By Megan E. Gaul, November 1st, 2016

For music and art programs in public schools, federal and local funding is being scaled back across the country. Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York City are just a few big cities that have had to introduce hiring freezes and massive layoffs for visual arts and music teachers in the past 4 years, effectively removing these programs from many of our children’s daily routines. When funding is short, districts prioritize the core subjects like math and science, while the humanities, fine arts, and music classes are forgotten (despite the fact that creativity is the number-one quality employers want to see in their candidates). Creativity is vital to becoming a successful and independent adult. To keep their children exercising that creativity, parents have been looking outside of school to find programs that give kids the opportunity to express themselves through many different creative outlets.

Is there truly a problem with kids and creativity today? Kyung Hee Kim, Ph.D., an educational psychologist at the College of William & Mary, thinks so. According to her research, conducted over the past decade, American children’s creativity has significantly decreased since 1990, especially among kindergarteners through 3rd graders. She uses the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, in which the proctor asks children open-ended questions, and award points based on the quantity and originality of their responses. Children do not have the opportunity to develop their creativity in schools, and the negative results are beginning to show.

Visual arts classes are a great way to combat this trend. Drawing, sculpting, cutting, and painting are fantastic ways for kids to develop the fine and gross motor skills they will need for school and life. Making choices about their projects in art helps them develop their decision-making and critical-thinking skills, which is stressed by Common Core learning standards and is vital to their success as adults. And the visual arts helps children develop their spatial skills unlike any other activity. In a world where two-dimensional tablets are taking over our children’s time, opportunities to play and interact with three-dimensional tools and materials are immeasurably valuable.

Music lessons are just as important in helping children flex their creative muscles. Practicing an instrument has well-known benefits for children who want to develop their inventiveness, improvisation skills, dexterity, and mathematical thinking. Plus, playing music in a group is proven to have positive effects on feelings of community, cooperative problem-solving, and togetherness, which are values that we need to stress, especially in a modern world where so many of us can feel isolated.

Parents have found that not only is it important to offer creative opportunities for their children; it’s also vital to offer a wide variety and a choice to kids. When children have choice over their creative processes, they take ownership of that decision and are more likely to stick with their outlets throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Without public schools taking up the burden of creative instruction, it is doubly important that outside programs pick up the slack and provide a variety of quality art and music classes.  By searching out programs that offer this choice to students, with many different aspects of music and art to try out, parents are setting their kids up for success in creativity, school and life.