Experience with the arts is important throughout elementary school. Children often have specialist art teachers, especially in the intermediate grades. These twice-weekly sessions are most often devoted to vocal music, which is certainly beneficial; yet it would be far better if the arts program also included regular sessions of dance, painting, and instrumental music. The arts have an unstable history in our schools -- arts programs are sometimes viewed as less important than other programs, and they are often among the first to be cut when budgets are tight. Parents should therefore be vigilant, insisting that strong, balanced arts programs are essential and must be made available to their children.
What kids should learn in the arts
Ideally, the classroom time devoted to the arts program is supplemented by after-school enrichment programs and small group lessons, particularly in music and the visual arts. The intermediate years are an especially fertile time for children who are interested in string instruments. Many children develop new interests in music at this time, and their physical growth enables them to handle a bow, to manipulate strings, and to hear sounds better than they could before.
Fourth grade children, like younger children, are readily drawn to painting as a means of self-expression, and they are also attracted to group choral singing. The fourth grade is a good time to make art museums, art exhibitions, and musical performances a regular part of the curriculum. Teachers and parents can also encourage children to watch performance programs on public television; these broadcasts can do a great deal to enrich children's knowledge and appreciation of a wide range of music and drama. Even opera can be quite accessible and enjoyable to a child, if care is taken to tell the child what to expect and how to interpret what he or she views.
Integrate the arts into the curriculum
One way fourth grade teachers integrate the arts into the curriculum is by having the children read biographies of musicians, dancers, and painters as part of their language arts work; children can also read the lyrics of both classical and contemporary songs. Another way children gain enhanced awareness of the arts is by putting on plays or concerts for which they design and paint sets and write scripts and music. In social studies, the arts are introduced as cultural aspects of life -- for example, various art forms can be related to their regions of origin. Even science touches the arts when topics such as sound and color appear in the science curriculum.