Why Arts Matter

 
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My name is Carlton Holliday, Jr. and I’ve been teaching elementary school for seven years in Washington, DC. Throughout my career, I’ve taught preschool, pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade. I’m dedicated to early childhood education because these are the foundational years for children. 

There is a push nationwide to have more children enroll in preschool and pre-K programs. In recent years, some states and school districts have required children to enroll in early childhood education programs. Studies have shown that children who attend preschool and pre-K programs generally perform much better throughout their academic careers than children who start school in kindergarten.

Last school year was my sixth year in the teaching profession. I taught kindergarten at Democracy Prep Congress Heights, an elementary school located in Ward 8—one of Washington, DC’s most under-served communities. My kindergarten team wanted to focus heavily on literacy in our classrooms. I set a lofty goal for my kindergarteners—or as we call them, scholars. I wanted to have each scholar reading by the end of the school year. In order to reach our class’ goal, we needed more books in our decimated library.  

Many communities in Washington, DC are a literacy desert. There are not enough places to purchase or borrow books, especially without having access to transportation. I searched online for libraries and book stores within a 3 mile radius from our school. There were only two libraries within that distance. Then I browsed online for programs that offered free books and resources for my scholars.

Luckily, I stumbled across the Inner City-Inner Child website. I immediately reached out to the Executive Director, Ingrid Zimmer, in hopes of receiving some book donations for my class. Ingrid was so responsive and helpful. She came to visit my classroom and left over 100 books with us to add to our classroom library. 

I initially reached out to Ingrid for a simple book donation. Shortly into our conversation, Ingrid and I began to discuss our educational philosophies. We then realized that our philosophies were in sync and she kindly presented the possibility of bringing Inner City-Inner Child’s Dancing With Books program to the kindergarten classes at Democracy Prep Congress Heights. Dancing With Books is a classroom residency program that uses the arts—music, movement, and visual arts—to teach children literacy, math, and social-emotional skills.

Participating in Dancing With Books was a great decision that made a positive impact on my scholars throughout the school year. The residency gave my scholars ample opportunities to explore and learn while using their bodies. It was fascinating to see my scholars sing, dance, and chant to remember key details of a story. Inner City-Inner Child even donated personal books and backpacks to each scholar. 

My scholars were so excited and looked forward to participating every weekly session. The teaching artists were so skilled and knew how to make every moment teachable and valuable. They worked in harmonious partnership with teachers to make the classroom a less restrictive environment. It was a learning experience for everyone involved, including scholars and educators. 

My scholars even received social-emotional learning. They were introduced to meditation and ways to self-regulate their bodies. I noticed how this tool alone helped reduce conflict among them. The Dancing With Books residency was beneficial in my class because it introduced new strategies that I used with my scholars. I began to incorporate two minute calm-down breaks throughout the day, making transitions within the classroom more seamless and effective. 

 
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In addition, my scholars learned key words in sign language, such as love, hello, and thank you. The Dancing With Books residency taught my scholars vital life skills that they can use beyond the four walls of the classroom. Mastery of such skills can help children successfully navigate throughout life. 

Technology is more prevalent than ever before. Its widespread use has even reached the fingertips of young children. Most children have access to technology at home, and some of them have unlimited and unrestricted access. How does this affect our youth?  Young children often elect to spend time playing games on their parents’ phone or iPad rather than interact with others. I often wonder whether technology is stripping away our children’s creativity and social skills. 

Most public school districts and charter school networks are placing greater emphasis on technology. Although technology is important, arts education is necessary and it is a discipline that must remain in schools at each academic level. 

Early childhood educators can incorporate the arts into learning activities throughout the entire day. They can infuse arts into any lesson or skill that they teach. Young children love to sing, dance, and move. These activities make them happy and make learning fun. Movement activities minimize behavior concerns if the expectations are explicitly explained and understood. It’s unrealistic to expect young children to sit still at a desk or on the carpet for long extended periods of time. Children need opportunities to move their bodies.   

 Arts education also matters because it allows children the opportunity to create. The creativity process helps children see the world in a new light. The arts also give children the opportunity to connect with one another as human beings. No form of technology can truly replicate that type of communication. 

Inner City-Inner Child’s Dancing With Books residency program should be incorporated in every school across the city. It would greatly benefit the children of Washington, DC.