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Teach SmART

Susan Riley

Teaching kids about God and witnessing those moments when they genuinely "get it"-it's one of the greatest gifts in all of children's ministry. And even though many volunteers and leaders who serve kids each week aren't professional educators, they can easily recognize when a teaching method is an all-out flop-and when a method really gains traction with kids.

Here's one that'll change the way you think about teaching when you see the impact it has on kids: Arts Integration.

Children walk through your doors with predisposed access points of learning-areas where they naturally thrive. Access points may be through music, visual arts, drama, dance, or technical skills; the possibilities are endless. To help all kids engage better with what they're learning, you can work to recognize and teach lessons through these access points so learning becomes an equitable and exciting process. Arts Integration is one key strategy in which teachers create an environment where all kids can become artisans of learning.

What Is Arts Integration?

Arts Integration is a researchbased teaching strategy that encourages teaching content in and through the arts. In its most basic form, this means kids are engaged in using visual art, drama, music, or dance intentionally as a way to learn math, reading, writing, science, social studies, or Christian education concepts. It sounds simple enough, yet using this strategy with authenticity is sometimes a challenge. Arts Integration is more than creating a stained-glass picture collage to show a parable taught by Jesus; it's more than just arts and crafts. Arts Integration is an intentional approach to learning, with naturally-aligned objectives being taught and assessed equitably throughout the lesson. This means teachers look at fi ne arts objectives and content objectives to seek a natural match between the two. This may mean writing a lesson that seamlessly uses the art form as the access point for kids learning the content concept or adapting existing curriculum to include a natural alignment with the art form. At the end of the lesson, kids have progressed toward owning the lesson concept as well as the arts skill used to teach.

An Example

While it can seem like a diffi cult task to integrate the arts in your lesson, don't be intimidated. Finding an applicable art form is a wide-open prospect simply because so many possibilities exist, from painting to music to movement to so much more. Let's look at an example of an Arts Integration lesson to get an idea of how you can adapt your lessons to include this important learning approach.

This lesson is based on a centralized theme. Simply use the step-bystep example as a guide to incorporating the arts into your lessons.

Why Arts Integration?

Arts Integration is a very effective method of teaching that has been used and researched for more than 25 years in mainstream education. Studies show signifi cant increases in retention and application of concepts taught in and through the arts-and kids love it. It's exciting, creative, and challenging. Integrating the arts into lessons aligns with the natural way the human brain functions. Humans don't live and learn in boxes that are compartmentalized within their bodies. Instead, we use all of our senses-all of our access points-to synthesize the concepts we're learning and make meaning out of these concepts for ourselves. The arts are a natural avenue for ingesting, digesting, and producing elements of our world and our faith. By teaching in and through the arts with Arts Integration, we're simply tapping into and engaging kids in the way they naturally learn best.

Additionally, the arts are all about processes that lead to an incredible end product. There's tremendous value for kids in practicing essential skills and then creating a new way to express thought using artistic habits. By implementing this learning approach, we provide kids with the ability to think independently as artisans and to make choices that refl ect their true learning. This leads to understanding that's richer and more comprehensive than through traditional methods of teaching.

Artisans in Your Midst

Just as Jesus was a master carpenter who constructed works of art from simple elements, all children and teachers are artisans in their journey through the world. Through actively and intentionally practicing patience and persistence in integrating art forms into learning, we can help all children discover who God made them to be. As Christian educators, we have the privilege to embrace all our kids' talents so they can grow in their learning and love of the world that God has given to us all.

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