I have always been a big supporter of integrated arts teaching methods. It supports my believe that the arts are more than just creative expression, they are a vehicle to open a child up to learning ALL subjects. I often engage in arts and music educator groups on Facebook and a few weeks ago I saw a great post from art teacher, Karen Nall from Lyman Elementary School showcasing an arts night their school hosted.

I reached out to her and ask if she would be interested in sharing with The Artistic Edge’s audience all the great things her school is doing to integrate the arts. Here is what Karen said during a recent interview with me:

Lisa’s Question: What is integrated arts teaching and why is it important for a child’s development?

Karen’s Answer: Integrated arts teaching is a method of teaching in which students use various art forms (visual arts, music, dance, drama) to demonstrate understanding of core subjects being taught. Integrated arts teaching is very important. Studies show that students exposed to drama, music, and dance are more proficient at reading, writing, and math and that art education improves literacy skills. Using the arts as a means of teaching helps with developing fine motor skills, critical thinking skills, social skills, and so much more.  When the arts are involved in a student’s learning experience, more areas of the brain are involved, more learning styles are being used, and more information is being retained.

Lisa’s Question: How do you strive to integrate the arts in your classroom and in your school?

Karen’s Answer: As an art teacher I feel it is important to make the arts an integral part of a child’s education.  I keep in contact with the classroom teachers and try have a general idea of the various units/topics they are teaching in their classroom throughout the year. Any place I see where I can reinforce their teaching in my classroom, I try to make that happen. I usually have 2-3 art projects for each grade level that overlap with what the students are being taught in their classroom.

Along with incorporating core curriculum in my art class, I try to provide resources to help teachers include more art in their classroom. If a classroom teacher is looking to use art as a method in teaching a certain topic, I enjoy helping to create an art lesson for that teacher to use in his/her class.

I also strive to include as many different art forms as possible in my own teaching. I use storytelling as method to introduce a new artist. I use poetry as a form of assessment and supplementation to art projects. My students also learn songs to help them remember key information that we are learning and we play drama games and more.

Lisa’s Question: What do your students gain from their arts education?

Karen’s Answer: My hope is that my students gain so much more than a portfolio of nice artwork at the end of the school year. I have never taken my job as an art teacher lightly. I recognize the huge opportunity I have in teaching every student at the school. I have the rare chance to touch a large number of students each school year. They may only spend a small amount of time in my classroom each week, but I strive to make a big impact on my students in that short amount of time.  In my room, a few of my goals are to develop self esteem, increase students interest in trying new things, provide chances for students to step out of their comfort zone, and develop a love and excitement for coming to school. I also recognize that teaching the arts goes further than just the visual arts. I strive to include as many different art forms as possible in my own teaching. In 2011, I received my Masters in Integrating Teaching Through the Arts to help me with integrating the arts as much as possible in my curriculum.

Lisa’s Question: What kind of arts events do you do at your school?

Karen’s Answer: I have several art events throughout the year including Clay Cafe, Evening with the Arts, and Art Encounter.

Clay Cafe is an opportunity for students and their families to come one evening and make their own creations with clay. This event is always a favorite of mine. For a solid two hours, you can view our cafeteria full of families getting messy while making whatever they would like with clay. Cell phones are down and memories are being made. It is a blessing to watch it all.

The music teacher and I also collaborate to provide the chance for the families at our school to experience the arts as well through an event called An Evening with the Arts. This includes a school wide art show and several other arts stations for the families to take part in, such as Glow in the Dark painting, making a musical instrument, making straw sculptures, pottery artist demonstrations, and more. The evening is capped off with a music program including several performances from various music groups our school has including the Honors Chorus and Drum Ensemble.

Another big way I work to expose the students at my school to as many art forms as possible is with my Art Encounter Day. This is an annual arts day event that takes place all day and involves the entire school. During Art Encounter I have artists stationed in the classrooms and the classes rotate among the various artists throughout the day. Some of the sessions include artist demonstrations and some of the stations provide a hands on art making experience for the students. At Art Encounter the students encounter fiber artists, musicians, dancers, wood carvers, silhouette artists, painters, caricaturists, and more.

Lisa’s Question: What do the parents say about those events?

Karen’s Answer: The parents have always been very supportive of these events. I am lucky to be in a community where the arts are appreciated and valued. They love the opportunity to strengthen the “family community” at our school through these fun and educational events.

Lisa’s Question: What would you say to administrators and school boards who are looking to cut arts programming in schools?

Karen’s Answer: I would say they are cutting opportunities to enrich their students’ educational experience through methods that make learning more meaningful. I would challenge them to look at the research and the studies that have been done which show proof of the value in integrating the arts in education.

I am extremely fortunate at Lyman Elementary School to have administration who values and supports arts education. My principal even once told me “Every child is gifted at something. As an educator, it is our job to find out what that “thing” is, and it is not always math.” That is what I strive to do every day in my classroom: Use the arts to help my students find THAT thing they excel in.

For Integrated Arts Resources for teachers and leadership professionals visit The Artistic Edge.