The Top 10 Skills Children Learn From the Arts

Posted by Lisa Phillips, Nov 26, 2012 31 comments

1. Creativity - Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence - The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

3. Problem Solving - Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

4. Perseverance - When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn't give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus - The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

6. Non-Verbal Communication - Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.

7. Receiving Constructive Feedback - Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.

8. Collaboration - Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.

9. Dedication - When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.

10. Accountability - When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.

(Editor’s Note: The full version of this post appears on Lisa's website. Lisa also recently released a book, The Artistic Edge, which explores why leadership skills taught through the arts are what young people need most to be successful in life.)

31 responses for The Top 10 Skills Children Learn From the Arts


Kristin says
December 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm

The ultimate individual expression through what we term the arts exists at a level of consciousness that is beyond human description. However we need books such as Lisa's to identify its value and help those who influence and provide for its teaching, so our children have the opportunities to reach the indescribable. It warms my heart to observe the art teachers at our school (Roots & Wings Montessori), as they guide the children to find their creative talents with a humility that is open to daily surprises. Thanks to Lisa and all the others who contribute to the elevation of art in education - and life.

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Kit says
November 28, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I think the phrase, "art for art's sake" is even more vague - a perfect case for needing to be more precise in our language and our advocacy. and I disagree that its job, as defined by Leslie, is its most important function. I'm not sure we need to have that conversation anymore - labeling what is "most important" doesn't serve us well. Passionate dedication to art - its intrinsic nature and impact - in all its manifestations will create greater energy, smarter conversations and allow us to generate greater support.

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joe s says
November 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed the article, but found great value in the thread as well. This is obviously a topic the posters in this thread feel strongly about. The development of our children is a rightfully "hot button" topic. Having observed the decay in the art of discussion, I couldn't. help but appreciate the civility of this thread. Perhaps it is living proof of the accuracy of the article.

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November 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm

While I like the list, I think we need to be more precise in our language and our advocacy. Study of "the arts" does not automatically deliver the outcomes claimed in this piece. Rather, when done really well, specific approaches or programs have been found to cultivate some of these skills or traits. I think we are ready to advance from generic claims about "the arts" to a more nuanced and humble conversation about the elements that really drive quality in the most effective programs.

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November 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Thanks, Mark for your always on-the-mark insight. I agree. But also agree that there are still so many people out there that need the basic intro into why arts ed is so important. It's up to you, me, Leslie, Tim and our respective organizations to start with the "101" approach and then go much deeper from there. Thanks all for your great work.

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Valerie Obasi says
March 29, 2013 at 10:04 pm

It is so important to have the art in school, it's what's mold children's and make them better people. Calif, trying hard to take it away from are schools won't are children to be little robot . So they won't have a mind of there own lord help us all. Thank you for writIng something that is true about children for with out art they are lose. I know for I"m preschool teacher how use art every day. By use art you how the child is feeling that day happy are sad. So have a nice day. Valerie

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Michael Cundari says
February 03, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I agree with Mark, I am currently working on a re-write of our districts music curriculum and find my focus leaning towards not just accepting this as a given but how do we transfer and synthesize these traits in meaningful ways to other content and necessary life skill areas to help inform better learning and future success.

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February 03, 2013 at 11:18 pm

I am currently in production on a film called "School Jazz: The Art of Education". In addition to the new Facebook page I've just put up for the film at there's also a starter website at, and you can see a pre-edit through this private link: Definitely a work in progress, but making good progress. (The titles rendering got screwed up in conversion...)
This seems to do the very job being addressed in this discussion: "how do we transfer and synthesize these traits in meaningful ways to other content and necessary life skill areas to help inform better learning and future success." I will soon be up with a Kick Starter crowd sourcing effort to raise funds to finish the film. I will also need the help of everyone in the arts education community to get the film seen by School Boards and State Legislators in order to affect those most directly involved in funding decisions about arts curriculum. Feel free to contact me directly: Kyrl Henderson 563 382 5975 or [email protected] . Keeping on... Kyrl

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December 04, 2012 at 11:16 am

We loved your post and decided to pass it along via our own blog at!

Thanks so much for your incredibly insightful entry! This is exactly what everyone needs to understand about the value of arts education.

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December 04, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for stopping by and sharing our info!

