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Art Integration and Cognitive Development

From Paleolithic cave paintings to complex works of contemporary artwork, art skills have conceptualized ideas and shared wisdom throughout human history. Given the historical significance of art over time, one can infer that it is "central to the cognitive development of our species" (Harriman, 2016). Thus, art integration in schools can foster favorable learning outcomes in kindergarten through twelfth-grade students and potentially beyond.

Overall, research on arts integration programs in K-12 education curricula has shown positive outcomes in cognitive development. STEM education in schools has focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, in application to grades K-12. Recently, the arts have been included in the new acronym, STEAM, to address the growing popularity of arts integration. Rosen-O'Leary and Thompson (2019) studied STEM versus STEAM-based instruction. They found that 5th and 6th graders who had instruction on art techniques for drawing and developing visual notes retained more science content in post-test results compared to students who used traditional note-taking methods.

In a 2019 study, researchers How and Hung (2019) studied how practitioners of STEAM curricula could utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) analytics to improve students' technological literacy. In this research article, the students they studied used AI technology based on Bayesian network software to develop logical reasoning, probabilistic reasoning, and deep data-driven learning. This type of learning is complex, and retaining all the information is essential to developing technical problem-solving skills, or as How and Hung (2019) describe it, "Artificial intelligence thinking." Essentially, this means applying "human-centric ideas into technical inputs that the AI technology can understand" (How and Hung, 2019). To help students retain this complex information, art integration techniques are useful.

Additionally, art integration could allow students to develop the language to discuss STEM-related material. Hardiman (2016) expressed how "the connection of arts and creative thinking suggests that experiences in the visual and performing arts, especially within content instruction, have the potential to help sustain attention, create emotional connections to content, foster the concentration leading to ‘aha’ discoveries, and promote multiple, divergent solutions to problem-solving.

Neurodiversity refers to the diversity in the human brain and cognition, meaning that people experience and interact with their environment in many different ways (Baumer & Frueh, 2021). Thus, art integration research applied to K-12 curricula could benefit a variety of students with different learning abilities. Hardiman et al. (2014) discovered that students from marginalized backgrounds with reading disabilities showed better content retention after receiving art instruction than their peers who could read proficiently. Hardiman et al. (2014) also found that art interventions helped students facilitate their curiosity in and out of the classroom. Here are two examples of art-integrated substitutions: "Instead of reading text passages out loud, the instructors developed dramatic scripts that children were asked to perform”(Hardiman et al., 2014). Another form of art integration in Hardiman’s study was an astronomy activity where the students drew shapes on posters and used dance movements to depict galaxy shapes in small performances (Hardiman et al., 2014). Kerdela et al. (2022) found that creative movement and dance in 5th-grade classrooms encouraged communication between students, strengthening their social development in the classroom. These techniques have been found to engage students in exciting ways that facilitate self-development and socialization skills.

In his book, The Arts and the Creation of Mind, Elliot Eisner suggests that creative arts can activate different areas of the brain that encourage perceptual thinking across many subjects. He implies that artistic consciousness can "invite us to attend to the qualities of sound, sight, taste, and touch so that we experience them" (5). Eisner also describes how developing an awareness of the senses can encourage the conceptualization of how we experience the world. In a similar book, Facilitating children's learning in the EYFS, Ann Langston (2014) discussed how expressive arts and design (EAD) programs that include theater and dance encourage "dramatizing stories," and this experience facilitates the art of storytelling. In social contexts, such experience is helpful because developing storytelling skills can benefit children’s quality of play in and out of the classroom.

Different age groups require various forms of support from caretakers. For caretakers of an infant, home learning can be a helpful practice for developing a child's attachment and emotional development (Langston, 2014). Home learning is the active interaction between the caretaker and child which can be practiced as a "parent reading to the child," "parent taking their child to the library," "child painting or drawing at home," "parent teaching their child songs, poems, or nursery rhymes" (Langston, 2014). For a caretaker of a young adult, it could facilitate dialogue about the school work they’re learning. This interaction could help the young adult to facilitate the language to talk about their ideas. Another way caretakers could show up in their young adults' lives is by showing up to their school presentations when invited and being there as support in their academic career. Economic barriers in caretakers' lives can take time away from engaging with their children or young adults. Thus, it can be helpful to leverage the free time caretakers have to engage in subtle ways to let their child or young adult know that they support and care for them.

As members of the current generation, it is our responsibility to provide and advocate for the best resources for future generations. Integrating the arts into STEM to create STEAM effectively creates positive learning outcomes that prepare students for their future. All we can do is learn with the younger generation to support them as best we can. Incorporating arts integration into the education curriculum for grades K-12 can be an excellent tool for youth to develop a meaningful relationship with their environment, work on areas for improvement, and build their strengths as they continue to mature.


Baumer, N., and Frueh, J. (2021) What is Neurodiversity? Harvard Health.

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A. V., & Stage, V. C. (2021). Food-Based Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Learning Activities May Reduce Decline in Preschoolers’ Skin Carotenoid Status. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 53(4), 343–351.

Eisner, E. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. Yale University Press. Chapter 1, 1-24.

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Inquiry and Joy. Creative Education, 7, 1913-1928.

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Integration on Long-Term Retention of Science Content. Journal for Leadership and Instruction, Volume 18(1), 32-35.

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