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2016 Mar

Art + Learning = Fun

Pre-k and kindergarten students in matching purple polo shirts shuffle single file into the auditorium of PB Young Elementary School in Norfolk. They sit cross-legged in a semi-circle, chatting with friends, and stare curiously at the microphones and keyboard and three strangers in front of them. Teachers pull up chairs beside their classes, hushing their young students, and slowly everyone settles down.

These kids don’t know it yet, but they’re about to have fun learning.

Sometimes comprehending new math and reading concepts can be a bore for kids. Plus it’s hard to remember everything over the course of a semester—or from one grade to the next. A local arts group is helping kids retain what they learn using out-of-the-box techniques—and it’s working.

Young Audiences—Arts for Learning—of Virginia (YAV) has discovered that incorporating arts into educational programs helps children master core school subjects.  

“The impact that we’re making, even in a performance setting, is so powerful,” said Michael Kerry Williams, YAV’s executive director. “We’re infusing learning comprehension through the art form.”

Founded in 1955, Young Audiences was established to bring the arts to kids across the state in exciting new ways. Ever since, in schools and libraries across the state, countless YAV artists have used visual arts, music, dance, and storytelling to inspire kids from pre-k through grade 12.

Besides performances, Young Audiences offers residencies in schools, where artists work with students on a regular basis; and visual arts projects, which give students the chance to learn from professionals and create a final piece that can be presented to the public.

“We also just do art. It doesn’t have to be tied to curriculum,” said Michael. “The arts in themselves are intrinsically needed.”

Whether for pleasure, creative expression, or skill building, arts can help kids learn valuable life skills and reinforce a spectrum of subjects. Thanks to YAV’s programs, students are improving literacy, math, and motor skills—and learning about character, values, and feelings. Best of all, they’re creatively engaged and enjoying every minute of it.

Back in the auditorium, two women stand side-by-side in front of their microphones while a man plays soft tunes at the keyboard, waiting to begin the program.

“Good morning! Thank you so much for having us,” says the first woman. “Are you ready to have some fun?”

“Yes!” the students cheer.

The presenters introduce themselves as Allan, Kerri, and Dianna and give an overview on how the students should behave. Pretty soon, Kerri and Dianna have the students pat, pat, clap, clapping along to a rendition of “We Go Together” from the movie Grease, which teaches the students motor skills and repetition. Even the teachers are singing along and dancing in their seats.

After the song, Allan introduces the students to his keyboard and explains the high notes and the low notes, how they can be played together to create beautiful melodies, and how different sounds can evoke certain emotions. Kerri shrieks when Allan plays an eerie tune, and the children break into laughter at her silly performance.

YAV’s approach to art is to reinforce what kids are already learning in schools. To that end, the organization develops programs to complement the curriculum. For example, if students are learning about storytelling, Young Audiences can put together a program like Art Song Trio, where they tell a story in between upbeat, popular songs like Pharell’s “Happy” and The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata.” Students are invited to participate in the fun by playing instruments provided by the artists.

Another YAV initiative is called Dance for Life: Tap & Hip-Hop. Through this program, students learn the art of hip-hop dancing while applying basic math skills.

Valonda Turner, who teaches music at PB Young, believes that there is value in incorporating arts into the classroom. She tries to tie different kinds of lessons into her music class to help her students remember important concepts.

“Sometimes kids learn more through music than they do anything else,” she said. “They’ll remember a song, and when they’re taking a test, they’ll sing that song.”  

Today’s program at PB Young has focused on bullying. At the end of the interactive session, Kerri and Dianna ask students what they learned during the performance. They ask about bullying, self-respect, and what kids should do if they’re faced with a bullying situation.

 “Is there ever a reason to act like a bully?” they ask.

The students shout out a resounding “No!”

Young Audiences of Virginia doesn’t want the fun to stop after the performance has ended.

“Another service of ours is to provide teacher training,” said Michael. “We go in to inspire and motivate those teachers to teach in a more meaningful and profound way, using the arts in the classroom.”

In July, YAV will host an Inspiring Teachers Conference at Old Dominion University, focused on incorporating the arts into a teacher’s lesson plans whether the subject is math, science, or reading. The conference will “explore techniques to enhance learning, performance, retention, and motivation,” according to the program description flyer.

Marlo Moore, who teaches first grade at PB Young Elementary School, has experienced different programs over the years with Young Audiences of Virginia. She says that these programs have helped her students “understand that serious topics can be looked at in a fun way…through music and song and just the story that’s being told.”

Marlo also says that implementing some of these ideas, such as clapping and creating songs together with a lesson, helps teach her students that school doesn’t have to be boring. “It’s just a nice way to show them a different way to learn something,” she said.

How can parents help at home? Encourage your child to participate in an arts program at school. If your son is struggling in math, help him make up a fun rhyme to remember the sequence of equations. If your daughter has a science test coming up, sing the periodic table with her. There are many ways kids can use art as a reinforcement tool to help them remember concepts, and it makes learning way more fun, too.

Before students are dismissed from the auditorium, Kerri and Dianna ask them to thank the person who brought them to the program today. The students turn in all different directions to find their teachers in the crowd.

“Thank you!” they yell.

The teachers smile back sincerely and round up their now-boisterous classes. Students scurry away in groups, no longer single-file, back to their classrooms—as the halls echo with their excited laughter.

Once again the arts have inspired and enriched the lives of Virginia students, thanks to Young Audiences of Virginia. 

The Arts Matter • May 7, 2016 • 10 am-3 pm
On May 7, 2016, Young Audiences of Virginia will team up with Chesapeake Parks and Rec to present The Arts Matter, a creativity festival to celebrate the arts, at Chesapeake City Park from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The FREE festival will raise awareness of the need for arts in and out of the classroom. It will also give children the chance to experience their creative sides through hands-on activities.

“The Arts Matter is to show families and communities how important the arts are and what they do for children in their lives,” said Michael.

The festival will feature performances and art stations that all ages can enjoy. Kids will have a chance to participate in a tap dance challenge and have close-up encounters with musical instruments at an instrument petting zoo. 

For more information, visit www.yav.org or call 757-466-7555.

Stephanie Allen

Stephanie Allen is a writer, Navy wife, mom, and the publisher’s assistant for Tidewater Family Plus. She is also a success coach and mentor for military spouses.

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