Why after-school enrichment programs are good for children

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 29, 2013 

Music teacher John Bisceglia teaches music and dance to kids during his Sound Artist Explorers class at Gabriel’s Art Kids in Bellingham in January 2013.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

As a parent, I have seen firsthand how the arts enrich the life of my child and hope they will continue to be a positive force in her adult life.

The arts connect us to our environment, our community and to each other more than any other experiences in the world. They encourage us to stop, observe, listen, contemplate and appreciate the world in which we live.

Instead of adding more time to a traditional class, after-school programs have the ability and flexibility to be creative and provide individualized learning.

More and more families are looking into after-school programs because they offer an array of programs that are not offered to their children during the school day. These programs give students many opportunities for growth and learning they might not find elsewhere. For example, at a time when many schools have had to cut or reduce spending on art and music programs, after-school programs can offer children the opportunity to paint, draw, perform in a dramatic productions, play music, participate in a dance performance, visit museums, etc.

At Gabriel's Art Kids, the After School Arts Program provides opportunities for children to create, collaborate and express themselves through exposure to and participation in the arts under the guidance of arts professionals. Various classes in visual arts such as painting, sculpture, drawing and crafts, dance, music and theater are offered to children in this program.

These types of programs are becoming more and more important for our young, developing children. In order for students to truly receive a well-rounded education the arts need to be a part of the curriculum. For example, one Bellingham elementary school has implemented an arts-infused curriculum and because of this their students' test scores have risen significantly.

We all know the arts allow children to be creative, but did you know it helps to build confidence? Allowing children to think on their feet may help to distinguish them from others. The arts help prove to them that their opinion counts. Theater helps tremendously with building confidence, by learning to take command of the stage, step out of their comfort zone, make mistakes and learn from them.

Without even realizing it, children who participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. How to create a sculpture, how to shade when drawing a still life, how to portray an emotion in theater, how to relay a story through dance. All this practice problem solving develops children's skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

For the most part children sit through approximately six hours of schooling five days a week. When they are enrolled in an after-school arts program they are still learning, however, it is not by sitting at a desk and listening to an instructor. They are up, on their feet, working with each other in collaboration. They learn compromise, responsibility, compassion and are able to accomplish a common goal. Students learn that contribution is necessary for the group's success and, through this, value has been gained even if they don't have the biggest role.

They learn from each other. Socialization is another wonderful aspect to an after-school program. Children are given the opportunity to meet and interact with others who may not be in their daytime classes or even in their school. They have a chance to make new friends who share a common interest.

Another huge benefit of after-school enrichment programs is giving children a place to go if their parents work full time. This keeps them engaged in an educational activity where they are allowed a creative outlet and are less likely to get into trouble if left alone at home until their parents arrive.

Allowing at-risk youth a creative outlet to work out any issues they may have can also be beneficial. Showing them they have a voice and respecting it can help them tremendously. Children are focusing their energy on something positive instead of just "hanging out" after school. These programs have shown a significant increase in academic achievement and attendance along with a reduction in dropout rates. Not only does it ease the worry for parents who have to work, it saves parents money on daycare or babysitters.

There are many different after-school programs available for children in elementary, middle and even high schools. They range from arts to sports to languages and academics. Ultimately you should allow your child to explore as many programs as possible to not only find what they like, but to allow them to have new experiences. Who knows, they may just find a hidden talent.

Gabriel Miles blogs about sharing the arts at BellinghamFamilies.com and owns Gabriel's Art Kids Preschool and After School Arts, at 1415 Dupont St., in Bellingham.

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