When the arts are present, students are encouraged to observe, wonder, and investigate. The arts allow children to become alive and to be aware of their senses entirely. For example, a child may notice how the warm light of the sun filters through trees in the early morning. This observation may lead to a question about how the sun is created, how the universe evolved, what the purpose of the day is, or simply how to use the light to capture a photo of the beautiful sunrise.
In this photograph, a 4th-grade student artist chose to document how the earth revolves around the sun. She stood in the same spot on the edge of the woods at the same time each day for one month. At the end of the month, she was able to compare how the sun's location changed, and she further noted how time had passed. In her report, she made the comment that she needed to stop being so busy because she didn't take the time to acknowledge the passage of time. The girl in this story is me.
As adults, how often do we underestimate what fourth graders are capable of creating – or, for that matter, students of any age? Arts education provides a venue for a child’s intellectual capacity to become visible and evolve into impactful life-long lessons. Because of the arts, I had the opportunity to consider a problem, research answers, think of new possibilities, and create a series of photographs that were responsive and meaningful to me. The art of photography, in this case, was a vehicle to further my understanding of my 4th-grade self and develop meaning in the world around me. My imagination was encouraged, and I grew as an intellect, a philosopher, and a scientist. I also understood that I belonged to something much more significant than me and that I had a responsibility to myself to slow down and enjoy the passage of time – lessons that I continue to employ today.
The practice of art education today is truly about teaching the whole child. Children are encouraged to express their ideas, opinions, beliefs, and form new meaning about themselves and the world. When the arts are absent from school, mastery of academic knowledge dictates the life of a student. Children eventually lose touch with their ability to see and experience the world with wonder. Their world becomes one-sided, and not everyone finds success.
All children deserve ample opportunity to use the arts to wonder and investigate meanings related to themselves and the world. All children deserve to learn that their voice and their being is significant and valued.