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The benefits of studying the arts are endless. If you’re looking to improve your child’s self confidence, social skills and test scores add an artistic flair to his or her curriculum. 

By Melissa Tucker

When children are introduced to the arts, educators often report better focus, reduction in disciplinary actions and higher test scores. 

“Data shows after two years of trying to play an instrument a child’s brain changes. Their test scores in math and science are improved,” said Barbara Burroughs, director of education and community engagement for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. “We’ve seen children who have spent many hours in the principal’s office who have started violin lessons and become honor students by the end of the year. We’ve also taught an entire grade, and the principal said their test scores went up 30 points in one year.”

But, more than that, Burroughs says children experience joy when listening to or playing music, and, as a result, the whole family is affected. 

“A child’s life without music or learning to play an instrument is not as full or as rich,” she said. “And we always encourage families to be involved in everything we do, and it’s contagious. The kids who play instruments and love music are our best and brightest kids.”

The Symphony Orchestra is only one local arts organization creating events and outreach programs to impact children. Here’s a few more ideas for arts-based events and programs in the coming months. 

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The ASO’s Entergy Kids Ticket program continues to offer free symphony admission to young children. With a paid adult ticket, and an Entergy ticket reservation, school-aged kids can attend orchestra performances for free on Sunday afternoons. Some of the shows coming up include “Star Wars” on Sun., Sept. 21, which will also include a costume contest. 

The Symphony’s Sturgis Music Academy offers private lessons to children ages 5 to 18 at the symphony offices, with one private lesson and one group lesson each week. Under that umbrella, the Academy also teaches violin and cello to children in local schools and has more than 100 instruments to provide for learning purposes. 

For younger children, the Orchestra and You program visits schools and organizes the students into an orchestra using plastic instruments. 

In February, the Symphony will host the annual Little Rock Children’s Concert, for children in fourth to eighth grades, with additional learning materials provided for attendees. Classrooms and parents should register by Dec. 15. 

At Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts, the summer music program offers learning opportunities for kids ages 6 to 18. The program has classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced young musicians, as well as professional and guest artists from across the country. 

 

Ballet Arkansas is best known for its annual performance of the Nutcracker Ballet, as well as the accompanying Nutcracker Tea on Dec. 9, which allows young fans to visit with dancers and see the production up-close from the stage. 

Catherine Fothergill, associate artistic director for Ballet Arkansas, says the organization has expanded the repertoire, adding more productions throughout the year. 

“The student matinee performance each year, where schools can take field trips at reduced rates for those performances, is very popular. This year, “Dracula” is available for schools, and they will have curriculum attached,” she said. 

Two shows have been added as part of the children’s series: “Mary Poppins” in February and “The Ugly Duckling” in May, which is focused on bullying. 

“For ‘Mary Poppins,’ the kids will be able to come onstage and interact with the characters and dance with our dancers. It’s $10 to $15 for a ticket, which is no different from seeing a movie,” Fothergill said. 

 

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When it comes to creating art, Thea Arts Foundation and the Arkansas Arts Center have multiple programs aimed at school-aged children.

Thea’s annual sidewalk chalk event, Thea Paves the Way, will be Sept. 22 at the Clinton Library. Chalk will be provided, and families and classrooms are encouraged to reserve a space online in advance. The event will highlight the artistic ability of children and the young at heart with chalk drawings, but also includes free admission to the Clinton Library, face-painting and treats from Le Pops. A drawing for 10 gift cards worth $300 will be given to teachers who register and bring a school group to the event. In that vein, Thea is also helping teachers acquire art supplies with funding through Donors Choose. The organization has $50,000 to go toward stocking art closets in Arkansas classrooms, which will be distributed to teachers who register until it’s gone. 

The organization also has 36 available scholarships for graduating seniors who complete a project in the spring and write a 500-word essay about their work. This year, the foundation has added two new categories: creative writing and poetry slam. The projects will be judged by a panel of experts in the field. 

Each quarter, as part of the Museum School, the Arkansas Arts Center hosts classes for children in everything from painting to multimedia art to handbuilding with clay. The classes meet once a week and run for eight weeks. The winter session begins in January. 

The center will also host a one-day ‘Harry Potter’ Winter Wonderland workshop on Dec. 8. 

“The kids make ‘Harry Potter’-themed ornaments, make wands and have a wizard competition. Watch as we transform the Terry House into Hogwarts,” said Miranda Young, community engagement manager for the Arts Center. 

“They also do a sorting ceremony, and we highly encourage costumes. There might be an appearance by Hagrid; you never know who is going to show up over there,” she said. 

In November, a workshop called “Making Together” will be available to families who want to create something together in the studio. This quarter, the medium will be clay. 

The Museum School Gallery has a show on display through Nov. 11 called “Through Our Eyes,” which features examples of work made by children in the Museum School and hung at the eye level of children. 

 

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The Arkansas Cinema Society is working to bring the Los Angeles-based Young Storytellers program to Little Rock. The program, which began in 1997 when a group of screenwriters learned that Los Angeles public schools were cutting arts programs from their budgets, now has 2,500 volunteers serving 1,600 students in 60 schools in that city.

Graham Gordy, who chairs the Education Committee of the Cinema Society board, went through an intensive Mentor Training program in Los Angeles with the goal of bringing a Young Storytellers chapter to public schools in Little Rock, starting in the spring semester. “It’s a nine-week program where the students get to work one-on-one with a volunteer mentor every week,” Gordy said. At the end of the eight weeks, they put on what they call ‘The Big Show,’ where adult actors come play the roles in the plays the kids have written in front of their school. The students/writers get to wear VIP badges, there’s a red carpet, and the writer gets to introduce their play and sit in a big chair at the front of the auditorium or cafeteria for the show. “While the kids are taught the elements of story over the eight weeks, this program isn’t to turn children into playwrights or screenwriters. If that’s a side-effect, that’s great, but this is about showing them that they have a voice and a story to tell.”

The writers are chosen by the school and the program hopes to cater to kids who might have trouble coming out of their shells, are having some trouble at home, or could just generally benefit most from this kind of one-on-one attention. The nine-week program will initially focus on Little Rock public schools. “We will start small with one or two schools this spring. How quickly or broadly it expands will really depend on the number of volunteers we can get.” 

As Gordy and the Arkansas Cinema Society begin their pilot program, Little Rock will become one of the only Young Storytellers chapters outside Los Angeles, alongside new ones openings in New York, San Francisco and Denver. 

 

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The Arkansas Arts Center’s Children’s Theatre has long been a staple for child-centric theater performances. Coming up on the stage this fall and winter are “Curious George,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “Jack Frost.” For parents who’d like to save on admission costs, the Thursday before each show begins is Pay What You Can Night, where families can score tickets with whatever money they choose to give. 

During the summer, the Junior Arts Academy offers a two-week immersion into theater and the art programs in the Museum School. The program ends with student-led art exhibitions, performances and more. The Children’s Theater also has a summer academy for budding young actors ages 10 and up.