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Gyana Arias says
November 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I'd like to support Lisa's response when referring to the argument of her book. As a Teaching Artist and researcher I have been studying "Risk" for a while in the search for answers on how arts education could be used to teach necessary skills that help build resilience in youth at risk. One interesting finding was that several studies weren't able to provide evidence of how the arts developed or improved certain skills, but what was even more surprising to me is that the instructors weren't assessing the students for the skills but for the art form,they were never focused in teaching the skill, or evaluating the student for his performance of the skill in the first place. I do believe arts education definitely helps develop and improve certain skills but I also believe it would be even more efficient if we are focused in using arts as vehicle to teach the skills and maybe, we could even provide evidence of it.

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November 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I agree with Lisa. I've been a working artist and in arts education for years; and currently working with a group that offers in-depth professional development to teachers. Our extensive programs include seasoned teaching artists in theatre, dance, and visual arts who mentor teachers in their classrooms. The ultimate goal is to teach "regular" classroom teachers how to infuse their curricula with the arts to meet district, state, and national goals/standards. But, of course, the benefits of which are much greater.

We've rigorously developed and refined methods for our data collection which measure teacher performance. One of the more telling results consistently show, no surprise, the direct correlation between the increase in teachers' skills & confidence, and marked improvement in student performance. Example: Teacher clearly understands an authentic concept that is shared by two subjects, like the concept of character. A theatre/literacy infused lesson might involve the students actively moving & demonstrating character traits using body and voice to explore a story and then connect with what they've learned by writing about it.

Ultimately, this creates a richer, deeper, more personally relevant learning opportunity. But teachers need training on how to create appropriate lesson plans that infuse arts concepts with science, math, literacy, etc. They also need to build their own skills within the arts disciplines (i.e. how do you create a balanced composition on paper with watercolor, etc.), have a basic understanding of artist materials, and know well what is age appropriate. Finally, teachers need to know how to accurately evaluate student work (hint: it doesn't involve pencil and paper!), and how to respond to that information.

This is a complicated subject, and it's no secret that in many ways the hullabaloo has to do with access and equity ($). Hence, one of our long-standing goals includes training regular classroom teachers to use the arts in and through their curriculum, given that the arts have been slashed in so many public schools.

It is important to note there are several books that have been published which include documentation that clearly show why the arts in K-12 education are vital. (Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art by James Catterall is a good one.) I hope this information is helpful (sorry so lengthy)!

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November 28, 2012 at 10:54 pm

I am currently in production on a documentary feature on why the arts is critical as a component in curriculum. It's called "School Jazz. The Art of Education" . I would appreciate feedback on separating arts as a means to an end (the above list) and the "art for its own sake" position. The target of my film is School Boards and State Legislators who are making curriculum and funding decisions. The current political impasses and polarization could be symptomatic of a society that is afraid to experiment or make mistakes, and doesn't know how to collaborate or solve problems creatively. Stuck in a feedback loop of self talk about what is "right" rather than working together to solve problems, that, if go unsolved, will be our demise. On the other side, each of the arts can stand on its own as having worth in and of itself.

Truth be told, I have 2 goals. The first is to persuade the "No Child Left Behind" / testing and teaching to the test crowd to include arts as a critical element in curriculum, and to fund it sufficiently. The other is to encourage creativity on the planet because I think the more we each connect with the creative force of the Universe (that which causes cells to divide and multiply) the better off the world will be.

You can see a pre-edit through this private link: Definitely a work in progress, but making good progress. (The titles rendering got screwed up in conversion...) Since that time I have more key interviews, most recently with Iowa US Senator Tom Harkin, Chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Thanks for the help and feedback.

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November 27, 2012 at 9:21 am

Thanks for your comment, Mark. The intent of this post, in my eyes as editor, was to get that arts ed 101 message out. Hopefully we will engage people who come to the site to read this list further with the rest of our arts ed 201, 301, & 401 pieces already written ( and those still to come by excellent minds in the field like you. :)

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Leslie says
November 27, 2012 at 9:58 am

Then there is art for arts sake. Without that we would not have art to mirror and comment upon our world.

This is the most important job of the arts.

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November 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

Excellent point, Leslie.

