PBS in the Classroom

It’s Smart to Use the Arts: Tips for Fun and Creative Summer Learning

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July 07, 2017

We all know that the joy of creating something and then getting positive feedback offers a special bonus: a boost of self-confidence and connection with others. Add the fact that teaching with the arts helps children with different learning styles find a path to comprehension and achievement, and you have the perfect technique to extend learning during the summer.

Messy art projects—finger painting, sculpting with clay or sand, or chalk masterpieces—can be done inexpensively and more easily outside, in easy reach of a cleansing spray from the hose. Acting in a play, leaping through the air in a graceful jeté, or reciting poetry in the great outdoors (or an air-conditioned auditorium) does wonders for performers and audiences alike. And whether the venue is in school, an afterschool setting, or camp, sitting in a circle and drumming or singing a favorite tune is generally best done around a campfire.

Having fun with the arts during the summer also helps prevent the loss of academic knowledge and abilities—the “summer slide” that educators and parents worry about. Learning with the arts provides benefits that include:

    • Math skills: Visual arts activities help kids recognize patterns, shapes, size, counting, and spatial relationships. Dancing and singing also help with patterns and counting.
    • Science skills: Art projects, like hands-on science, invite kids to make decisions, experiment, and solve problems.
    • Language and literacy skills: Writing short plays and performing is a great way to improve reading, speaking, and writing. Dictating or writing captions for paintings is another way to improve literacy.

Here are just some of the ways you can focus on the arts this summer:

Fabricate a fairy tale. With your group, pick a favorite fairy tale or folk tale and write your own version. Have kids provide illustrations to make a class book, “publish” the book online, or create a reader’s theater script so kids can perform it for friends and family.

Beautify the neighborhood. Engage kids in an art project that will enrich their school, camp grounds, or a nearby park. Have kids paint personalized flags to put up around a doorway, draw a chalk “welcome mat” in a covered area, or make colorful signs using an outdoor space.

Take a museum field trip. Many museums offer free entry during the summer. If possible, connect with the arts educator there and bring your group for a tour. Worried about kids getting antsy? Go beforehand to create a “treasure map” for kids to discover, with clues about the art and artists. Many museums have special programs and tours designed for kids –be sure to check out the website.

Invite a local artist. Is there an up-and-coming musician, painter, sculptor, jewelry-maker, singer-songwriter, or hip-hop dancer nearby? Find one through a local arts or theater organization or that coffeehouse you keep meaning to check out. After the presentation, encourage kids to ask questions. Afterwards, kids can make and decorate thank you cards.

Make some music. Trade in your traditional lemonade stand for a bandstand! Give kids some simple instruments and practice a few easy songs. (No instruments? Just sing!) Then treat the neighborhood to a homemade music jamboree.

Read a book! Reading about the arts is perhaps one of the easiest ways to help kids think about, respond to, and appreciate the arts. Introduce a book before or after a hands-on activity to inspire kids and cheer on their accomplishments. Check with your local librarian for suggestions or try one of these:

    • Color Dance by Ann Jonas. Combing two art forms, this book features dancers whose flowing scarves illustrate color concepts.
    • Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen. Despite her too-big feet and too-long legs, Sassy is determined to be a ballet dancer, and her perseverance pays off.
    • The Dot by Peter Reynolds. A frustrated first grader is convinced that she can’t draw, until her teacher encourages her to let her creativity flourish.
    • Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka. Sparse, rhythmic, repetitive text echoes jazz syncopation, making it a perfect read aloud, before or after music activities.
    • Kamishibai Man by Allen Say. Can an elderly, traveling storyteller find a new audience, now that television has all but replaced him?
    • Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov. When Rifka accidentally makes her stage debut, she is greeted by appreciative applause.
    • Violet’s Music by Angela Johnson. Violet’s passion is music and when she finds like-minded friends, they form a band.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out Pinkalicious & Peterrific, a brand-new animated PBS KIDS show that will premiere on February 19, 2018. Featuring the irrepressible Pinkalicious—who dares to be different and sees beauty everywhere—and her funny, inventive younger brother, Peterrific, the show is inspired by Victoria Kann’s popular books. Appealing to boys and girls alike, the show celebrates art, creativity, curiosity, and adventure as it spotlights music, theater, dance, and the visual arts. Look for new educational resources from Pinkalicious & Peterrific on PBS LearningMedia this winter!

Are you exploring the arts this summer? Share images and memories using #SummerAdventurePBS on Instagram & Twitter! We'll be sharing our favorites!    

Cyrisse Jaffee has developed educational materials for ARTHUR, CURIOUS GEORGE, and many other children’s shows during the past 20 years in the WGBH Education Department. She holds a Master’s of Library Science from Simmons College and was a children’s and young adult librarian. She currently reviews children’s and young adult books for The Horn Book Guide. 

Cyrisse Jaffee

Cyrisse Jaffee WGBH Education

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