Every child has his or her strengths, and everyone's abilities are different. One child might excel at football while another might have an ear for piano. Discov-ering your child's strengths and giving him or her a chance to explore them is a great way to promote self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.

The arts can "empower children to develop their gifts and cherish and appreciate them," said David Myers, of David Myers Art Studio and Galleries in Westerville. Myers' studio offers instruction for aspiring artists as young as 6 years old. The studio also hosts a summer art camp for budding young artists.

For children who do not fit in well with athletic programs, the arts can be a way to reach out to them and give them a chance to interact with other children in a positive environment. "Choir is like a sports team," said Tatiana Kats, artistic director of the Columbus International Children's Choir. "You can develop individuality and your own skills, but you also sing as a team."

With activities such as choir, children are given a chance to express themselves openly without being alone. They can explore their abilities and potential without fear of embarrassment.

Kats also serves as the executive director of the Columbus Music and Art Academy, which offers choir, arts classes and music theory lessons for children as young as 4 years old.


Connecting with peers
As in sports, the arts can take the forms of both individual experiences and a team-building exercises. Group activities such as choir and theatre can help children form bonds and grow together over time.

In choir, for instance, children "learn from each other, listen to each other, and blend with each other," Kats said. Many individual voices unify to become one strong voice, she said.

The arts also can help promote a child's skills in social interaction. Like any learning environment, children are encouraged to express themselves with the understanding that they will be greeted with respect. "Social interaction plays a big role as children learn to work together," said Joelle Leigh Harris, education director of Columbus Children's Theatre. "Theatre helps children get comfortable with public speaking at an early age."

Columbus Children's Theatre holds classes in the fall and summer for children ages 3 to 16, with a wide variety of themes and workshops at each of its Ohio locations.


A chance to relate

The arts can be a wonderful way for parents to get involved with their children. Either by introducing
children to art or by taking part in artistic activities themselves, parents can promote their child's creativity while having fun at the same time.

"Exposing children to art is one of the biggest things parents can do," said Pam Dropco, senior program director at YMCA of Central Ohio. "By seeing working professionals, children see that art can be a career and not just a hobby. When a child sees a parent taking a pottery class, they see that art is a lifelong activity."

YMCA of Central Ohio offers numerous arts classes at its various locations, ranging from dance classes and watercolor, to pottery and scrapbooking, Dropco said.

Kats said exposing children to professional art from around the world can show them that they are not alone. People from across the globe are participating in art. "Listen to different choirs and music, learn and read more about composers, go to concerts and museums," Kats suggested.

Harris also suggested reading to children and exploring the characters and plot, even acting out their favorite scenes, resulting in a deeper understanding of the material. "Children can learn about a piece of literature and how to turn that book into a play," Harris said.

"Parents are a child's first teacher," said Jo Kirk, director of We Joy Sing, "and the home environment is the first school." We Joy Sing offers classes for parents and children from birth to 5 years old. The parents and children interact in a playful environment, learning songs and moving around. The program also teaches parents quality activities they can do with their children at home.

Most of all, Myers said, parents should be supportive of their children's interests in art. It is a form of expression through creation,
and even at a young age, children can understand the art they create is reflective of their own abilities.

"Parents need to appreciate and embrace their child's unique gifts and talents as opposed to finding fault. Pointing out a child's
inadequacies is a sure way to disempower the child," Myers said.

Regardless of any direct effect on school test scores, the arts can be rewarding experiences with unique benefits. And as Dropco said, art is a process rather than a product - one that children can develop throughout their lives while enriching their view of the world.


Joshua Work is a journalism major at Ohio University specializing in print writing and editing. He will start his senior year in the fall.