The Importance of Early Education

The Importance of Early Education

Nationwide, less than one-third of 4-year-olds participate in preschool programs (US Department of Education, 2014). Compare this figure to global statistics, and the United States ranks 25th in the world in early learning enrollment (US Department of Education, 2014). Even more staggering is the reality that of this fraction of American students receiving a preschool education, the majority come from an economically advantaged background. According to a 2014 report from Child Care Aware of America, “the average annual cost of enrolling an infant in a center-based daycare program is more than a year’s worth of tuition and fees at a public college in that state” (Time Magazine, 2014). In the Northeast for example, preschool can run up to $22,513 a year. While costs are variable depending on location, and program quality, these exorbitant tuition fees make programs inaccessible to many young learners and their families.

Yet, research shows that early education is critical to a students’ success.  High quality early education provides the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Early education has been linked with lifelong positive cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes. Furthermore, the Perry Preschool Project conducted a longitudinal study of at-risk students. They compared a group of students receiving a high quality preschool education with a control group that did not. Forty years later, their research revealed that those students receiving a preschool education had higher earnings, longer employment, were less likely to commit a crime, and were more likely to receive a high school diploma (The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, 2005).  President Obama validated these and other findings, pledging to commit to early childhood education during his tenure, “If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we’ll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own. By the end of this decade, let’s enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool. That is an achievable goal that we know will make our workforce stronger.” Earlier this month, President Obama made fiscal progress on this goal announcing a $1 billion investment in preschool education.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not one of the 18 beneficiary states of this funding. Nonetheless, high quality preschool programs are active across our state. I have recently taken on more responsibility with ASC’s affiliate North Carolina Wolf Trap program, a regional branch of the nationally acclaimed Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts Program. Through a partnership with CharlotteMecklenburgSchools and the Wolf Trap Institute, North Carolina Wolf Trap brings the performing arts into the Bright Beginnings Pre-K program for seven-week residencies with a cadre of local teaching artists. By integrating common core standards and CMS’ literacy curriculum with performing arts, Wolf Trap provides both students and classroom teachers with an engaging and enriching experience. Active in Charlotte since 2006, this program illustrates the power and necessity of the arts in early education.

While North Carolina did not receive funding in this recent federal allocation, it is imperative that we continue investing in early childhood education programs, such as North Carolina Wolf Trap. Every child has exceptional potential – an investment in their education is an investment in our future.

Engaging ALL Audiences

In the art world, education not only means understanding the historical value of art, but also skills like critical thought, discussion, and even imagination and creativity. In my internship experiences that have led me to this position today, I have learned a lot about arts education and the value that is has in establishing well-rounded individuals who are engaged in their community. Art Education ties my two interests together: art and engaging the community. We typically think of young children and school-aged groups when considering both general and arts education – but I’m sure that we are all aware that learning happens throughout one’s life and that it is important to maintain it.

Here, I will briefly discuss different age groups and the value of their education in the arts while also touching on some challenges that each demographic presents.

 

Early Childhood (ages 0-5): This age group is very important to connect with and not often recognized. Working with young children is a tough task and requires much manpower, but the benefits of exposing this age group to new settings, artistic representations (color, shapes, three dimensionality), and social interaction prepare children for learning in school. Not to mention such activities make a museum a place of familiarity, comfort, and security – things necessary for later involvement with the museum!

Youth (6-12): Youth involvement in the arts is probably the most common among education programming at museums, as it is made easier with partnerships with schools. And it is a very very valuable time in a child’s life to make connections to culture and creativity. The activities that engage students with art help develop skills necessary in the 21st century include critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, and communication and collaboration, among others. The challenge presented here is the decreased funding for the arts in schools: schools no longer have the money to send students to museums. Museums, therefore, are making the efforts to reach out to schools and train teachers on how to incorporate arts into the classroom.

Families: Working with families is very important because it encourages the strengthening of familial bonds within the community. It is important for children and adults, from the same family or not, to interact in a fun and beneficial way; it helps develop refined social skills and creates a place where parents and children can have fun together. Activities geared toward families are moments that individuals can take home with them and reflect on later. This continued engagement is a way to bring consistency to cultural awareness and family bonding.

