From the time we enter school until we finish our formal education, we are constantly trying to increase our breadth of knowledge. Everyone knows that learning your multiplication tables, state capitals and doing traditional course work as a child is a typical approach to commit important facts and concepts to memory. However, we as a nation must not forget how important the effects of fun, spatially stimulating activities like art and music are to cognitive development. Creative thinking greatly stimulates the brain and have been proven to do everything from making reasoning skills stronger to improving mood, behavior and concentration.
In 1996, a survey conducted by the College Entrance Exam Board Service on students taking the SAT showed the effects on intelligence in relation to music. Those individuals who played a musical instrument scored 51 points higher on the verbal portion and 39 points higher on the math section of the test. This was a pretty impressive statistic considering that the increase in logical, left-brained activities like math was due to a right-brained creative activity.
The book, “The Mozart Effect” by Don Campbell outlines hundreds of benefits of music education and amongst those, he mentions that treatment for difficult disorders such as autism has shown huge improvements in patient response when music is incorporated into their lives. Have you ever had a bad day and put on your favorite artist and felt better, or have you ever realized how when working out, you do much more and go for longer periods while listening to your iPod? According to Campbell, this is because music also stimulates the areas of the brain that cause an increase in energy and motivation.
According to Emily Sohn in the Jan. 10 article, “Why Music Makes You Happy” on discoverynews.com, when listening to music, your brain releases dopamine, the same chemical that makes you feel satisfaction, pleasure and a general sense of well-being. This same enzyme is released during great sex or delicious meals, for instance.
Other creative activities such as art can also have a profound effect on mood and cognition. Research conducted by the group Americans for Arts published on abrakadoodle.com in the column “Benefits of Art Education” that children who regularly participate in an art class or do art projects are four times more likely to be in a math or science fair and four times as likely to win an award for writing. Like music, the social impact of creating art is similar. The same column listed numerous benefits to a child’s cognitive health. Art students have shown improved reasoning skills, problem solving skills, better language development and an increased tolerance toward other people.
Additionally, it is important to remember that activities like band class, choir or art programs are usually something kids look forward to and enjoy doing on their own time. In a world where test scores are becoming increasingly stressed in public schools due to initiatives like No Child Left Behind, schools that cram more math, science and tests into their curriculum are missing out on the benefits of fun activities that make students happier, smarter, well-rounded individuals.
Unfortunately, budget cuts and funding problems across the nation hit art and music programs particularly hard.
According to Robin Pogrebin in an April 1 New York Times article, “Art Outposts Stung By Cuts in State Aid,” our great state of Kansas has one of the smallest art budgets in the nation. The column goes on to say that in the 2012 fiscal year, 31 states made the choice to cut their art budgets due to the slacking economy and recession-related problems.
It is sad that some of the most stimulating and interactive parts of our culture and schools are falling victim to rules, regulations and an ideal stereotype of what is most important educationally and socially. I am not trying to say that math isn’t important or that biology isn’t useful, but through art and music, your brain is truly engaged and learning constantly instead of just memorizing facts for the sake of a test. Art and music should be highly stressed in all aspects of life because of lasting benefits these activities promote on a social, psychological and intellectual level.