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November 27, 2012 at 10:49 am

I wanted to respond to Mark's comment. I 100% agree that the study of the arts does not automatically deliver the leadership skills I talk about in the blog post. My book, "The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World", actually argues that it is only when instructors are intentional about teaching leadership skills through the arts do the skills develop at a high level. Many teachers either don't know how a specific arts activity teaches leadership skills or if they do, they don't make the choice to reinforce the skills. This is definitely a much more in depth discussion than a 600 word blog post will allow. That is why I wrote a book:)

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Elise says
December 02, 2012 at 1:00 am

Lisa, when you said " it is only when instructors are intentional about teaching leadership skills through the arts do the skills develop at a high level", I was struck by how true this statement also is about the sciences and math. As a society, we've decided science and math are important to learn, but I've seen many helpful and unhelpful ways of teaching those subjects as well. Good instruction in the sciences brings many aspects of creativity, innovation and inquiry into the teaching, just as in the arts. If we expect higher values and skills to result, we must set that intention at the beginning.

I liked this article and the comments below were also very interesting.

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November 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Thanks, Lisa. Incidentally, you can find said book here:

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April 30, 2013 at 9:40 pm

The comment I am replying to is most likely spam. Typically bots roam the web looking for Wordpress sites within which they can place links back to their own site(s). They almost always contain innocuous, non-specific compliments. It's also quite common for there to be syntax and semantics errors that reveal that English may not be the poster's first language, such as "and stay up for seeking extra of your fantastic post." Spam them.

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Crystal says
June 25, 2013 at 3:50 am

Can't agree more...

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Julie Hibshman says
July 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm

I appreciate the well organized, cohesive structure of the benefits of arts in a child's education. As an art teacher in a rural public school in south central Pennsylvania, I am always looking for well organized material that will continue to back and support the need for such programs in all school settings.

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Jenn says
July 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Love this article!

I just found out Lisa is actually hosting a webinar titled "The Secret Every Parent and Educator Must Know to Propel Children on a Path to Success" this coming August!

It's sure to be jam-packed with lots of great suggestions for keeping today's children creative and developing those crucial leadership skills they'll need to succeed in their futures.

Here is the registration link if anyone is interested:

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December 17, 2013 at 7:49 am

Spot on. I wrote an article about the top 10 values marching band students learn - amazingly similar....which goes to show that they are values all music (arts) students learn.

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February 08, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Thanks, Chad. It's not actual 'spam', but as you say, when someone links to, mentions, or reblogs our posts it is set up to show that within the comments as a way for us to see and show how often posts are shared elsewhere. Most harmful spam is deleted and I monitor our comments for malicious spam daily just in case.

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April 26, 2013 at 2:50 am

Asking questions are truly fastidious thing if you
are not understanding something fully, except this post offers good understanding even.

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Chad says
February 08, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Please delete this post - this is just a message to the site admin. It looks like there are a lot of spam comments, where the "person" (usually a bot) and body are both just extracted from the article, for the purpose of linking back to certain web URLs. In fact, the 10 or 15 or 20 comments before this one are ALL spam - none of them have anything to say, and the "names" of people are not actually names - they're just randomly-quoted phrases from the article. I'm surprised that these are getting through on a blog with so many readers.

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Lee Lipsey says
March 29, 2013 at 8:48 am

Notify me of new posts by email.

You may want to fix this page so that it is easier to subscribe.

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February 20, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I'm an arts educator that focuses primarily on the visual arts, but also works with students using creative movement, drama, and storytelling. I was disappointed that you didn't include storytelling which is also an important art with ancient roots. Storytelling helps students practice effective communication, dramatic presentation, expressing ideas from your unique perspective even if you're telling an age old story like the three little pigs, and contributes to a child's positive self image and confidence.

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February 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for commenting and sharing, Francis. I'm sure Lisa would agree that storytelling fits the bill as well. I imagine it fell just outside her top-10 list.

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Malo says
May 07, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Wanted to share this video that my students made reguarding arts education these are two students from Gainesville high School.
Here is his statement
"My name is Jamie Blackband, and I’m a senior in the GHS TV Productions program. My friend Rosie and I have pursued art in our entire high school career, and decided to create a documentary that assessed the state of arts funding in public schools, specifically in the Alachua County area. Please take the time to watch this mini-documentary and share it with others who might be interested or could learn something from it. It’s a pressing issue that we and many other dedicated citizens of this state feel strongly about. Thank you, and enjoy!"

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