I volunteer in a local kindergarten class. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be the "glue gun lady" during a robot-building project. We were making robots out of trash. I loved seeing the kids create art from materials that would have otherwise been thrown into the trash or recycling bin: cereal boxes, buttons, screws, bottle caps, plastic containers, etc.
I watched as they learned skills that will help them navigate through school and the rest of their lives. They collaborated, compromised, practiced creative problem solving, discussed shapes and design, experimented with physics and construction techniques, and took pride in their finished products.
It's powerful to see the learning that takes place during a simple art project like this. If you don't trust anecdotal evidence, there is plenty of empirical research that supports the correlation between arts education and student success. The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities offers a nice summary of findings:
"While there is support for the intrinsic value of developing cultural literacy and teaching artistic skills and techniques, leadership groups typically emphasize instrumental out- comes derived from high quality arts education in one or more of the following categories:
- Student achievement, typically as represented by reading and mathematics performance on high stakes tests, including transfer of skills learning from the arts to learning in other academic areas—for example, the spatial-temporal reasoning skills developed by music instruction;
- Student motivation and engagement, including improved attendance, persis- tence, focused attention, heightened educational aspirations, and intellectual risk taking;
- Development of habits of mind including problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, and working with others; and
- Development of social competencies, including collaboration and team work skills, social tolerance, and self-confidence." (President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2011)