Let's face it: time is tight, school budgets are dwindling, and when it comes down to cutting costs, arts education is the first to go. After all, everyone knows that math, science, and language skills are core to the curriculum, and art is just ... for fun. Right?

Wrong! Most people don't know it, but arts education is federally recognized as part of the “core curriculum,” with standards that include dance and music in addition to the visual arts. And becoming “literate” in the arts isn't just another requirement: it may be the most important element of your child's education.

“When you think about fostering creativity, innovation, imagination, and problem-solving skills, those are things that the arts teach,” says Deborah Reeve, Executive Director of the National Arts Education Association. These skills, she says, have academic applicability across the board. “There are very direct correlations and connections with other areas like math and science.” Skip Fennel, President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, agrees: "There are many connections between art and mathematics - certainly the symmetrical and asymmetrical use of shapes in pottery, crafts, and other medium is the spatial sense I would hope students acquire as they learn geometry."

But a lack of arts education classes isn't the only problem affecting kids today. In fact, it's the right-or-wrong world of standardized testing that could be stifling a child's innate creativity. “Creativity is about taking what you know and putting it together to make something new and different. With all this test-taking, there is only one right answer, and what you're really doing is diminishing their capacity to understand and make judgments about different ways of solving problems,” says Reeve. This may have further repercussions down the road: as children grow up without the capacity to innovate, they risk losing step with the competitive fields of technology, business, and entrepreneurship worldwide.

From a young age, all children have a natural impulse to create, whether it's through singing, dancing, or finger-painting. “Art is the most basic part of being human,” says Reeve. “For all children, art is really their first language.” While the urge to create comes naturally to kids, creativity needs to be nurtured in order to grow. So, if you're concerned your child may not be getting a full serving of arts education, take action! Reeve recommends getting in touch with your school principal, local PTA, or school board to voice your concerns if you want to make a change.

At home, help foster creativity by encouraging your child to let loose and color outside the lines. “Have your child interpret and describe what's around them (textures, shapes, forms, colors, patterns),” says Reeve. “Help your child focus on the process of creating, not on the final product. Be sure to show your child that you value their creation – display it and encourage your child to talk about it. In doing so, you'll be instilling confidence instead of putting them on the spot.” And confident creativity is a lesson well worth learning.