Does your child struggle with the fundamentals of reading, writing, and 'rithmetic? Some experts say that infusing the creative arts into the core curriculum could help struggling students get a leg up. But how can music, dance, and visual arts help your child learn his times tables?

For some, it may come as a surprise to learn that the arts are a powerful tool for learning other, more core educational concepts. Research has shown that "arts-integrated education" improves academic achievement across the entire spectrum, but generates the greatest improvement in reading and writing skills and language development. In addition, arts integration improves social skills, motivation and student engagement.

For most of us, the thought of art class conjures up images of milk-jug pigs and lopsided ceramic pots. However, in an arts-integrated curriculum, art is not taught as a separate subject. It is used within the standard academic subject class as a tool to improve understanding and comprehension. Core curriculum teachers and professional artists or arts educators work closely together to create lesson plans and projects that will accomplish curriculum goals.

So how exactly does the arts-integrated approach work? A sample lesson plan might have students working on reading comprehension by presenting dramatic interpretations of literary characters, or studying social history by engaging in songs, dances, and literary traditions of a culture. Different art forms can help improve understanding in various ways. For instance, music often helps with spatial reasoning, dance can help with creativity, and drama improves reading comprehension and conflict resolution. Especially for students who struggle to sit still, lose focus while working alone, or are challenged by rote memorization of facts and figures, arts-integrated education presents that opportunity to infuse creative energy into all elements of classroom learning.

Researchers have discovered that arts-integration has a particularly positive effect upon at-risk students. Students not only showed improved academic performance, but were motivated and interested in their projects and had a desire to succeed, which immersed in an arts-integrated program. For example, students often work together to collaborate on their projects, and in turn, show more courtesy toward one another and improve their social skills.

So why isn’t everyone jumping on the arts-integration bandwagon? Most significantly, the process of implementing arts-integrated curricula requires time and money. More time is needed to train teachers and more money is needed to bring in more staff and supplies. “Schools are pressed for resources and time and can’t do much besides teach reading and mathematics through traditional curriculum designs,” states James Catterall, Ph.D., professor at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

According to Catterall, school districts feel they can’t afford to properly train teachers to teach in an arts-integrated classroom, since teachers are already required to take professional development courses which take up a huge chunk of precious time and money. In addition to the professional development courses necessary for arts integration, teachers would have to spend a lot more time collaborating with other teachers, arts educators and professional artists on lesson plans and projects.  Nevertheless, says Catterall, “I think interest in linking the arts to academic studies appeals to many educators who have, rightfully, become frustrated with more mainstream school and curriculum improvement efforts.”

With new education funding being dedicated to innovative school programs that get the job done, the chances are better than ever that your child's school could be the next to adopt the arts-integrated approach. If you believe that your child or local school could benefit by investigating the integration of arts into core curriculum classes, take action! Contact like-minded parents, speak to the school principal, and attend school board meetings.