So why might the arts integration help children’s memory? “Arts allow for elaboration, allow for repetition,” Dr. Hardiman said. “Memory is certainly enhanced through repetition, the more you revisit something, the more you remember it.” And the visual and performing arts also allow children to elaborate in creative ways on the material.
The advantage of learning through the arts will come as no surprise to anyone who grew up with the “Fifty Nifty United States” song or learned how a bill becomes a law from Schoolhouse Rock. Some of today’s children are learning history from the lyrics of “Hamilton.”
I suddenly remembered a rather mournful tune from decades ago, in high school, when a science teacher told us we would be tested on the elements with a charge of positive 2 and a friend and I set them to a chant; I can still name them, in order, and when it comes to chemistry, I am definitely one of the less able students.
“Arts integration should not replace arts education,” Dr. Hardiman said. She suggested a “three-legged stool,” with one leg being arts education, including dedicated classes in visual and performing arts, and the second arts and cultural offerings, such as artists coming into the school or visits to museums. The third leg would be the integration of the arts into the teaching of other subjects.
“Parents can easily do simple arts activities with kids,” Dr. Hardiman said, and can incorporate these ideas around homework or just in spending time together. Maybe it would help to put the multiplication tables into a song, or ask children to sketch their ideas, or use body poses to show the emotion that a character in a story is feeling.
Ronald Beghetto, a professor of educational psychology and the director of Innovation House at the University of Connecticut, studies creativity in educational settings, which, he said, “can be manifest across all different disciplines.”
“We tend, as adults, to overplan and overstructure young people’s experiences,” Dr. Beghetto said. While structure is important, he said, so is “letting kids determine their own problems to solve, their own ways to solve them.”
Arts education, he said, can provide those structured opportunities that foster creativity.
“Working through some creative endeavor, we’re really resolving uncertainty,” he said. “We approach the blank canvas.”