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Let’s hear it for STEAM – not just STEM – education

by Monica Olivera

10:42 am on 06/19/2013

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about the importance of STEM education. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics play a critical role in our country’s ability to compete in the global market.  But there is an essential part of this acronym that is missing: Art. It is the spark that breathes life into STEM, and without it, innovation is dead. There would be no inventions, no discoveries, no advances in technology. Without creativity and analyzation, Benjamin Franklin would not have considered flying a kite in a storm, Steve Jobs would have just been another computer sales guy, and Ellen Ochoa would have been some girl who likes stars.

More and more people are advocating for STEAM instruction instead of just STEM because they understand that creativity leads to inspiration and spurs innovation. Art helps students learn how to analyze and interpret, describe and communicate. It requires a person to work steadily and value the results. All these skills must be nurtured and developed through exposure to the arts.

Kids are born with great imaginations. That’s because they don’t understand the concepts of what is possible and what is impossible. The line between reality and fantasy is blurred, and it is hard for them to understand this. Over time, they begin to learn rules and boundaries, which limits their imagination. So to nurture creativity and help our kids think “outside of the box,” it’s important for us to expose them to the arts, so they can understand and be open to inspiration.

By exploring the arts, students learn there is more than one way to achieve the same -or similar – results. Let’s imagine that little Miguel wants to make a picture. He’s out of crayons, but while digging in the art cabinet at home he finds paint, colored pencils, markers and even chalk. He decides to use watercolor paints to color in his picture, then he remembers a picture he saw during his last class field trip to the art museum and decides, just for kicks, to use his markers to emphasize certain lines and shapes. In the end, he gets his picture drawn and although it is not the way he imagined it, he is thrilled with the result and likes it even better.

Or take 7-year-old Maura, who is quietly playing in her room, making a bridge out of LEGOs. When she finishes, she looks at it with approval… but then she remembers one of the modern statues in the city park that used everyday items to create a castle. Maura grabs a paper towel tube she was using as a telescope earlier that day, an old cone-shaped party hat, a blue bath towel, an alarm clock off her dresser, and her brother’s jack-in-the-box. Now her bridge has water under it, and there are some buildings on one side of the river and a bank that tells the time on the other.

If these kids continue to be exposed to the arts throughout their childhood, then perhaps by the time they graduate from college, they will be finding solutions to world problems, or inventing new technologies, or contributing innovative ideas to city planning.

How to supplement your child’s art education

Many schools have cut back on art education because of budget cuts or curriculum “improvements.” Some students don’t get any instruction in the arts at all. So how can parents help their kids experience the arts?  Here are five tips for making art a part of your child’s life.

Go on field trips. Visit art museums, cultural centers, the theater, poetry readings, and the symphony. Expose your kids to new experiences and types of art.

Sign up! Most museums offer homeschool, after-school, or summer classes. This is a great opportunity to provide your child with the chance to learn from a professional art educator who is trained in the terminology and techniques. But be sure to look to craft stores, theaters, and culture centers for educational events, too.

Watch the tube. Keep an eye out for educational programming on your local PBS station, or invest in DVDs and series that highlight the arts.

Buy books. There are tons of great books available that explore art, or that offer ideas for art projects. Quilting teaches measurement and design. Drawing develops fine-motor skills and sense of proportion. Learning a musical instrument helps children identify patterns and sequence. The benefits are endless.

Give them supplies. Become a regular at your local craft store and buy art supplies. You can have specific projects in mind, but it’s important to just let them use their imagination and create their own art work. Encourage them to create new things each week to help develop their problem-solving skills.

monica oliveras-profile-small (1)

Monica Olivera Hazelton is an NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.