Connecting the Dots: The Role of Art in Fostering Connectedness
by Ashley Krombach (she/her); Senior Program Manager of Social-Emotional Health and Brean Witmer (she/her); Senior Program Manager of Monitoring and Evaluation; Youth Risk Behavior Prevention
Connectedness & Belonging
Core to our health and well-being is connectedness or a sense of belonging, as defined by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Connectedness describes a healthy and protective relationship between individuals and the environments in which they live, play, work, and grow. It often refers to an individual’s sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging, and can be centered on feeling connected to school, family (e.g., parents and caregivers), or other important people and organizations in their lives[i]. This sense of connection serves as a protective factor that helps us grow and explore our identities and interests in a safe space while managing and responding to stress or big emotions. Youth who feel connected at school and at home were found to be as much as 66% less likely to experience health risk behaviors related to sexual health, substance use, violence, and mental health in adulthood[ii]. Research also suggests that individuals who feel a sense of security, belonging, and trust in their community have better health and are more inclined to take action to improve their own health and the health of others[iii]. Feeling connected to others helps to remind us that we are not alone – strengthening resilience and providing a community of support – equipped to take action for a brighter tomorrow.
The Arts & The Role They Play
Through the arts, children (and adults) can bring strengthened awareness to their feelings and surroundings, foster curiosity and creativity, gain a deeper understanding of their community and the role they play, and use their strengths and lived experience to lead and inspire change. By integrating the arts into mindfulness and sensory activities, play, service to the community, and leadership among peers, children are able to develop and apply life skills in a variety of settings, regardless of learning style, and throughout the span of childhood and adolescence.
Connecting the Dots
As seen throughout the Connecting the Dots: Health as Art Series, the arts play a role in fostering connection among children, families, and communities. From building social cohesion and producing collaborative relationships among community members[i] to strengthening mother-infant bonding[ii] and parent-child relationships[iii], the arts create a space where individuals feel safe, supported, and encouraged to use their creativity to share ideas, reflect on experiences, and tell their stories through visual, auditory, and tactile forms of communication.
When applied in a culturally responsive and developmentally appropriate way, the arts weave a thread throughout the pillars of social-emotional learning and the five competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The arts bridge connection between these pillars while fostering growth that supports a healthy relationship with ourselves, our peers, our community, and the world around us.
The arts support social-emotional learning and have been found to[iv]:
- Strengthen self-awareness and positive self-identity ;
- Encourage emotional expression;
- Strengthen emotional regulation and self-management;
- Build collaborative relationships;
- Improve responsible decision-making skills;
- And more
The arts support youth risk behavior prevention and have been found to[v]:
- Encourage prosocial behaviors;
- Build self-confidence and social development;
- Improve attention in the classroom and positive behaviors on the playground;
- Reduce bullying;
- Increase awareness of the dangers of substance misuse and reduce use;
- And more
And it doesn’t end there. Defined as a core academic subject in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the arts improve connectedness within the school community – ultimately improving children’s sense of agency for strengthened civic and social engagement[vi]. We know how important school connectedness is in providing safe and supportive learning environments where children can play, learn, and grow, and in influencing healthy decision-making by students[vii]. At the center, sits strong family-school partnerships that enhance individual and collective capacity to serve as trusted nurturing adults for children and implement sustainable programming and policy in support of the Whole Child at school and at home. As we’ve seen, the arts are collaborative in nature and research shows that the arts can build strong bonds among students, teachers, and parents, increase parental involvement at school, and build community as communities work together towards a common goal[viii]. In the pursuit of Whole Child health and well-being, we all play a role in making change happen.
- Integrate art into lessons and activities to differentiate learning and provide a creative outlet for children to process and apply skills at school and at home
- Discover opportunities for community-based learning to explore art as a family around your local neighborhood or to partner around experiential learning and field trips in the classroom
- Create opportunities for children to share their stories, background, and culture through the celebration of different art forms through family nights or projects
- Support the continuum of learning by sharing information on ways lessons can be extended through art at home or in the classroom
- Advocate for the arts by protecting them as a core subject through integrating arts education mandates in your school and district curriculum policies, or by getting involved with your district’s wellness council to promote the benefits of supporting culturally responsive arts education
Action for Healthy Kids wraps up the Connecting the Dots: Health as Art series with a question for our readers:
How have the arts impacted you?
From novels to the big screen, music and the joy of memories captured in photographs – the arts are a part of each one of us and leave long-lasting impressions for years to come. Children are our brightest tomorrow, and we owe it to them to ensure they have the opportunity to experience life through art – to dream, to imagine, and to become their most authentic and colorful selves.
Discover new activities that connect the dots between social-emotional health, physical activity, and nutrition through art at school and at home with the Connecting the Dots: Health as Art Toolkit!
[i] Bang AH. The restorative and transformative power of the arts in conflict resolution J Transform Educ. 201614435576 doi: 10.1177/1541344616655886
[ii] Fancourt D, Perkins R. The effects of mother–infant singing on emotional closeness, affect, anxiety, and stress hormones Music & Science. 201812059204317745746 doi: 10.1177/2059204317745746
[iii] Zeevi LS, Regev D, Guttmann J. The efficiency of art-based interventions in parental training Front Psychol. 201891495 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01495
[iv] Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review [Internet]. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019. (Health Evidence Network synthesis report, No. 67.) 2. RESULTS.
[v] Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review [Internet]. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019. (Health Evidence Network synthesis report, No. 67.) 2. RESULTS.
[vi] Art for Life’s Sake: The Case for Arts Education. (2021, December 9). American Academy of Arts & Sciences. https://www.amacad.org/news/arts-education-report
[vii] “School Connectedness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Aug. 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/school_connectedness.htm#:~:text=Research%20has%20shown%20that%20young,and%20violence%20and%20gang%20involvement.
[viii] Art for Life’s Sake: The Case for Arts Education. (2021, December 9). American Academy of Arts & Sciences. https://www.amacad.org/news/arts-education-report