HomeAcademics & ActivitiesAcademic Skills

Your fifth 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. She 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 instruction, like math, should build each year on the skills learned 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 fifth grade, students study the visual arts — painting, 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, form, texture, space, balance, and repetition.

Your fifth grader compares and interprets works of art. He is able to create works of art by selecting subject matter, elements, composition, media, and techniques to communicate an idea, mood or feeling. He works with warm and cool colors, and contrast and perspective to show depth.

Your child learns about different art movements and artists. He may study the influence of history, for example World War II's impact on modern art. He may study the work of Pablo Picasso before attempting his own cubist portrait. He may work collaboratively to create a mural about the civil rights movement. He compares and contrasts abstract and realistic art, and discusses the big question: "What is art?"


Your fifth grader explores music by singing, playing instruments, and learning about famous musicians. She learns about different music styles from various time periods and cultures. She studies the elements of music, learns basic music notation, and establishes a musical vocabulary. Some schools may have performer Orff (tone bar) instruments, which make it possible for every child to participate, and an optional band, choir or orchestra program. Your child is likely to focus on American history at this grade level. Many of the songs will reinforce what your child is learning in class and might include the American folk songs "The Erie Canal" and "The Ash Grove." The class may also sing traditional songs from around the world, such as the Mexican folk song "De Colores."

Bakeman notes: "Fifth graders can more easily sing rounds and enjoy singing partner songs, where two groups of students simultaneously sing two different melodies that complement each other. For example, 'When the Saints Go Marching In' can be sung with 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,' and the result will make a pleasant harmony."

Your fifth grader works on singing in tune with expression and accuracy, in groups and on her own. She is capable of playing an instrument accurately and independently. She learns to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of her own and others' performances, applying specific criteria.

Your child listens to and learns the history of various musical styles such as jazz, classical, Caribbean, and Latin. She can classify music by style, genre and time period. She learns about famous musicians from jazz performer Louis Armstrong to classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven. She can compare music to other art forms. Bakeman notes: "Fifth-graders also enjoy listening to the dissonant sounds of 20th-century composers like Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern.


In fifth-grade dance your child explores and performs dances from various cultures and historical time periods. He demonstrates movement skills and dance steps. He is able to perform movement sequences and does simple choreography alone or with a group. He uses the vocabulary of dance to evaluate his own or others' performances. He can move to a steady beat, working on techniques such as coordination, rhythm, and balance. He describes the effect of music, lighting and costume on a dance, and may compare the same dance performed live and recorded on video.


In fifth-grade theater your child learns skills such as improvisation, pantomime, role-playing, acting, and set design. Many of the activities encourage cooperative learning and listening skills. Your child may have the opportunity to act in a formal production and is exposed to the creation of theater from audition to performance.

Your child learns about the many jobs involved in a theater production such as writing, costume design, and lighting. She may write, direct, and help produce a play. In writing, your child will work on plot structure, dialogue, setting, and character development. She will analyze characters' motivations in plays. She will identify different types of plays, such as comedy, drama, and musical, and describe how culture can affect the content.

In acting she begins to learn how to develop stage presence and work with her voice to speak clearly and expressively. She learns to use her body and voice to communicate thoughts and emotions. She learns relaxation and warm-up exercises for acting.

Comments from readers

"I enjoyed the article and not surprisingly, it is in line with how I teach art (and drama at summer camps). I ask students to identify art connections to other subjects (for sticker rewards) and analyze posters (and postcards) of works by artists past and present and from other cultures that connect with their project. "
"Your article on 5th graders and the arts just proves that California schools are woefully inadequate when it comes to learning about the arts. Visual arts? One class per month. Theater? None. Dance? You must be kidding me! Music? It exists if you have an instrument and can afford to join the band (not free). If we are going to talk about the arts let's be realistic. I don't know where the arts programs are that are described above but I don't think they exist in public school unless you are in a very wealthy community."
"How wonderful, but sounds like a fairy tale. I don't know any California public schools that offer an iota of what Great Schools outlines are offered in GREAT SCHOOLS. California, at least most of the schools in our district have NO arts or music or theatre offerings. They claim there is no money for extra teachers. There are no instruments, no band, no orchestra, no sculpturing, no collages, not even student art work displayed. and forget learning about the famous artist, writers, scientists - simply doesn't happen. This district is all about STAR TESTING bragging rights. They want to score better than the other California districts, but what they don't realize is that they can't hold a candle to the offerings and score of OTHER STATES! California ranks at the bottom in testing and senior graduates who can even function as college freshmen. Science is only taught in fifth grade because that is the first year science is on the state testing and counts in 5th grade ranking. S! o the emphasis is mostly on math and language arts, but sadly language arts doesn't offer a focus on basic needs writing such as writing letters, creative stories and poetry. They aren't needed for state testing. It's politics; it's so unfortunate California students are dumbed down and have no idea they are missing the fabulous arts! Christmas is outlawed, other holidays aren't even mentioned, so forget about learning cultures, historical beginnings or geography. Social studies is not tested at 5th grade level, so why allow the students to learn about the 50 states. No fifth grader, not even the advanced students can name half of the states or have the slightest idea about topography. So, as I read your arts offerings, I sadly realize my children will not be able to compete with other states and of course not the Asian countries which focus on history and science as well as diversified arts. It would be interesting to her from other Southern California parents and student! s. Heck, we don't even get to learn Spanish til high school, y! et they tech the Spanish speakers in Spanish before they teach them in English. There is little creative learning unless your child lucks out and is placed in a master teacher's class, a teacher who know what well-rounded means. When NY can spend nearly $15K on each student per year, and California spends maybe $4K, can you figure out the disparity? Why isn't there a standardized FEDERAL test? Let's compare apples with apples and see who is really education students for the future! Thank you for the knowledge that maybe some 5th graders in our country are truly involved in the arts in their public schools. Makes me kind of jealous though."
"unfournatly there is no art program for my fifth grader at Orange grove Elem in Gulfport Mississippi....hopefully this will change"