Teens: This is the group I feel is most important to connect with when it comes to art. Teenagers have a special relationship self-expression, a primary concept in art, especially modern and contemporary. Art institutions can easily harness that energy and put it to good use, helping teens develop professional skills and encourage their youthful creativity at the same time. The challenge with this age group is connecting with them in a “cool” and nonacademic way. Teenagers, I have learned, often want to be responsible for their own choices, a characteristic that needs to be respected if a program is to connect with them.

Young Adults: I feel very connected to this group as well, as I am a young adult myself. Connecting with the young adult population within a community engages a demographic that is often caught up with work and adjusting to the real world to take serious interest in cultural activities. However, engaging this age group is not only an important part of a culturally aware community, but it interests the world’s next leaders in the importance of art education and museums, and therefore, ensures the future success of the arts. Plus, just because we are “adults” now doesn’t mean that we don’t like to make art!

Older Adults: This age group is an interesting one. Many retired individuals establish hobbies, some of which include visiting or volunteering at art museums. We often see higher numbers of attendance and membership from this age group. But beyond cultural involvement, exposing older adults to the arts is beneficial for sustaining activity of the mind. Many programs are being developed around the world that provide space for individuals suffering from dementia and their caregivers to interact with one another and the art before them. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has conducted a pioneering research initiative on this type of programming and its benefits. While these programs are incredibly valuable, these programs are run with a “therapy-like” quality to them and therefore require a higher amount of resources and energy.

 

What I’m getting at with this post, and what I’m learning in my position at the Mint Museum, is that there are a wide variety of audiences that we should reach out to – for the benefit of the museum, for the benefit of the individuals, and for the benefit of the community. But I am also learning that these things take resources that are not always available. No one wants to choose between groups of people to help, but ultimately it can come down to that. Hopefully that choice is only temporary and that eventually, museums can help everyone.

My Place at The Mint

Wow! It is incredible how quickly the time passes. I cannot believe it has already been a month and a half at my new position of Davidson Impact Fellow with the Learning & Engagement Department at the Mint Museum.

My Place at The Mint

The Mint Museum Randolph, the site of the original branch of the U.S. Mint

Brief history: the Mint Museum was the first art museum in North Carolina and is so named because it was first installed in the original branch of the U.S. Mint. In its two locations, it is home to collections of African, Mesoamerican, European, and American art, as well as a vast collection from the Craft and Design movement.

This year, Davidson has broadened the Impact Fellowship Program with a “Build Your Own” option, an addition that I believe is an incredible way to encourage graduates to pursue uncommon fields and to ensure that they can get started in a great way. Because of this opportunity, I was able to seek out the non-profit organization that spoke the most to me and work for them. With this freedom, I am able to channel my passions, art education and the greater community, into an amazing postgraduate opportunity!

Now, just over a month in, I have found myself taking a step back and asking a few questions: What on earth am I doing? What do I hope to accomplish? and of course, Will there be enough time? I had all of these questions answered in my mind when I started the fellowship in August, but as a typical Davidsonian, I have made my goals much larger than 28 weeks can handle.

The Mint Museum Uptown, home to the Craft + Design Collection

What am I doing?

As I am the first fellow at the Mint Museum, this is a very valid question. I have signed on to be the Learning & Engagement Fellow, meaning that I assist anyone and everyone in the department with all features of their public programming to ensure their successand impact on the public. I work most closely with the Learning & Engagement Programs Coordinator on the museum’s Docent Program. I help organize training materials, am researching and reorganizing the structure of the program for efficiency, and I facilitate training sessions. Further, I am helping kick-start the Mint’s new Teen Initiative. Quite the exciting job!

 

What do I hope to accomplish?

Before starting this program, I came in with the intention of leaving with a complete and stable teen program series planned, a well trained and energized docent class, and nothing left to be done. Clearly, all of this is not possible. My overarching life goals of making art accessible to the community in a fun and engaging way, however, might be! In the next two weeks, I will help facilitate a teen program and an adult program, both of which are educational with the goal of engaging a hard-to-reach demographic, so I’m on the right track!

 

Will there be time?

Six and a half months is not a lot of time, especially to make the changes I envision. But, in these short 6 weeks, I feel as though I have accomplished a lot. I am already making great connections with the Mint Museum Docents, a group I believe is the face of the museum, relaying educational information to visitors and making their experience that much more fulfilling.


My Place at The Mint

Taking a step back to reassess is always good. Sometimes we get caught up in the now and forget to remember our goals in each thing we do. Though my time at the Mint Museum is short, I hope to make even the smallest difference in bringing the Charlotte community to the amazing world of art.

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