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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Why Arts Education Matters

By Debbie Yarrow

The arts make a difference in the lives of children—every day and over their lifetimes. California Education Code requires schools to provide all forms of arts education to students in grades 1–12 (Sections 51210, 51220). Research provides evidence that an education in the arts—music, visual art, theater, dance, and literary and media arts—helps children in fundamental and complex ways. It gives students strategies to better understand themselves, their peers, their communities, and the world around them. In addition, high-quality, diverse, culturally representative arts education provides equity to students, particularly those in underserved communities.

Start Young

Actively participating in the arts from an early age is a game changer. Studying the arts stimulates the young brain and results in improved cognitive processing, memory, language skills, and literacy. Children can use the arts to practice self-control and positive behaviors. Arts classrooms offer a high-trust, low-risk space for students to learn about themselves and others.

Cultivate Empathy

Empathy is developed through imagination and perspective, which are key elements of art-based learning. The arts, both in arts classes and through interdisciplinary learning, foster cross-cultural understanding. When students perform the music, stories, and dance of other cultures, they embody that artist or culture, leading to increased empathy and kindness towards other students and cultures. 

Build Community

Through instruction from trained arts educators, students can develop their identities and their communities. Children are given the chance to express themselves and find their voice. Supportive, tightknit communities develop from rehearsals, collaborative projects, and performances. A community requires accountability from its members. Children learn how their actions affect others. Attendance, managing behaviors, and practicing social skills matter to the overall success of the group. Students “find their people,” creating friendships and memories that last a lifetime. 

Enrich Academics

The arts bring learning to life! So much critical thinking as well as physical, emotional, and social skills go into learning an art. It is important for children to have the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in developing arts skills. Through their lessons, arts teachers also inherently teach language, literacy, math, and science, which are all elements of every artistic discipline. But the arts also enrich other academic subjects as students become engaged with hands-on learning that is rich and memorable. One of the deepest forms of learning is through arts integration, in which a student demonstrates understanding of a subject area through an art form. Imagine how much that child will carry away from that learning experience!

Develop Life Skills 

High-quality arts education gives students a way to practice real life skills that lead to college and career goals. When students write and perform a play, learn an instrument, or create an artwork, they are also learning about creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communications. Their future employers will highly value these skills. Practicing patience and seeing consistent, hard work pay off is rewarding to every student. 

Create a Sense of Belonging

Perhaps most importantly, the arts satisfy our basic needs for happiness, security, and belonging. To actively learn music, art, dance, and drama is to feel alive with purpose. The arts classroom is where belonging, acceptance, and caring are regularly practiced. It is a home away from home. 

Champion the Arts

Become a thought partner and work with your school community. How can the arts be used to help and support students? As a parent, learn what kind of arts instruction is offered at your school. Are activities available for all students and offered throughout the grades? What issues are most pressing at your school (attendance, learning loss, engagement, etc.)? Then consider how the arts can be used as a tool to address those issues and provide equity and opportunity for all.  

Debbie Yarrow is a mom, arts education manager at Creative Sonoma, and a member of the Sonoma County Arts Education Alliance. For more about arts education, go to