For Teachers

Up with the Arts

A sixth-grade teacher shares how she encourages her students — some with ADHD or other learning challenges — to learn using art.

Using art to teach kids with learning disabilities
Using art to teach kids with learning disabilities

Kristin Leidig-Sears, a seasoned sixth-grade teacher at President Avenue Elementary, in Harbor City, California, uses the arts to stimulate learning in children, regardless of their learning challenges. In her classroom, the arts become a teacher’s aid of sorts for every subject she teaches — math, history, social studies, science, reading, and language arts.

“When you use the arts to teach, learning sticks,” says Leidig-Sears. “The arts help kids visualize concepts and allows them to create concepts three dimensionally through drawing, painting, sculpting, singing, or writing. The arts stimulate all their learning modalities: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.”

When studying rituals of ancient Egypt, for example, Leidig-Sears asks her students to create their own rituals using music. When teaching fractions and ratios, she shows the relationship between fractions and musical eighth notes, quarters, and sixteenths. When learning about the food web, students create murals showing the various methods of feeding connections in an ecosystem.

When studying one of the 10 energy sources, students write original songs, representing the differences of each source. Afterward, they teach their songs to the rest of the class.

“The arts help kids of all academic levels work cooperatively and be excited about learning,” says Leidig-Sears. “Music and the arts are especially important for learning-challenged kids who struggle in school.” For them to succeed, learning must be interactive. They cannot learn, in many cases, by listening to a lecture, but if they are fully engaged in the subject through acting, singing, and drawing, they remember the material.

“Best of all,” says Leidig-Sears, “the arts make learning possible and fun.”