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I Love It Because It’s Built By Me

Sep 27, 2017, 10:53 AM

Sofia, proud of her creation.

A few weeks before school started, my daughter and I were shopping and she wanted to buy a few items that she dubbed “fancy things.” This included some colorful tape, glitter glue, nice paper and some pom pom balls.

We got home and I watched as she immersed herself in the art-making process. Her brow furrowed as she intently used the glitter glue. She pulled away from the paper to get a better look at her creation before she decided where to place the colorful tape. And then she removed it and placed it somewhere else where there was more blank space on the paper.

When she finished, she was proud and beaming and quickly brought it to me for approval. I pointed out the colors that I saw. I told her that I liked the various textures she included and asked how she got the sparkly strings to stick to the paper. And then I asked her what she liked about the artwork herself. She said:

I love it because it’s built by me.

Indeed, the very act of creation is one of the reasons that I believe so strongly that the arts are a necessary part of every child’s education. If you unpack Sofia’s statement, you realize that there were so many positive educational experiences happening while she created this artwork:

Sofia was deeply engaged in the process.

Sofia made decisions about her work and revised it as she went.

Sofia created something new that didn’t exist before in the world.

Researchers Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner describe the skills acquired during art classes as habits of mind—persistence, expression, observation, envisioning, innovation through exploration and reflective self-evaluation. These are skills that I want my daughter to be learning.

Fast forward three weeks, and Sofia started kindergarten. I went to back to school night, and I joined the PTA. I want be involved and make sure that she is learning the skills taught through the process of art-making.

If you too believe that the arts can be a powerful tool for learning, then here are a few resources that can help you ensure that your child gets arts experiences as part of their education.

Family Activities — Learning begins at home. Here are some simple ideas to help your child enjoy the arts.

10 Simple Ways — If your child’s school doesn’t provide classes in art, music, dance and theater, here are 10 simple ways to get more arts into your child’s life.

Questions to Ask — Here are questions to ask your education leaders to determine the quality of your school or district’s arts program.


Kristen Engebretsen is the arts education program manager for Americans for the Arts. She also is a member of the Takoma Park Elementary PTA in Maryland.