Why Arts Education Is Important at Chicago City Day School

For building lifelong skills, arts education is important, say experts at Chicago City Day School. Learn how arts education contributes to a strong, well-rounded learning experience for kids.

When children have opportunities to learn through art, music, performance and creative expression, they develop more than an appreciation for the arts. They build self-confidence, learn to solve problems creatively and collaborate to reach a common goal. That’s why arts education is important for a whole-child learning experience, says Sarah Young, Visual Arts Teacher at Chicago City Day School, a JK-8 independent school on Chicago’s North Side.

Whether children are grasping the basics of rhythm, learning the lyrics of a song, painting, sketching, working with clay or performing Schoolhouse Rock on stage, they’re discovering how the arts impact the wider world around them — and they’re building skills that are vital for their own future success, no matter what fields they enter down the road.

“My students and I have some great discussions about how art really surrounds us — and as they build confidence in their own skills they’re also building an appreciation for what’s around them,” Young says. “They learn to understand that everything they touch has been designed by an artist, from their clothing, to their backpacks, even their textbooks. It’s all somehow been designed by an artist and they also see the career possibilities in this.”

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Photo credit: Chicago City Day School

Arts education is important at Chicago City Day, and that’s evident in the amount of time students spend in art, music, drama, and tech instruction — and the resources dedicated to these avenues of learning. City Day’s campus includes dedicated art and music rooms, a professional-grade theater complete with lighting and sound systems, and two tech spaces.

“Our class sizes are small, and we have an amazing art room. Our administrators are generous with any supplies I need and very supportive of my ideas,” Young says, contrasting the amount of time she spent with children in a former public school teaching role. “In public schools, it’s often once a week for 40 minutes, but here I see classes on average two to three times a week for a cumulative two hours of art,” she says.

Many skills learned through arts education

More time spent studying the arts at Chicago City Day means more opportunities for building important life skills. Particularly with visual arts, “problem solving is huge,” Young says, offering a specific project as an example.

“When we are making miniature houses out of cardboard and fabric, there is more than one solution and students need to use innovation and creativity. There are a dozen different ways students have approached this project and come up with solutions that show their flexibility and critical thinking.” These valuable skills can readily be applied to many other aspects of academics and life, she says.

Most immediately, students at Chicago City Day benefit from an arts-focused approach to subjects they are studying in their core curricula. In both art and music, students experience co-curricular instruction that blends with their other academic subjects for deeper, more personalized learning. In a recent sixth-grade production of Schoolhouse Rock at Chicago City Day, students designed and made the props and had input into the costumes — all of which contributed to student-run performances in the school’s professional-quality theater.

Personalized education through the arts

Beyond the many songs written specifically to help students learn and remember facts, children learn about countries and cultures through song, says Sylvia Myintoo, Music Teacher at Chicago City Day School. “When students in third grade are learning about the Titanic, we study the music from this era, and when second grade students learn about Native Americans, we study their music and what it means culturally,” Myintoo says.

And the very act of making music helps students better understand rhythm and beat, which are closely aligned with math. “Music also helps students with coordination, which we see when students play consecutive notes on the xylophone,” she explains. “Then, they have to use their ear to find the next note in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

In addition to xylophones, students have access to handbells, ukuleles, the piano — and students are encouraged to bring their own instruments to school, too. A master’s-educated violinist, Myintoo brings her love of performance and musical analysis to her role and encourages students to explore their own appreciation of music because it builds self-confidence, she says.

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Photo credit: Chicago City Day School

“What I love seeing is that lightbulb moment,” she says. “I can tell students are excited to sing a song, and then when they can play it on the xylophone, that gives them so much self-confidence.” The value of engaging with music for pleasure can’t be understated, she says. “What about music for the sake of pleasure and just because you get joy from it? It’s nice when a child can sing at home and talk about music with their parents simply because they enjoy it,” she says.

For the strong support from administrators and fellow teachers, ample time with students, small class sizes and resources available, both educators say they are thrilled to teach the arts — and see their students engage in a quality arts education — at Chicago City Day School.

“Honestly, I feel like I have the best job,” Myintoo says. “It’s so interesting and fun and different every day. It’s great because the students are really engaging and the educational community is very engaged, too.”

Learn more about Chicago City Day School at chicagocitydayschool.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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