Creative arts are an essential component of early education as they facilitate the development of imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. Introducing young children to the arts is necessary for supporting their development and overall cognitive growth. Furthermore, art instruction in elementary school settings can positively impact students’ academic success and behavior. This paper will discuss and examine the topic of visual arts incorporation into the elementary curriculum in the United States. It will argue that visual arts integration is highly beneficial, and its implementation should be encouraged as it positively influences the development of cognitive and social-emotional skills and leads to better academic and behavioral outcomes.
Defining Visual Arts
The term visual arts can be used to describe any art form that can be appreciated by sight or is visual in nature. According to Zhou and Brown (2018), visual artistry can include various types of painting and drawing, sculpture, ceramics, architecture, print design, photography and video, and film production. In addition, such disciplines as fashion, graphic, industrial, and interior design, calligraphy, jewelry design, and even performance arts can be considered visual art forms as they have a significant optical element (Zhou & Brown, 2018). Each of the mentioned forms has numerous stylistically different movements and genres and is achieved through a variety of media. Thus, painting is a practice of applying coloring pigments and dyes such as paints on a surface, while photography requires the use of a camera to achieve an image (Zhou & Brown, 2018). Overall, visual arts are a term that encompasses a vast number of art forms performed in different media, but that can be accessed through the sense of sight.
Visual Arts Integration in the United States
Visual arts are often incorporated into the curriculum in elementary schools in the United States. However, before discussing the benefits and methods of incorporating arts and creative skills into the curriculum, it is essential to clarify the process of art integration itself. The term can be defined as “the practice of purposefully connecting concepts and skills from the arts and other subjects” (Wan et al., 2020, p. 37). Thus, visual arts in the elementary curriculum are used primarily as a form of instruction to deliver knowledge and foster comprehension of notions and concepts from other subjects and disciplines. The introduction of art for young students does not focus on learning about various art forms but translates into education on different ideas using art. For example, basic geometry shapes can be presented and learned via painting, drawing, clay art, or any other creative activity that allows for the graphic representation of the figures. Overall, visual arts instruction is aimed at presenting new material to students in an engaging way.
Due to the variety and technical complexity of some forms of visual arts, few are integrated into the elementary curriculum. In addition, budget constraints also contribute to a limited number of art programs being available in schools. Nevertheless, numerous art incorporation programs are realized throughout the country. For example, the Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion Initiative and Seattle Public Schools Creative Advantage ensure elementary school children receive access to art instruction and education to improve student outcomes (Workman, 2017). Furthermore, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in 2015 encourages the inclusion of different art forms into the curriculum throughout school education (Workman, 2017). ESSA offers public schools funds to broaden their curriculum to include arts providing school administration support for their proposal with theoretical evidence that art integration will positively affect student achievement (Gara et al., 2018). Overall, it can be argued that art instruction and education are widely implemented in the United States, with numerous programs supporting schools in the assimilation of visual and other forms of art into their curriculum.
Beneficial Effects of Visual Arts
Visual arts integration into the elementary curriculum has a substantial beneficial effect on the cognitive development of children. According to Workman (2017, p. 2), visual arts instruction facilitates the development of deeper learning skills or “the skills and knowledge students need to attain success in college, career, and citizenship.” Thus, art incorporation leads to students adopting effective learning strategies and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Workman, 2017). Workman (2017) states that the described learning skills are interconnected with cognitive skills, with arts instruction leading to improvements in mathematics and reading and writing performance. Furthermore, Ludwig et al. (2017) note that visual arts instruction fosters cognitive creativity and imagination in students. Thus, adding art instruction and education into the elementary curriculum substantially affects the students’ cognitive development. It can be asserted that arts assimilation can translate into better academic outcomes both in elementary and high school. Moreover, the deeper learning and cognitive skills are advantageous beyond the students’ academic careers, as they can be applied in day-to-day situations. Overall, visual arts integration is positively correlated with the development of cognitive skills in elementary school students.
Visual arts integration into the curriculum is positively correlated with academic achievement. It can be contended that due to the students developing deeper learning, creative, and cognitive skills, their academic performance is significantly enhanced compared to learners in schools with no arts program. According to Ludwig et al. (2017), arts incorporation increases academic achievement in English, reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. In addition, research shows that students involved in visual art programs and music score approximately 150 points higher on their SAT than those not involved in arts (Americans for the Arts, 2020). Moreover, underprivileged students with high arts participation are less likely to drop out of school and are more likely to graduate college compared to their peers (Americans for the Arts, 2020). The incorporation of art instruction in elementary schools eliminates the disparity between students from different socio-economic backgrounds, as learners from disadvantaged families cannot afford art programs if the educational institution does not provide them. Thus, art assimilation in elementary schools allows for equity in education. Overall, integrating visual arts into the elementary curriculum is highly beneficial as it positively impacts academic achievement.
Arts integration can also help students develop their social-emotional skills. According to Ludwig et al. (2017), visual arts facilitate social-emotional development, allowing students to learn more about themselves and form relationships with others. Thus, art instruction and education can lead to students being more confident and aware of their own feelings. The inclusion of visual arts into the elementary curriculum allows students to learn more about society, different cultures, and various human experiences. According to Workman (2017), art helps students better understand and adopt different ways of thinking and expressing themselves. Furthermore, it allows young learners to communicate with others more efficiently, both verbally and nonverbally (Workman, 2017). For example, a painting assignment asking young children to depict their feelings can help them better comprehend their emotions and express them accurately. In addition, such a task can help understand what feelings others are experiencing and how to address them. Overall, visual arts contribute to children learning how to recognize and regulate their emotions and communicate effectively with others, respecting the feelings and opinions expressed by other people.
Visual arts integration into the curriculum also has beneficial behavioral outcomes in younger children. According to Americans for the Arts (2020), arts education results in fewer students receiving disciplinary infractions because of unacceptable behavior in school. It can be argued that due to arts, specifically visual arts inclusion, children understand their emotions and feelings better and act out less when in school. If children understand the cause of their frustration or stress, there are more likely to address it more constructively, without negative outbursts. Thus, it is crucial to ensure art integration in elementary school in order to teach young children how to behave in school and in their community.
In summary, creative arts are vital for early life development and education. Research shows that arts integration, including visual arts, positively correlates with better academic and behavioral outcomes. In addition, arts incorporation into the elementary curriculum has a positive impact on the children’s cognitive, creative, and social-emotional skills. Overall, it is important to ensure that children from all backgrounds have access to visual arts instruction and education in elementary schools, as they facilitate learning and contribute to them being more emotionally developed.
Americans for the Arts. (2020). 10 arts education fast facts. Web.
Gara, T. V., Brouillette, L., & Farkas, G. (2018). Did the frequency of early elementary classroom arts instruction decrease during the no child left behind era? If so, for whom? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 263–276.
Ludwig, M. J., Boyle, A., & Lindsay, J. (2017). Review of evidence: Arts integration research through the lens of the Every Student Succeeds Act. American Institutes for Research.
Wan, Y., Ludwig, M., Boyle, A., & Lindsay, J. (2020). The role of arts integration and education in improving student outcomes. State Education Standard, 20(1), 36–41.
Workman, E. (2017). Beyond the Core: Advancing student success through the arts. Education Commission of the States.
Zhou, M., & Brown, D. (Eds.). (2018). Arts integration in the elementary curriculum (2nd ed.). GALILEO Open Learning Materials.