Role of Arts in Childhood Development

Sadly, many adults do not consider themselves ‘creative’. However, when such people speak of their upcoming personal and professional projects, event plans, new hobbies or (less commonly) Excel spreadsheet solutions, it appears the term may require some kind of social reinvention.

Creativity, according to the Oxford Dictionary is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. That’s it. So if we lean back to the literal definition rather than the commonly held idea of a life in fine art, it seems that each and every person is – essentially – ‘creative’.

So why is this important? Because the evidence is clear: engagement in creative activity across the life span has wide-ranging, long-term benefits on social, emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. Exposure to arts activity in childhood directly influences arts engagement throughout life. And as champions for future generations, this knowledge equips us to advocate for and encourage arts participation from birth.

Research shows that children engaged in artistic activity show more positive academic and wellbeing outcomes than those who are not as involved. A joint study by the University of Sydney and the Australian Council for the Arts in 2013 found that students who participate in dance, drama, music, and visual arts have higher school motivation, engagement in class, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.

In encouraging environments, arts activities offer opportunities to safely explore emotions, test social and physical limits, try ideas, imagine possibilities and problem-solve. It is not necessary that children are captivated, fully attentive or produce finished masterpieces, they simply require supportive environments, situations and experiences that safely (and appropriately) stimulate and challenge their imaginations and abilities.

Whether your child participates in arts activities or observes from the audience, the benefits of arts engagement are wide-ranging, positively influencing the development of:

  • critical thinking
  • empathy
  • trust
  • spatial awareness
  • communication skills
  • relationship skills
  • self-awareness
  • motor skills, and
  • coordination

Engagement in arts activity is also strongly linked to literacy development. Reading, rhyming, singing, and talking from birth profoundly influence literacy and language development – the foundations for all other learning.
(See Early Literacy blog post.)


Simple ways children’s creativity can be nurtured beyond formal learning environments include:

  • Creating at home.
    Eg. singing, dancing, painting, playing, making music and artwork with found objects, creating gifts for family and displaying or recording artwork.
  • Observing at home.
    Eg. listening to music and audiobooks, watching musicals.
  • Creating, observing and playing in the great outdoors – with unlimited backdrops, objects, scenarios and inspiration.
  • Visiting local libraries, galleries and museums – typically offering free (or low cost) spaces and/or activities designed for and by children.
  • Attending community festivals – offering diverse local, cultural and intergenerational activity engagement opportunities.
  • Visiting local or Council-run theatre companies – as audience members or performers.
  • Designating ‘screen-free’ time, encouraging exploration of environment, ‘tinkering’ with available items and play with people around them.
  • Joining a local arts society or group (or starting your own).
  • Taking a trip into State Library Victoria, Arts Centre Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Museum, Scienceworks, Immigration Museum or ACMI – where many free or low-cost play and learning opportunities are available for children, young people and families.

So if there’s a young person in your life, keep expanding their creative horizons. They’ll likely thank you for it and consider themselves ‘creative’ well beyond adolescence. And there’s a chance you’ll enjoy it too.

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