I love art. I enjoy dancing, listening to music, and creating things with my hands. My basement is filled with a variety of boxes with supplies for all kinds of art, from sewing and knitting to felting and bookbinding. I am by no means an expert, though I love getting wrapped up in a project and seeing it come to life.
Last week, my kids were fascinated by all things mail, so I had them work with me to create felt envelopes, stamps, and even a mail delivery bag. As a classroom teacher, I used the arts as a bridge to support my students to construct or demonstrate their learning on a regular basis. One year, my kindergarten class turned our entire classroom into the Pacific Ocean, complete with clay fish, illustrated informational guides, and a giant hand-sewn whale! While this was a semester-long project, the concept of arts integration can easily be used right at home — even if you have no arts background.
Arts integration means teaching through the arts, or using the arts as a way to support children (and adults!) to construct or demonstrate their learning. I like to think of it as allowing children another way to learn, express, and deepen their understanding within any given subject area. It might look like your child writing their own lyrics to a popular song to share what they’ve learned about a given topic, using dance to express their feelings, or painting signs of care and support for friends and neighbors to see from the windows. Here are some simple ways to integrate the arts into your day-to-day activities while at home with your child.
Set up an Art Area
Designate a space in your home to store open-ended materials (such as paper, pencils, crayons, and more) that your child can use on their own. Keeping the space neat and filled with minimal materials gives your child an ongoing invitation to create on their own terms. This is helpful during times when you aren’t able to sit with them to create a more in-depth project or need to be completing a project yourself. Children love having a chance to show how they can be responsible for a space and in charge of their own learning. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the materials are used and how elements from school, books, or current events show up in their creations.
Listening to and creating music can help children learn new concepts, process their feelings, and even calm their bodies! Keeping classical music on in the background when my kids are getting rowdy helps all of us calm down and focus. Listening to songs about the alphabet, words, and numbers has helped support my almost four-year-old as his interest in reading and math has deepened. Songs can also be a great way to break up your day and help you transition your child into a new activity. For example, we always listen to the same song when it’s time to tidy up after dinner. In the morning, I play the same playlist to get our day started. Having routines tied to music helps my kids know what to expect in our schedule and provides us all with a calm way to refocus and enjoy what we’re doing. Music can also be a great way to get wiggles out, be silly, or play a game (think freeze dance, Simon says, or even musical chairs) as a family!
Create with Recycled Materials
Creating projects using recycled materials is a great way to reduce waste, save money, and provide your children with endless artistic possibilities! As you go about your daily life, make an effort to save things like cardboard boxes, packing paper, paper tubes, tissue boxes, bottles, and cartons. Depending on your child’s age, you might choose to use a more structured approach, designing something like this milk carton birdhouse together. You can also set out a variety of materials, and be there to support your child as they create. In the past week, my children have used toilet paper tubes to create binoculars, cardboard boxes to create a spaceship, and designed their own roadway using leftover cardboard pieces and painter’s tape.
Make Real-World Connections
While Zoom calls and virtual classrooms have been great for staying connected to friends, family, classmates, and teachers, there are always opportunities to build more connections to real-world learning. Consider setting time aside each day for art as a family. Ask your child what they learned about that day, or what they are interested in, and go from there! If your child is interested in outer space, suggest making their own paper rocket while learning about the life of an astronaut in space. Children in our neighborhood created a visual scavenger hunt using peace rocks, which have provided my kids with endless conversations as we identify them on each street. Writing letters and using art to decorate envelopes, postcards, or even the letter itself can be a great way to incorporate art into staying connected with people who we aren’t able to see right now.
Integrating the arts doesn’t have to be complicated, cost a lot of money, or even require expertise in an arts discipline. All you need is a willingness to try something new and time set aside to be creative. I hope these ideas have sparked your interest in using the arts to deepen your children’s learning while at home.
By Jasmine Gibson, an educational consultant with expertise in early elementary education, supporting teachers, and designing curriculum.