For children, art may simply be fun—playful creating, looking, singing, and performing—but kids benefit in many ways when they participate in the arts in early childhood.
The Association for Childhood Education International found that if early childhood lacks opportunities for visual arts participation, kids miss important chances to develop “fine and gross motor skills,” according to Lois McFadyen Christensen and Lynn Doty Kirkland.
At an ongoing class at the Bonifas Arts Center, toddlers can try a variety of hands-on art stations designed to nurture fine motor skills, imagination, and problem solving.
According to an Americans for the Arts report, cognitive neuroscientists have found that arts education fosters children’s cognitive development—“thinking, problem solving, concept understanding, information processing and overall intelligence.”
They report, too, that early childhood arts education improves vocabulary, communication, and memory.
Since the Bonifas wants all children to benefit from participation in the arts, free activities always are available.
For example, children can use free art supplies to create at the “Creative Corner” any time the Bonifas is open (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). A book with ideas is available to spark creativity, along with a variety of materials, with new supplies added regularly. Kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
Also, each summer, the Bonifas and Players de Noc offer area children the chance to participate in a musical theater production, on stage or behind the scenes, as well as free theater workshops, led by members of the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT).
MCT aims to inspire “the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts,” including social and communication skills, with emphasis on equality, discipline, responsibility, and teamwork.
Singing itself offers benefits. Jennifer Soalt, a language arts specialist, writing in Mothering, notes that medical professionals have found that singing “affects more of the brain centers for language than do words without music” and can “enhance the language development of toddlers and young children.”
Bonifas toddler art instructor Lorne Watson, a professional musician and music educator, includes a time for music and singing at each session, and young singers can perform at the Bonifas' annual Youth in Art talent show.
Christensen and Kirkland also emphasized that viewing art helps kids develop their imaginations as they work to understand others, and they encouraged adults to ask kids questions like “What story can you tell from the work of art?” and “What do you think the artist is trying to tell us?” to develop kids’ critical thinking skills and start conversations.
Joann J. Honigman and Navaz Peshotan Bhavnagri, writing in Childhood Education, agreed kids benefit from viewing art, gaining “broader mental functioning” since art viewers “must consider ambiguities, nuances and subtleties”—different from the “rule-governed cognition” needed when learning subjects like spelling—which develops “reflective intelligence,” encouraging kids to move from “hastiness toward patience” and from “narrow cognition toward broad and adventurous insight … with clarity and depth.”
They encouraged “repeated visits to museums and art galleries” where young children can have the kinds of open conversations suggested above. All BAC exhibits are free and open to the public.
Additionally, this summer, in conjunction with the Bonifas’ “Wooden Boats Afloat” exhibit (July 15-Sept. 7), children can try free “Discover Our Great Lakes” art activities including forms of boat building and Gyotaku (Japanese fish printing).
For children’s classes with sign-up fees, the Bonifas works to keep costs as low as possible (with limited scholarships available) and aims to offer as wide a variety as possible, including pottery, mask-making, drawing, painting, paper mache, puppet-making, cooking, and dancing.
In “Our Children Need Arts Education,” Nnenna Freelon, a jazz singer and composer as well as an actress and playwright, writing in Ebony, notes that while studies have documented that participation in the arts improves students’ success in math, language, and science, developing “analytical thinking” skills, it also can open “students’ hearts and minds” so they develop “compassion, listening skills and tolerance.”
She argues that “hearts engaged in learning their lines and fingers learning to paint … are not the children who engage in violent, destructive behaviors,” and that more art will “foster growth, development and love.”
Viewing art, too, “promotes empathy” as children reflect on it, according to Honigman and Bhavnagri. As they note, one child, when asked why Henri Matisse made the “human figure look important” in his Icarus collage, replied, “Because it is about love and how important it is to have love in the world.”
For more information about art opportunities for children, visit bonifasarts.org, call 906-786-3833, or stop by the Bonifas.