In your child’s classroom

If a school has a rich arts education 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 what she learns and experiences in the arts 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 (and more 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 many 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 education

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 may compare and contrast 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.”

Related: Read more about how music boosts the brain.

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 class, 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.

Theater arts education

In fifth grade theater class, 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.