The Role of the Arts

Topic Progress:

What is the relationship between literacy and the arts?

As an Opal School staff, we’ve been exploring this question for over a decade, and because the children we work with are often our best teachers, we’ve turned to them to support us in this research.

When asked, “How do materials support your work as a writer?” Opal School first grader Amelia, age 6, responded:

 Materials do have a little present inside and when you get used to one material a bit, BAM, you find out a little surprise: “Oh, I want to use these ideas in my own writing.” Materials don’t only want to make you want to make a story, they make their own story sometimes and tell you.

And when asked, “How do materials help you think?” Sutton, age 7, said:

 Your mind kind of plays with it. If you feel like it’s not the right material for you, you just got to move on. Its like your mind engages with it. Like your mind engages with the story you are trying to write. As you play with the materials, you get ideas for so many things, and then your mind gets to decide which ones to use. It’s cool because your mind is actually playing with something without touching it. You are discovering new things.


As we’ve been exploring the relationships between literacy and the arts, we are discovering what both Amelia and Sutton have highlighted here: Materials offer not only inspiration and multiple ways to communicate, but they also offer new ways of thinking. The role of the arts in the classroom goes well beyond the aim of creating products or supporting children to become efficient painters, sculptors, or builders. The ample use of a variety of materials become vehicles for thinking and reflection, supporting the development of habits of mind such as flexibility, imagination, creativity, and innovation–habits needed both inside and outside of school, now more than ever.


Read two pieces of writing about the role of the arts in education.

The first is a speech given by Elliot Eisner in 2002 at Stanford University, in which he explores the ways the use of the arts might influence our current education practices and unpacks the relationships between the use of the arts and learning.  What can education learn about the arts about the practice of education?

The second is a speech from Opal School fifth grader, Nisa, delivered at graduation, as she reflects on what she saw as the most important thing she learned during her time at Opal. What I Learned at Opal School by Nisa

Reflection Questions:

As you read these two speeches, use your notebook to capture your thinking. Try out this Thinking Routine from Project Zero as you record your reflections:

Connect, Extend, Challenge:

How are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew?

What new ideas did you get that extended or pushed your thinking in new directions?

What is still challenging or confusing for you to get your mind around? What questions, wonderings, or puzzles do you now have?


“The Importance of Art in Child Development” by Grace Hwang Lynch (PBS)

“Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts” by Valerie Strauss (Washington Post)

Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Vea Vecchi

The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings by Ann Pelo

Course Discussion