Performing Arts and Childhood Development

Please share!
Travis Preston of CalArts

One of the longest-standing debates regarding youth education is centered around the constant underfunding of performing arts programs in comparison to athletics. Not only do the arts occupy an important place in world culture, but they also offer numerous benefits in terms of childhood development

Travis Preston of CalArts explains that the performing arts impact childhood development in two distinct ways. First, they increase a child’s cognitive abilities, such as pattern recognition and motor skills. Second, they allow for the development of social and emotional intelligence, which can prove vital to a child’s future success.

Since these benefits comprise two separate (if somewhat related) spheres, they are best understood by dividing them into their respective categories.

Cognitive Benefits of Performing Arts

The arts assist in childhood cognitive development in numerous ways. These may vary slightly depending upon the artform; however, Michigan State University’s analysis of the benefits of visual art seem highly applicable. According to their research, the merits of artistic education as they pertain to child development include:

  • Better understanding of pattern recognition
  • More finely tuned motor skills
  • Vocabulary and language skills
  • Fundamental mathematic reasoning skills

When comparing visual and performing arts, the links between the two become clear. Just as a child may learn pattern recognition from learning to draw or paint on a canvas, they can develop the very same skills from learning to read sheet music or following choreographed dance movements. This forms the building blocks of a sturdy understanding of mathematics, which includes following patterns.

As children learn to discuss their artistic endeavors of choice, they develop new vocabulary while also developing the ability to speak about specific subjects in ways that others can understand. This language development becomes more pronounced when studying arts such as music or theater, which necessitate the memorization of intricate lyrics and dialogue.

Travis Preston of CalArts

Performing Arts and Emotional Development

When children learn to pursue and discuss the arts, they subconsciously improve their social and emotional intelligence. In part, this stems from the sheer amount of confidence it requires to engage in any form of self-expression, particularly one that some peers may consider less popular.

However, this social development also stems from one element most performing arts actually share in common with athletic extracurriculars: teamwork. Just as football players must work with their teammates to successfully score, the successful performance of a play, ballet, or musical number requires exceptional cooperation and communication skills.

The primary difference between sports and the performing arts is that, with the exception of highly specific settings, success does not usually rely on a competitive element. Rather than competing with other children for a trophy or medal, students rely on hard work and empathy to develop proper working relationships with their peers.

In order to develop these skills, these children require a mix of cognitive skills and imagination that will set them up for future success. When they enter the working world later in life, they will already understand how to function as part of a team while engaging in creative problem-solving to achieve a desired result.


By no means should anyone consider either athletics or the performing arts better than the other. However, the above benefits illustrate that the performing arts can and should play a viable role in the development of children who possess all the skills they need to grow into happy, healthy, and successful adults.

Travis Preston
Travis Preston of CalArts blogs about modern theater and the arts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *