Home is Where the Art Is: 15 Things Children Learn from Art

child drawing

Art enhances a child’s perception of their environment, and allows them to experience uninhibited interaction with the world around them. The sheer delight and joy that a child possesses as she gleefully creates a finger-painting produces more than just a nice project. It produces a happy, self-satisfied artist.  The ability to articulate self-expression is important in both young and old, and art is an ideal foundation for healthy expression of individuality. It is not uncommon for us to view art activities as something to do if there is time after the more important subjects have been completed. However, art is vital to more than stimulating the creative spark. There is much to be gained from engaging in art. I asked Cindy Bell, adjunct professor for Biola University’s School of Education, how art benefits students. She quickly came up with fifteen reasons we should make art a priority in our children’s lesson plans.

15 Things Children Learn from Art
  1. Develops creative thinking
  2. Provides a means of communication and self-expression
  3. Serves as an emotional release
  4. Builds confidence
  5. Increases self-understanding
  6. Heightens aesthetic awareness and sensitivity
  7. Enhances the ability to visualize
  8. Provides problem-solving/decision-making opportunities
  9. Develops appreciation for the individuality of others
  10. Leads to the integration of the individual
  11. Serves as a balance to academic activities
  12. Aids physical coordination
  13. Develops work habits and a sense of responsibility
  14. Aids the adult in understanding and helping the child
  15. Generates joy

If that insightful list isn’t enough to encourage you to plan art for your children, perhaps the following reasons for adding art to your curriculum will motivate you.

student painting of tree

Sample of a student’s painting done for the Emily Carr trees lesson plan, submitted by Melissa Corry. The complete lesson plan can be found at http://www.incredibleart.org

  1. Communication Skills: A child learns to communicate visually before they communicate verbally. From the moment they are born, children are interested in the environment around them, and by age 2, their depth perception and eye hand coordination is greatly developed. Beginning at age 2, children are extremely curious and love to explore objects around them. They are drawn to scribbling with colors and recreating familiar bits and pieces of their world. Often, young children are able to communicate through art, when they do not possess words to express themselves. Art therapy is often used to help young children relieve stress, or to cope with emotional or physical trauma. It is easy to see the joy in the brightly colored swirls that a four year old creates or to understand the pain of losing a beloved pet in a black and gray drawing. I remember when my six-year old daughter drew picture after picture of tall smoking buildings after the tragedy of September 11. I also remember a drawing of her cartoon bubble telling me to “Turn off the TV!”, and in the background there was a crudely drawn television screen filled with smoking buildings. It did not take an expert to tell me that my daughter had seen enough news for one week. She was able to clearly communicate her feelings to me through her drawings.
  2. Problem Solving Skills: When children take time to work on a project, and have the freedom to make changes, they are developing their problem solving skills. Providing opportunity for your children to see things from several perspectives aids in allowing them to interpret things around them differently. If you are able to present your children with a box of odds and ends such as yarn, buttons, pipe cleaners, crayons, fabric scraps, tin foil, paper towel rolls, etc., and ask them to create a sculpture, they are forced to look at the various items and figure it out.  According to Katrin Oddleifson Robertson, a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, “creative thinking and reasoning have been identified and highlighted as an essential twenty-first-century skill by many business, education, community and government leaders.”1
  3. Higher SAT Scores: According to the results of a 2005 report, there is a correlation to higher SAT scores and time spent in art classes.2 The more art students have had, the higher their SAT scores. It was found that students who had four years of art coursework performed 58 points higher on the verbal section and 38 points higher on the math section than those who had one-half year or less of an art course.
  4. Good Self-Esteem: Children, who take the time to create, often feel proud of their accomplishments. When children expend their energy and effort on an art project, whether it is a simple drawing or an intricate clay sculpture, they have a finished product in which they can be satisfied. Children are not in control of much of their world, but when they are in the mode of creating something unique, they are able to experience a positive self concept.
  5. Fine Motor Skills: It goes without saying that as a child engages in activities such as drawing, painting, stringing beads, gluing pieces of paper together, etc., fine motor skills will be honed. Every time children draw something, the neural pathways from their hand to their brain are tracking, and the fine motor skills are sharpened with each stroke of a paintbrush.
  6. Provides a Learning Option: As we know, each of our children learn differently. While one child may respond to an auditory style of teaching, another child may need to be more kinetic in order to absorb facts. For students who may have special needs or giftedness, art is a perfect outlet for learning. Creating a timeline on butcher paper while discussing the importance of the historical events can help cement facts in the mind of a child. According to Sam Wang, author of the book Welcome to Your Child’s Brain, art can also help children who struggle with impulse control which can help them have better concentration, and ultimately, better behavior.3

Giving your child the gift of unbridled creativity is an investment that will never lose its value, so how can you find ways to incorporate art into your already busy week? There are numerous websites with creative ideas and art lesson plans.  I particularly like the Incredible @rt Department Website.  When perusing this site, I found lesson plans for preschool through college. The lessons are organized by grade, art period, medium, subject, and artist, making it easy to plan specifically for your child.  There is also a section that describes lesson plans that integrate art with a core subject such as geology or world history. This website is rich with ideas from art teachers; therefore, the ideas are not only creative and fun, but have been tried and tested. Another website I like is National Art Education Association. This website links to ArtSonia, which has lesson plans for early childhood through high school.

Instilling the freedom of expression through art is a gift your children will enjoy their whole lives. They will be prone to unexplained tantrums of joy as they create objects that are an extension of themselves. Your children will have the privilege of exploring life unrestrained, as they discover ways to voice their emotions. Conveying their interpretation of the world around them, your children will gain more than just beautiful artwork for the refrigerator. They will see the world as our Creator intended, with deep appreciation and wonder.


  1. Katrin Oddleifson Robertson is a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s School of Education and founder and creative director of Wholemindesign, an organization that supports using design intelligence in the learning process. Katrin studied art and art history at Oberlin College and education at Stanford University. She currently teaches pre-service and practicing teachers how to incorporate the arts into their work in the classroom.
  2. See Rupport “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement” at the National Assembly State Arts Agencies Website for more insight on these findings.
  3. For more information regarding this topic, see Wang, Sam, and Sandra Aamodt. Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College. 1st ed. Bloomsbury: New York, 2011. Print.