The Benefits of After-School Arts Programs for Kids

Ever since Cindy Gilhousen’s daughter was a little girl, she was interested in art.

“Jadyn would spend hours upon hours drawing, painting, crafting,” Gilhousen says. “As she got older, I realized she needed to expand her artistic abilities in experiencing different kinds of art, which would give her an opportunity to see what was all out there and open her eyes.”

Gilhousen enrolled her daughter in after-school classes at the PONSHOP Studio and Gallery, where Jadyn continued to flourish in art.

“She thrived in the classes,” Gilhousen says. “It allowed her to express herself in so many different ways and it gave her a place to escape in her own little creative world.”

Jadyn took art classes in painting, clay, mixed media and jewelry making. Now a high school senior, Jadyn interns at PONSHOP Studio and hopes to one day be an art teacher.

“I think the benefits for kids in taking art classes are endless,” Gilhousen says. “It helps them become more creative, think outside the box, improve their motor skills, be more focused and find their confidence.”

Gilhousen is on the mark. Classes in the arts including art, music, dance and theatre have numerous benefits for children.

“There are many studies on the impact of arts on other skills,” says Dr. Melissa Wells, an assistant professor of education with the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington. “For example, various studies have found that music can relate to subjects such as math and literacy. Another area to consider is the development of social skills. Many art forms require negotiation between artists in the creative process, such as in dance or theater. Children learn more effective communication skills as they express themselves through multiple modalities. Finally, the arts also can strengthen students’ concentration and attention skills.”

A background in the arts can also assist kids in the long run as they look for work as adults.

“Creativity is the new norm,” Wells says. “Employers want innovative workers with creative solutions to problems. However, the benefits of creativity are about far more than jobs and future employment. The arts are a part of who we are as human beings. Arts are a part of our cultures and our connections to others. Arts develop empathy as well as a deepened awareness of self. Plain and simple, arts make us better people.”

Rebecca Russell, owner of Rebecca Russell Art Studio, agrees.

“I have seen kids that are shy, insecure about their art skills, with special challenges, depressed, and all kinds come out of their shells and become relaxed and happy while doing art,” Russell says. “I believe art is also a great outlet for their minds and a safe space to explore and discover their own creativity. Parents should be encouraged to sign their children up for art programs because it is essential to their health and mental well-being, in my opinion.”

There is a plethora of opportunities for kids to become involved in after-school arts programs in Fredericksburg whether kids like to dance or draw, play an instrument or play make believe. Yamaha Music School of Fredericksburg offers music and keyboard lessons for children and teens and the Stafford Handbell Society has a program called “Bells After School.” There are also various theatre groups and arts studios that provide lessons, camps and other programs for kids.

Kids thrive in after-school programs because there is no pressure to make grades.

“I have found that students are excited to explore new media and methods when given the chance when they are removed from their typical school environment, and they are more willing to take risks without the fear of failure,” says Gabriel Pons, owner of PONSHOP Studio and Gallery. “Kids should be having fun during their after-school endeavors. A significant aspect of creativity is a willingness to enjoy working hard on something regardless of the outcome. By removing the stigma of a grading structure, it encourages students to enjoy the process rather than the aspirations of a product.”

Parents should follow their children’s lead as they explore any hobby or interest.

“I think every child is different and needs a different outlet for their creativity,” says Laura Romani Matter, CEO and artistic director of The Fredericksburg Studio of the Arts, which offers dance, piano and voice lessons as well as acting classes. “Starting them young is always best, but it’s never too late.”

When considering an after-school program for their children, parents should be mindful of their child’s development and maturity level as well as scheduling and cost. Will there be a huge time commitment and extra practice expected at home? Is your child ready for the responsibility?

“It’s a good idea to start with a preliminary visit or tour with your children,” Pons suggests. “We encourage parents to visit with their children to get a feel for what we’re about. It helps if they get to meet an instructor as well. It breaks the ice, and they’ll feel more comfortable coming back during the scheduled class time.”

Parents can also first foster creativity in their children right at home.

“Providing children with open-ended props that can be used in many different ways encourages creativity more than a prescriptive toy that has one clear, pre-determined purpose,” Wells says. “You can provide children with paints and playdough and see what they can create. You can make simple puppets at home from materials like brown bags or socks.”

The main idea is to find an activity that pleases children and stirs their imagination.

“The result of fostering a creative habit is joy,” Pons says. “When we allow ourselves to be imaginative and constructive and manifest that into something, it’s a really gratifying feeling. There’s something about the creative process that is the kernel of any inventive endeavor. Meaning that the artist will strike out into the unknown and may experience a number of setbacks, but in the end will hopefully yield something that informs and inspires. The sooner that kids are able to take that creative journey, the more prepared they will be when they begin their adventure as adults.”