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Your fourth grader and the arts

In a rich art program, your child will learn about visual arts, music, theater and dance.

By Miriam Myers , GreatSchools Staff

In your child's classroom

If the school has a rich art program, your child will have opportunities to create, appreciate, and learn the history of the visual and performing arts. He will be encouraged to relate them to other subjects. Your child may go on a field trip to a concert, dance performance, play, or art museum to extend classroom learning.

Research has linked arts education to overall academic achievement and social development. Paul Bakeman, our teacher consultant and award-winning music teacher, adds: "Students who are exposed to a consistent, quality arts education develop skills that will enhance their ability to learn throughout their whole lives."

The arts may not be taught as a separate subject in some schools, but most states require that they be included in the curriculum. Most states have National Standards for Arts Education.

Nancy Roucher, our educational consultant and arts specialist, notes that arts education, like math, builds each year on skills and concepts taught the year before: "The ideal is to have sequential arts education taught by certified qualified specialists and integrated with other subject areas."

Visual arts

In fourth grade, students study the visual arts — painting, ceramics, sculpture and photography — from different cultures and time periods, learning about famous artists, styles, and cultures. Your child studies and creates art, including landscapes, portraits, sculptures, and collages. He explores various art materials such as pastels, clay, papier-mâché, and watercolors. He learns the elements and principles of art such as color, line, shape, texture, and space.

Your fourth grader learns different skills and techniques to create art. He may make a pinch or coil pot while studying Native American art. He may look at a landscape painting and create his own with a horizon line. He experiments with mixing and blending colors, perhaps by using oil pastels to make a still life. He may try Mexican bark painting or make a Chinese scroll, activities that connect to the study of these parts of the world.

Your child learns about different art movements and artists. He may study the work of Paul Klee and use different shapes and colors to make his own abstract portrait. He can discuss the subject matter and symbols in works of art.

Music

Your fourth grader explores music by listening, singing, and perhaps beginning to play an instrument. She learns about famous musicians and different music styles from various time periods and cultures. She studies the elements of music, learns basic notation, and establishes a musical vocabulary. Bakeman explains: "Fourth grade is the perfect time for your child to begin reading and writing music. To that end, she may learn to play a simple melodic instrument, such as the recorder of the harmonica. Instruments such as these give your child a means to apply many of the musical skills and concepts she has already acquired."

Your child learns to identify instruments and voices, and can improvise short pieces. Some schools may have Orff (tone bar) instruments, which make it possible for every child to participate, a recorder class, or an optional band, choir or orchestra program.

Your fourth grader is likely to sing traditional and folk songs from around the world. Many of the songs will reinforce what your child is learning in class. Typical songs are "Weevily Wheat," a U.S. colonial folk song; "London's Burning," a round; and "Che Che Kule" a traditional West African call and response song. Your child works on singing in tune with expression and accuracy, in groups and on her own.

She listens to and learns the history of various musical styles such as jazz, classical, Caribbean, and Latin. She can distinguish between a march and a ballad. She learns about famous musicians from jazz performer Louis Armstrong to classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Bakeman explains: "One way in which fourth graders can become engaged in listening to classical music is to use 'listening maps.' Listening maps are simple visual representations of one element of the classical piece that your fourth grader is listening to, such as the melodic contour. A listening map usually focuses on a small portion of the larger work. It may illustrate the melodic contour with a simple line that rises and falls to the shape of the melody and can be followed as your child listens to the music."

Dance

In fourth-grade dance your child explores movement and kinesethetic learning. He demonstrates locomotor movements (walking, running, hopping, and jumping) and non-locomotor movements (twisting, stretching). He may create a movement sequence and perform it. He moves to a beat and responds to different rhythms. He identifies dances from different cultures and discusses them in terms of movement and their function in society. Your child learns folk dances and performs with a partner or group. He distinguishes between ballet, modern, and other dance forms. He learns the importance of warming up before moving to improve his flexibility and strength.

Theater

In fourth-grade theater your child learns basic drama skills such as improvisation, role-playing, characterization, and creation of dialogue. Many of the activities encourage cooperative learning and listening skills. Your child may have an opportunity to perform in the classroom and before an audience.

She learns about the many jobs involved in a theater production such as writing, costume design, and lighting. She can write and rehearse improvisations, and stage them in a variety of ways. She may act and help produce a play. In writing, your child will work on plot structure, dialogue, setting, and character development. She will analyze and compare character, plot, and other dramatic elements. She will identify different types of plays such as comedy, drama, and musical.

In performing, your child learns about working with her voice to speak clearly and expressively. She learns to use her body and voice to communicate thoughts and emotions.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/24/2010:
"We are looking to relocate to a new state, our 4th grader is driving this change, she is very gifted in both academics and art and we are afraid she is not getting the best oportunities in our current system and we want to see her excel and continue to grow. Where can I find a listing of schools that fit these options? "
11/2/2009:
"Interesting blog!!"
04/14/2008:
"While studying the arts can be an important part of a child's education, unfortunately, my grandchildren's elementary school is so busy focusing on the arts, multiculturalism, and frequent field trips, that the students' academic achievement is suffering. This particular school was rated by Great Schools at a 3 (or 'poor') out of a possible 10. My grandchildren are struggling, particularly in math, but isn't it wonderful that at least they have learned 'peaceful dance moves'! "
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