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The Art Of Learning One Study Says Music Lessons Were Better Than Computers At Sharpening Math Skills In 3-Year-Olds

Lisa Feder-Feitel Child Magazine

In the art room at Corlears School in New York, a kindergartner adds a final touch of red paint to his creation, then steps back to admire his work.

In music class, first-graders wiggle and leap to a jazzy piano tune.

“When we watch children make music or art, we’re watching them learn,” says Ron Raup, president of the American Music Conference in Reston, Va.

The evidence is amazing:

Music lessons beat computers at sharpening math skills in 3-year-olds, according to a study led by Frances Rauscher at the University of California at Irvine.

First- and second-graders’ writing ability improves after even a single day of music instruction, reports Kevin McCarthy of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

A full 80 percent of grade-schoolers considered outstanding achievers by their teachers also demonstrate artistic skill and have received art instruction since preschool, according to research by David W. Baker, head of art education at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

It doesn’t stop there. Numerous studies show that early exposure to music and art boosts a variety of skills, including mathematical reasoning, problem-solving and reading and language ability - most likely by stimulating connections in the brain necessary for later learning.

“You can’t teach a toddler fractions, proportions or ratios,” Rauscher says, “but music can prepare her brain for them.”

What’s more, it doesn’t matter whether your child is the next Beethoven or merely an enthusiastic note-pounder.

“The simple act of making art and music - the enjoyment, pleasure and excitement of it - benefits all kids, regardless of their proficiency,” says Carolynn Lindeman, president of the Music Educators National Conference in Reston.

And yet, arts budgets are often the first to go in schools. Federal and state budgets have been slashed, despite the fact that eight out of 10 Americans, in a 1996 Louis Harris poll, agreed that exposure to the arts “helps young people develop discipline and perseverance” and “learn skills that can be useful in a job.”

Creating art - choosing colors, having a line go where you want it to go, experimenting with shapes and discovering what different combinations produce - is one of the most important developmental milestones a child will reach.

“The moment a toddler picks up a crayon and moves it across a sheet of paper, he is the author of his own actions. It’s an extremely empowering learning experience,” says Judith Burton, arts and humanities chair at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York.

When a child smudges chalk across a sheet of paper or sorts collage materials, he is learning differences of shade and texture and the contrast of one color against another, which in turn encourages the ability to sort, classify and think critically, says Richard Burrows, executive director of the Institute for Arts Education in San Diego.

When your child uses his hands to mold a lump of clay into a figure, he’s experimenting with math and science concepts such as big and small, a lot and a little, light and heavy.

Art is also a crucial form of self-expression and communication.

“When a child is angry or joyous and has a box of markers and blank paper in front of him, he has an opportunity to reflect, organize his ideas and figure out how to express his feelings by drawing,” Burrows says.

“Art invites a child to explore his imagination and, in doing so, to stretch and enrich his mind,” Burrows says. “It reinforces the idea that there’s not just one right answer or a single way to do something - many approaches work.”

While art generally encourages a child to use her eyes and hands, music invites your youngster to exercise her ears, voice and body as well.

When kids dance, sing or play instruments together, they build social skills such as cooperating, taking turns and sharing, and sharpen their ability to listen carefully, concentrate and follow cues from the teacher. Moving to music also requires children to figure out which sounds are cues and which aren’t, a lesson in sorting and categorizing.

Music also sharpens a child’s memory skills as she learns a song’s lyrics or melody, and this prepares her for every other kind of learning, particularly math. Similarly, deciphering musical notes strengthens reading ability - after all, notes are symbols that represent ideas, just as written words are.

Finally, music can be a language of its own. It’s an important outlet of expression for kids who may not be adept at expressing their ideas with words.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE ART OF LEARNING Here are some tips for teaching art and music at home: Set up an art area. Provide paper, tempera-type paint, a variety of brushes, a palette made from an ice tray or plastic cups, chalk, crayons, colored pencils and markers. Offer at least the primary colors so your child can experiment with mixing colors. Encourage collage. Take your child for a walk and collect leaves, shells or other natural items that can be glued to paper. Save souvenirs from trips. Encourage your child to feel and notice the differences among the items. Play with clay or Play Doh. Show interest in what your child is creating. But don’t ask, “What is it?” Instead, ask him to tell you about it. Sing with your child every day. Ten minutes of song sends the message that singing is a valuable way to spend time together and express feelings. Make music together with small instruments or use household materials to make your own, such as maracas made from bean-filled plastic bottles or drums created from a set of pots. Boogie to the beat. Put on some music and join your youngster as he claps his hands, wiggles his hips, sways back and forth, bounces up and down. Enjoy the sound of music. Listen with your child to a variety of music from country to rock, classical to folk.

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE ART OF LEARNING Here are some tips for teaching art and music at home: Set up an art area. Provide paper, tempera-type paint, a variety of brushes, a palette made from an ice tray or plastic cups, chalk, crayons, colored pencils and markers. Offer at least the primary colors so your child can experiment with mixing colors. Encourage collage. Take your child for a walk and collect leaves, shells or other natural items that can be glued to paper. Save souvenirs from trips. Encourage your child to feel and notice the differences among the items. Play with clay or Play Doh. Show interest in what your child is creating. But don’t ask, “What is it?” Instead, ask him to tell you about it. Sing with your child every day. Ten minutes of song sends the message that singing is a valuable way to spend time together and express feelings. Make music together with small instruments or use household materials to make your own, such as maracas made from bean-filled plastic bottles or drums created from a set of pots. Boogie to the beat. Put on some music and join your youngster as he claps his hands, wiggles his hips, sways back and forth, bounces up and down. Enjoy the sound of music. Listen with your child to a variety of music from country to rock, classical to folk.

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