The Kaleidoscope program - mixing math, science, and reading into the arts

Looking for a scientific connection between an arts curriculum and better grades in math? Look no further than South Philadelphia, where Ellie D. Brown is showing how an early arts education helps students learn across the board. 

While still in the midst of her research, Brown, associate professor of Psychology at the West Chester University, has possibly found a measurable basis to show how an educational foundation in the arts can lead to greater success in traditional subjects such as math, reading, and science. Her research involves students enrolled in two early education programs: the Settlement Music School's Kaleidoscope Head Start program, which focuses on using the arts to prepare children for further learning, and a nearby control school that does not use these methods.

Her goal: to determine if an early education in the arts helps children learn better in all subjects. Her measurable basis: cortisol. 

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland and typically released in response to stress in the body. Research has shown that when released, the steroid inhibits the functionality of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain commonly associated with learning and memory. Further studies have shown that in young children, there is a strong correlation between stress and chronically elevated cortisol levels. 

According to Brown's research, an early arts education can reduce bodily levels of cortisol. 

Brown's findings imply that if an education based in the arts reduces cortisol levels in the body, this type of education increases the hippocampus' ability to learn and retain information. Showing that early arts education increases cognitive skills - math, science, and reading - would give the arts a new argument for ending funding cuts and for the restoration of programs previously deemed unnecessary. 

This is a belief shared by many in her field already: Adam Winsler, professor of Psychology at George Mason University is also a fan of this type of approach and believes in the benefits of an early arts education. 

"These days, people are trying to do reading, science, and math a lot earlier, and a lot of developmentally inappropriate things are happening. Young kids are supposed to be integrating sounds and materials and touching. They need this. It turns out these kinds of actions are good for self-regulation or executive functioning."

Despite having several months left to go in her study, she is currently seeing how the arts-based Kaleidoscope program benefits students and prepares them to succeed in other subjects: 

"Two past studies by Brown strongly suggest that teaching concepts of reading and math through the arts increases school readiness, and found that compared with peers, children attending the Kaleidoscope program had three times the gains in vocabulary."

If she continues to be successful with these types of findings, her research could be a strong asset to arts programs around the country in danger of being cut and may provide the evidence organizations such as our own need to convince our legislators to not only secure, but boost funding for the arts. 

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