The value of performing arts for kids

With the success of High School Musical, Hannah Montana and the new TV series Glee, nobody can deny that children and teenagers everywhere are getting serious about the arts. Parents of kids bitten by the performance bug have a lot to take into consideration. While the arts are highly competitive and demanding, recent research proves their value.

Arts in early childhood education
It’s been long accepted that music has an impact on children’s development. A 1993 study by Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky saw significant increase in temporary IQ scores after study participants’ exposure to specific classical pieces: the average score increased 8 to 9 points. And that’s just from listening to music. Additional studies show that IQ scores increase an average of 7 points in young students taking voice and instrument lessons.
Eckart Altenmüller, professor at the Institute for Music Physiology and Musicians’ Medicine University for Music and Drama in Hanover, Germany, reports that the development of the corpus callosum (the portion of the brain that sends transmissions between the left and right hemispheres) happens the most in pianists and violinists whose training starts before the age of 7.i
Another study conducted by E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississaug, enrolled a group of 6-year-olds in weekly drama classes, and tested different areas of their growth. While drama didn’t increase their I.Q. scores, they invariably scored higher in social areas than the control group that did not take lessons. Take into consideration that a great deal of the early educational experience is about learning to work with others toward a common goal, learning to take direction and how to communicate effectively, and it’s easy to see how dramatic instruction positively facilitates social maturation.
Junior high and high school involvement in the arts
Drama and dance make confidence and adaptability a priority in older students. Learning methods of expression, taking on new characters and moods, and how to move most effectively on stage require self-awareness and the ability to apply direction. Dancers and actors learn to dig deep within themselves and tap into personal experience to draw their audience in. Young thespians not only improve their memories by learning lines but also become able to convey themselves more effectively.
The arts aid not only mental growth, but physical and emotional. Dance offers a wide variety of health and cognitive benefits. Consider different forms of dance. Ballet is considered the foundation for all other dance styles, and requires extreme athleticism as well. Tap is a great cardiovascular exercise and challenges the mind and body at a fast pace. Modern and jazz dance offer a emotional and physical release, while depending on the creative restraints of choreography. 
College readiness
A study of college bound seniors conducted by The College Board over the course of three years shows that all forms of performing arts influence SAT scores.ii
Is your child ready?
We know that young children learn easily, but there’s no rush to force your three-year-old into artistic boot camp. Follow your child’s lead when it comes to learning an instrument. Most professionals agree that children aren’t ready for serious arts training until they are eight-years-old, but there are instructors who can provide age-appropriate introductory training.
Hold back on wind and brass instruments until your child’s second set of teeth are completely in place. Stringed instruments come in smaller sizes to fit children, and piano is also a good place to start. Voice lessons should usually be delayed until adolescence, as to not strain young vocal cords.
When it comes to dance, it’s best to wait until your child’s body is ready. Consult your pediatrician before enrolling your child in any physical activity, as young bones are easily malformed.
Opportunities and organizations
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offers special programs for children and students at Heinz Hall. Check out their Fiddlesticks Family Concerts for the 2009-2010 performance season, and be prepared to let your 4-10-year-olds touch real instruments and meet members of the orchestra. Be sure to ask about their other programs for school-age students, too—you won’t be disappointed!
Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater is dedicated to introducing kids to the performing arts. Since 1969, this non-profit organization has produced everything from puppet shows to full musicals. The Theater annually hosts the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival, which offers kids of all ages and various interests a chance to soak in arts schedule. Check out their Web site for upcoming opportunities:
Another non-profit organization catering to kids is the Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company. PYBC offers not only ballet and pointe classes, but jazz, tap, pre-school movement and musical theater classes. In the summer, PYBC hosts day-long workshops–a great way for a young performer to spend vacation time. And don’t miss their annual performance of The Nutcracker.
Make the arts a staple in your family’s life. Take your kids to concerts, plays and listen to a wide variety of music at home. Engage in dramatic play, and keep props and inexpensive instruments at hand for young kids. Be more selective in your TV and film choices, and pay attention to what really engages your kids and inspires them to sing and dance along. And be a pillar of emotional support for your older child, who may more deeply feel performance anxiety and fear rejection. Even when you’re not on stage, you’re still a part of the show!
Elizabeth Osborn is a freelance writer from Youngstown, OH.    
i“Music Education as a Powerful Stimulus for Brain Plasticity” Altenmüller, Eckhart. International Society of Music Education, Advocacy Articles.
iiThe College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report (1998, 1999, and 2000).
SAT scores of graduating seniors involved in performing arts in 2000
Acting Verbal: 542 Math: 532 Combined: 1074
Dance Verbal: 514 Math: 510 Combined: 1024
Music Verbal: 532 Math: 534 Combined: 1066
No Arts Training Verbal: 477 Math: 496 Combined:   973