Ballerino. Photo from flickr user Scooter Lowrimore via Creative Commons license

The other night I dropped my son off for his first dance class. It was heart warming to see him so fully engaged in something new, a positive activity that will undoubtedly help him build self-confidence and an appreciation of art. I had a fun reminder of his enthusiasm for the performing arts this morning when I saw a post by the Teen Librarian Toolbox about books for dance lovers, and I made a connection between my experience as a parent and what we do as librarians. The TLT blog author points out that we shouldn’t forget the arts in the mix of all the new STEM projects we host at the library. In fact, I have heard many librarians refer to the acronym STEAM which throws art in the mix, right beside the hot topics in science, technology, engineering and math. As you build your programs for this fall and winter, don’t forget about art.

Creating, experiencing and interpreting art helps teens build developmental assets that set the stage for success in the classroom and beyond. The Search Institute lists creative activities as one of the 40 building blocks of healthy adolescence. Teens should participate in visual or performing arts for three or more hours a week. In the mix of homework, sports, and other activities, three hours may seem like a major commitment, but it should be a priority for many reasons. Art, in its various forms, helps teens form deeper connections with the’ world. It is also a powerful method of communication, rich with emotion and meaning that crosses language barriers.

The research shows that teens that attend arts-based after school programs are four times more likely to participate in a science or math fair, three times more likely to win an award for academic attendance, and 25% more likely to report feeling satisfied with themselves (“Youth Development and the Arts in Nonschool Hours“). This is especially true for teens that score higher on risk assessments. These outcomes might be linked to the fact that art encourages imaginative planning, identity expression, experimentation, and positive peer critique.

Let’s not forget that art goes hand-in-hand with the maker movement too. It’s hard to be an innovator and a confident maker without having a creative vision. Artists, like makers, take something that may have only been previously imagined and turn it into a reality that can be shared with others, whether that means drawing out a design, sewing a quilt, or making a piece of technology. I am reminded of Drawdio. In a perfect amalgamation of technology and art, Drawdio allows makers to “MacGuyver” any paintbrush or pencil into a musical instrument so that you can draw audio (see the video below).

More interdisciplinary STEAM projects popped up on my Facebook newsfeed this week courtesy PBS LearningMedia. In honor of National Arts in Education week, PBS shared a clip about moveable books–intricate, 3D pop-up creations designed using a mix of art and engineering. With context from librarian Ann Montanaro at Rutgers University and creators Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda, the books in this video could inspire an interesting DIY teen program on paper engineering.

If you are not keen on these ideas, there is always art in the classical sense too. Of all our maker supplies this past summer, acrylic paints were by far the most popular. While good old paint might not sound as catchy as robotics or coding, a well crafted painting program can help connect teens with the skills to succeed in the arts and beyond. According to STEM from DANCE and a 2012 study out of MIT, one of the main factors for low STEM engagement is a lack of confidence. Putting a brush to canvas or choreographing a dance to pop music builds the same discipline and confidence that it takes to succeed in other endeavors like engineering and computer programming.

Even if teens do not exchange their brushes for science instruments, they will have gained many positive skills. At a minimum, a program focused on art will introduce teens to a hobby that can bring many years of enjoyment and self-fulfillment.

About Rebekah Kamp

Rebekah works as the Youth Services Librarian at the Belgrade Community Library. She enjoys designing innovative programming for children and teens. When not at the library, Rebekah is an outdoor enthusiast who loves spending time with her children camping, hiking, and exploring in Montana.

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