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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Art Program Essential to Early Learning

On a warm May morning, Sociology student Marea Ross finds herself crouched on a classroom floor, watching red, blue, and sparkly rainbow birds fly around an over flowing nest.

Coming out of their shells and circling their den one at a time, these birds, of various shapes and sizes are learning how to take turns, follow direction and problem solve, though they are having too much fun to know it.

No, its not a psychedelic foray into bird watching, it’s a lesson in dance created by volunteers in the Preschool arts Project coordinated by College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) professor Joan Arches.

In a year of economic recessions and cutbacks, Joan Arches and CPCS sought to expand the curriculum offered at UMB’s Early Learning Center.

Focusing on the areas of music, art, photography and dance, students and volunteers created and implemented a program meant to enhance learning across the curriculum for the children of the center through hands on projects and activities.

Using national standards as a guideline for each module, the center hosted four six-week programs that centered on the specific needs of the children at the center according to age and maturity level. Elements of literacy, numeracy, problem solving, critical thinking, and turn taking were taken into account for each lesson.

While long-term effects won’t be measurable for some time, many of the volunteers noticed subtle changes in classroom behavior from week to week.

Students were better able to cooperate as each course progressed, and as they acquired skills in each field their excitement for learning and participation increased.

Further, both males and females participated fully in the lessons, temperamental days induced by sleepiness, hunger, or the fact that these children were all five years old and younger aside.

The importance of arts in the classroom has become a hot topic in recent years thanks to wide spread projects exploring the benefits of such programs.

Fueled by organizations like VH1s Save the Music, which emphasizes the importance of music programs, and Harvard’s Project Zero, which acts to build upon our knowledge of the benefit of arts in the classroom, programs in the arts are being saved or reintroduced in schools that until recently, had seen a decline in the number of artistic outlets available to students.

Other organizations, like Arts Edge, the National Arts and Education Network, an off shoot of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, work to fill in the gaps and regulate the standards of arts education in all of its forms in grades K through 12.

However, economic conditions being what they are, the push for arts integration has stalled. Thus, programs like the one presented by CPCS are becoming at once scarce and more important.

While budget cuts to our own state and local economies make the future of such endeavors uncertain for the moment, the value of providing arts based learning can be seen in the accomplishments, great and small, of the children who have had such exposure.

Most of those involved with the Preschool Arts program can personally attest to observing such benefits in their work.

“It was inspirational to see how much fun the children were having,” Ross said of the progress of students in the dance module. “I never would have thought such simple exercises could generate such an enthusiastic and positive response.”