Investing in Children Through the Arts

Sept. 26, 2018

This guest post comes from Akua Kouyate-Tate, vice president of education at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, and Jamie Moon, president at the Institute for Child Success.

When the National Association of Colleges and Employers asked employers what skills they prioritize when recruiting, they unequivocally listed ability to work well on teams, decisive problem solving and effective communication. Social-emotional learning provides the foundation for teamwork, resilience and other skills that are integral to success in school and in life, and helps shape the workforce of tomorrow. Studies have shown that activities grounded in the performing arts help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and collaboration skills. For example, drama allows children to create fictional spaces and take on roles where they can practice communication and work on mastering complex skills, such as empathy. And yet, these arts resources are frequently unavailable or under-utilized, especially in economically disadvantaged areas where children need the most support.

Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and Institute for Child Success (ICS) believe that every child is born with enormous potential, and that local communities can help them realize that potential through the power of the performing arts. Research shows that in a child’s first few years, the brain forms 1 million new neural connections every second. Those connections provide the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.

In 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts an Art Works: Creativity Connects grant — furthering the goal of setting our youngest learners up for success. Implemented through a partnership between Wolf Trap Institute and ICS, the goal of Creativity Connects: Arts in Early Learning is threefold: to convene key community leaders in early childhood education and the arts; to spark meaningful conversations about the effectiveness of early childhood arts integration; and to foster the creation of actionable plans to incorporate the arts into early childhood classrooms in each community. As districts in states across the country — including California, Georgia and Illinois — begin to implement social-emotional learning initiatives, incorporating the arts into these strategies may be one avenue worth exploring. Similarly, as states continue to increase funding for early learning initiatives, considering the advantages of programs like those included in Creativity Connects could provide policymakers with new ways to help prepare their youngest students.

In March 2018, Wolf Trap Institute and ICS hosted a symposium at the Milwaukee Art Museum, focused on supporting early childhood social and emotional development through the arts – identified by community members as a critical focus. Attendees participated in active artist workshops and interactive panels with leading experts on the arts, early childhood education, and social and emotional development. The symposium provided participants with tools that will allow them to impact children in Milwaukee. In addition to continued Creativity Connects’ work through programs in Milwaukee Public Schools, an artist-in-residency fellowship will support a local artist to further develop their art in service to Milwaukee’s children.

Investing in children’s early learning is an investment in our future and one that lays the groundwork for the long-term flourishing of a community. In the case of Milwaukee, the symposium helped jumpstart conversations that could assist in making the city an attractive location for business with a well-developed workforce, build a caring and committed community for future generations, and improve long-term social and economic outcomes for all. Wolf Trap and ICS feel inspired by the progress to make this vision a reality across the country, but to succeed, it takes a whole community making this investment together. Visit to learn strategies for integrating the arts into the lives and educations of our youngest learners or join us at an upcoming Creativity Connects: Arts in Early Learning symposium, Oct. 18 in Denver or Dec. 5 in Los Angeles.

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Akua Kouyate-Tate

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Jamie Moon

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