Student: Parents should let their kids explore the arts

features@islandpacket.comMay 4, 2014 

20120607 The arts

Encouraging your children to explore the arts can help them improve in academics, according to studies.

CASANOVA — McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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    Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Lindsey Neville for sharing her thoughts about the arts.

Lindsey, 16, has participated in Main Street Youth Theatre since she was 8. She wrote this essay for her English II class at Hilton Head Island High School.

"The Benefits of Being a Student Thespian"

By Lindsey Neville

A teenager sits in her room thoughtfully twirling a pencil as she ponders a question on her homework. Her phone dings, reminding her that she needs to leave. Quickly, she finishes answering the problem, then grabs her keys and script before heading out. As the front door closes, her parents exchange a look. They wonder if their daughter's acting hobby is worth her time commitment.

An educational psychology professor at Sydney University, Andrew Martin, has said "arts could benefit children regardless of their sex, age and socioeconomic background." But numerous essays and articles have been written on the importance of putting education first, which is exactly what parents are doing.

Countless students say parents worry that extracurricular activities get in the way of schoolwork. It seems that, in the eyes of parents, the importance of grades is continually rising above the importance of personal development and social skills.

School teaches students facts and step-by-step how-to's in a bland and static environment. These teachings can easily be found with a few taps on a phone screen.

Ideas, on the other hand, cannot be created on an app or memorized on Quizlet like a definition or math equation. They are unique and personally cultivated through independent thought, which is a large part of being an actor. As Martin said of the arts: "It's an area of problem-solving and creativity."

This is because when acting out a scene, an actor makes endless decisions regarding gestures, stance, volume, tone, countenance, dialect, inflection and every other aspect of performing. Of course, the outline of a character is given by the script, then the director layers it with blocking and a preferred tone; however, the actor must choose how to carry out the movements and portray the given mood.

Performers learn to better regulate their emotions. Theater also enforces acceptance and cooperation because actors must get along with their castmates in order for rehearsals and performances to run smoothly.

Therefore, the practice of these skills through acting is beneficial toward school, friendships, family relationships and alternative occupations.

Thalia Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychology at Pace University, says that actors practice "theory of mind," which is "the ability to understand what others are thinking, feeling, believing and desiring."

Of course, this is a basic human ability, but an actor uses it every time he or she performs. Eventually, a thespian will acquire and use "a host of complex psychological skills to create realistic portrayals of characters," Goldstein says. These skills are invaluable, as they spark a greater sense of empathy through the cultivation of a superior ability to relate.

For the parents who are still hesitant to let their child participate in something so time-consuming, the theater has also been proven to improve the "most important" area: academics. A study by James Catterall showed that thespians are "less likely to drop out of school." His study of 25,000 students involved in the arts, conducted at UCLA's Graduate School of Education, shows that "consistent participation greatly improves academic performance and significantly bumps up standardized test scores."

Although participating in theater takes many hours, parents should not be skeptical of its worth or reluctant to get their child involved. Acting is more than a hobby; a study conducted jointly by the University of Sydney and the Australia Council for the Arts found that children involved in the arts even "have a sense of satisfaction in their lives."

Aside from the fact that children should be able to develop their talents, doing so is a gateway to creativity, empathy, advanced social skills and even academic performance.

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