By Nicole Inglis
July 11, 2009
Craig,CO — When kindergartner Adylah Silva was asked to draw herself at the beginning of a handwriting class, her self-image was simple: A circle for a head, sticks for body parts, few facial features.
Two weeks later, her self-portrait included hair, details such as ears, colors and even a house in the background.
Christine Villard, assistant superintendent of Moffat County School District, said even though the class taught a verbal skill — handwriting — the muscle memory and spatial awareness affected the more creative side of her brain.
“It’s interesting how art can help develop other parts of the brain and vice versa,” she said. “Our mode of teaching is normally verbal, but they each can be used to enhance the other.”
District officials seem to agree.
At the Moffat County School Board meeting June 25, a motion was passed to increase elementary school art classes from once every two weeks to once a week.
Villard and the art teachers presented a draft of the new curriculum to the board, citing recent research that emphasizes the connection between art education and verbal, cognitive and math skills.
Though hours in art class have doubled, no extra items have been added to the curriculum. Instead, the time will be use to study existing subjects more in-depth, from color wheels to papier-mâché sculptures.
Villard said that at younger ages, when the brain is developing at a high rate, it is important for children to stretch their brains and learn the spatial awareness that can help them in every subject in school.
“When they start to learn multiplication, they immediately start to visualize,” Villard said. “The math part of their brain has to be developed, but they will try to visualize in their head what three times four looks like. It’s like training their brains.”
“Arts with the Brain in Mind,” by Eric Jensen, states that art education “enhances cognition, emotional expressions, perception, cultural awareness and aesthetics.”
The book also shows how art classes have improved reading and math scores by giving children the cognitive tools to organize information in their brains.
Previously, elementary students had art twice a month. When they entered Craig Intermediate School, they had to adjust to having art every day.
“We really needed equalization in that,” Villard said. “So it’s really a step forward in the right direction.”
Martha Laliberte is an art teacher at Sandrock and East elementary schools. She is thrilled to be able to increase the exposure to the arts.
“I’m glad they are increasing the art program,” she said. “That’s telling me the district cares about art. It’s important to students’ social development.”
Laliberte previously taught at CIS but will now be taking two of the elementary schools while Steve Martinson will teach the other two. Jill Stacy will take all three grades at Craig Middle School’s new art studio.
Laliberte said the improvements in the art curriculum will directly benefit the students and their education.
“When we teach art, we don’t just show them how to draw,” Lalibterte said. “We do critiques, look at other pieces of art. Then there is the geometry of art. We also have art history in there, too.”
Villard is confident that the increased hours in art class is important in students’ early education.
“It really educates the whole child,” she said.