“Research indicates that a child who is exposed to the arts acquires a special ability to think creatively, be original, discover, innovate and create intellectual property – key attributes for individual success and social prosperity in the 21st century.”

This statement from the International Child Art Foundation website is of particular importance in our community where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is especially wide. The first day of kindergarten is often a defining moment in a child’s life, especially for those who lack not only the academic skills provided by a pre-school experience, but also the behavior skills that underlie the ability to be school-wise from day one.

While not every child from birth to age 5 has the same intentional exposure to learning that prepares him or her for kindergarten, every child can develop the attention skills and cognitive learning referred to above. Some are lucky to have a rich pre-school experience, but those who do not can develop behaviors that place them at least closer to those peers when entering school – at relatively little cost and with just a small investment of time and effort.

First, encourage a child in their exploration of the arts by being a participant. A box of crayons and a coloring book or tablet of paper purchased at the dollar store is a start, but rather than just tossing these at the child, expecting him or her to entertain themselves, sit down and share the experience. Talk about the use of color, lines, circles and other shapes. Even a 2-year-old can scribble on a paper with a crayon, and someone in that child’s village (parent, aunt, grandpa, older sibling) can then take the scribbling, enhance it a bit, and tell a story about the drawing – making it into a cat who is looking for its toy.

When reading a picture book to a child, point out the different colors, shapes and styles along with the narrative within the book itself. Compare two books on a similar topic, like animals, and discuss how one book presents elephants and how another book that has an elephant is slightly different. Ask which elephant the child likes best. Have him or her explain why. It does not matter if this is done in English or Spanish, with a purchased book or one from the library. What matters is the intentional interaction that prompts thinking and seeing.

Even very young babies of all ethnicities and social economic statuses bounce and sway to music. Expose a child to a wide variety of music genres, encourage their dancing along, and have them sing along to their favorite tunes. Play music softly at night as they sleep – something that is calming with a slow beat. Instead of having young children play a video game on your phone to keep them entertained, have them listen to music, especially that with lyrics they can understand. “Wheels on a Bus” is a particularly popular one for my 2-year old grandson, as is the soundtrack from “The Lion King.”

“De Colores” is another popular option for some children. The musical track from “Coco” is not only entertaining, but also educational in nature.

There are many other ways to help a child develop cognitive skills through exposure to the arts, but in this short column, only a few are being offered. However, if every child who entered kindergarten could color, sing and dance, pay attention as someone else does, and work independently and in conjunction with another, that would go a long way to closing the achievement gap before it even begins.

(Scott is grants director at the Nogales Unified School District.)

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