“Stop the car! I just have to dance!” exclaimed our 3-year-old daughter Edith as she looked out the window and took in the baby grand piano, speakers and cushions set up for an outdoor concert on the front steps of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Our family was rushing home to make dinner on a late Sunday evening during a recent summer weekend. My husband and I looked at each other and made the last-minute decision to turn the car around and follow our daughter’s heartfelt plea.
We parked and joined a small group of concertgoers waiting for “The Concert Truck” to start a powerful performance. Baltimore-based pianists Nick Luby and Susan Zhang converted a 16-foot box truck parked on Art Museum Drive into a fully functioning mobile concert hall, complete with lights, sound system and a piano.
For over an hour, our toddler was transported by the music: from a four-handed Argentinian tango to the melodic rhythms of the riveting spoken word of Dr. David Fakunle, storyteller and djembe master. As our daughter soaked in the sounds with rapt concentration—rare to this active 3-year-old—I would occasionally lean over and whisper something in her ear about the song title or the instrument being played. She would nod in response, give a small smile or look up at the sky and watch a golden-tinted cloud float by.
When each song finished, she sat up straight and loudly clapped with excitement, applauding her love for the music streaming from the Concert Truck. She was too transfixed to dance, and when the concert was over, she loudly asserted, “This was a really good idea.”
Both parents wholeheartedly agreed with her review of the evening, and I brimmed with joy seeing her connect to the music in a new, potentially life-changing way.
As a parent, I see my daughter thrive when she is exposed to an unexpected classical music concert, spontaneously picks up her long, red-handled paintbrush to paint with her watercolors in the corner of our rowhouse kitchen or performs a show for me on her plastic recorder.
As an educator, I also understand the power of the arts from the perspective of the classroom. I have the privilege of working as an administrator at Jemicy School, an independent school for students with dyslexia and related language-based learning differences that values visual arts, theater and dance. Our students are offered intentional opportunities to discover and develop their innate creative abilities, and they study with master artists who are also expert teachers.
Why spend the time, resources or energy exposing kids to the arts?
I have seen how making music or illustrating comics can unlock a kid: Engagement in the arts is a transformative experience. The arts allow children to flourish and to feel the joy that comes with a sense of autonomy and accomplishment.
Participation in visual and performing arts strengthens perspective and empathy, and it helps our children build confidence and problem-solving skills. Most of our children will have a job that hasn’t been invented yet. It is critical that we prepare them to navigate the unknown.
The arts build creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills—tools our children need to succeed in the world of their future.
Make space for art in your child’s life, even if it sometimes invites what seems like chaos. The constellations of paint splatters and awkward squawks of the flute are hidden maps to a future your child is beginning to discover. Whenever you can, turn the car around when your children let you know they need to hear the music.
Annette Fallon is the director of outreach of the Jemicy School in Owings Mills and the mother of 3-year-old Edith.