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Arts-themed, back-to-school tips from Indiana University

July 30, 2008

EDITORS: IU experts discussed the following topics in this arts-themed, back-to-school tip sheet. Contact information for each faculty member is listed below.

Exploring classical music with kids
Art appreciation for the whole family
Choosing age-appropriate dance classes

Constance Glen

Constance Cook Glen

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Find time to explore classical music with kids. Constance Cook Glen, coordinator of the Music in General Studies Program at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, says learning to appreciate classical music early will give children an openness to and love for the arts, as well as knowledge about different cultures and time periods. Some believe listening to classical music will make children smarter (known as "the Mozart Effect"), but besides stimulating the intellect, music is also an outlet for communicating emotions. "Start with the premise that everyone loves music, regardless of background and training," said Cook Glen. "Find something that your children enjoy and listen to it with them. Ask why they like it and then ask them to listen to something you enjoy." Following are some of her tips for sharing classical music with kids in a way that's fun for them -- and for you. Join the kids at the computer or television, and watch videos that include classical music.After watching the cartoon or silly version, find a "serious" version, and watch and listen to the piece again, discussing the differences. Suggested videos:

  • Fantasia and Fantasia 2000
  • "Rachmaninov had big Hands"
  • Loony Tunes classical music such as"Rabbit of Seville" or "What's Opera, Doc?"
  • Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin
  • Victor Borge at the piano

Experience live musical performances together. In this plugged-in era, even kids as young as 2 or 3 can enjoy the novelty of seeing performers live and in person. Outdoor concerts are the perfect venue for young kids who might get antsy in a darkened concert hall.

Listen to a favorite song and try to play the melody on any instrument (even a kazoo). This may take many attempts but is possible and fun. When you've figured out the melody, try to play the rhythmic patterns.

Listen to two or three famous pieces and then learn about their composers. What you learn about the artists who created the pieces will make the music more meaningful. Play the same pieces several times, until you can sing along throughout the piece. Feel free to alternate classical works with your favorite popular songs. Suggested pieces:

  • Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Learn about Beethoven's struggles with his father, his deafness and his dedication to his nephew. Find out about "Fate knocking on the door" and figure out how Beethoven responded to that knock.
  • The Four Seasons concertos by Vivaldi. Find out about the all-girls orchestra that played these pieces. Try "Spring" or "Autumn" and listen to the story told through the music; hear the birds chirping, the murmuring brook, the thunderstorm, the fox hunt and the harvest dance.
  • Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun." This is perfect music for a quiet, rainy day. Set up drawing or painting materials with the "Seasons" or to Debussy's "Prelude" in the background.
  • Violin Caprices by Paganini. Listen to the gymnastics that the violinist goes through in order to play these notes. Look for a YouTube video featuring one of the caprices.
  • For older children, listen to the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. Read the story about this love-crazed composer and his idealized beloved.
  • Teenagers interested in music and drama may enjoy musical theatre and opera such as Rent and La Boheme. Watch opening scenes online or rent DVDs of the performances. Compare the two stories when you watch the opening scenes ("Light my candle").

"Providing children a window into the world of classical music is a great gift," said Cook Glenn."You can expect to find your children intrigued with the new sounds in their ears and the new songs on their lips. Who knows, perhaps the next Mozart resides in your home!"

Find a list of classical music in movies at: Find a list of famous classical music references in many mediums at:

Constance Cook Glen can be reached at 812-855-6741. Top

Betsy Stirratt

Betsy Stirratt

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Take kids to the art gallery and talk about what you see. Betsy Stirratt, director of Indiana University's School of Fine Arts Gallery, says it's important for parents to learn that people think and approach the world very differently. "People can have a varied perspective on everything, and art is a perfect example of that," she said. "There are hundreds of ways that a still life can be represented. That variety of thought and approach can be applied to everyday life -- that's why art is such a broadening experience."

  • Remember, art is everywhere and for everyone. Before going to the museum, Stirratt suggests talking about the kind of art or objects you have on your walls or things at home your kids find beautiful or useful around the house. At the museum, compare the things at home to what you see to create a context for the art. "Kids are very visually savvy. They're so in tune with images. There are more TV, more movies -- there are just a lot more out there than when I was a kid. A lot of times people go to museums and think it's some kind of weird art that has nothing to do with anything else, but parents can associate images kids see in the world or in the media with the art they see."
  • At the museum, talk about the images you're seeing and how they relate to everyday life. "For instance, if you're looking at a still life, talk about the images you're seeing and how they relate to your everyday lives, thing you have in your own home." When looking at abstract art or more contemporary pieces, talk about why the artist chose to represent something that way. "Bringing it to more personal kinds of experience is always more valuable. Rather than 'culturalizing' it into 'here's a great artist, isn't he wonderful,' find a way to make art history important to kids." When confronted with a particularly funny everyday object in a contemporary art exhibit -- such as a toilet -- Stirratt recommends commenting on how the artist took an everyday object and thought about it differently to turn it into something different. "Talk about how the artist works rather than what the thing is."
  • Be realistic. A 4- or 5-year old would benefit from a visit to a museum with interactive activities, but may soon melt into boredom at a regular gallery. Pre-teens and teenagers may be more open to traditional art museums, especially where there is a degree of interaction or new media-based work. Above all, Stirratt says, don't be afraid of taking kids to the museum. Go in your shorts, go with your kids, stop in for 20 minutes or a couple of hours. "I have sort of a personal crusade about not creating elitism around art viewing," she said. "Childhood is the perfect way to start getting comfortable with art as images beyond what we see every day, but related to what we see every day."

Betsy Stirratt can be reached at 812-855-8490. More information about Indiana University's School of Fine Arts Gallery can be found at: Top

Joy, not recitals, key to strong dance programs. When parents explore dance programs for their preschoolers and elementary-age children, attention to the age-appropriateness of the instruction is critical. A disregard or ignorance of the developmental differences among the age groups could not only turn children off to dance but result in injuries, said Selene Carter, visiting guest lecturer with the Indiana University Contemporary Dance Program. Ballet students, for example, typically begin wearing point shoes at age 12 or 13 because wearing them earlier could result in bone damage. Carter said dance classes for children should focus on creative movement -- allowing students the freedom to express themselves -- rather than involving rigorous or extreme training that strain young bones and muscles. "With 5-year-olds, you might work on skipping, jumping and learning some of the dance terminology," Carter said. "You want them to experience that they have learned to dance and to understand it's a place they can be free to express themselves. If you're in a program where you're holding onto a bar and forcing your body into positions you can't do, it takes away the joy."

Carter offers the following considerations when looking for strong dance programs in modern dance, tap or ballet:

  • Education matters. Instructors should have an educational background in dance pedagogy involving children. They need to understand the different developmental needs of various ages. A program for 3-year-olds, for example, will appear much different than one for 5-year-olds because the younger dancers are not as good at group activities.
  • Recitals are over-rated. Recitals are fun and nice exposure for dancers but Carter encourages parents to consider programs that do not emphasize performance over enjoyment. Dance programs should provide a rich, fulfilling experience week after week rather than focusing on remembering dance steps or physical training.
  • Body image issues. Carter urges parents to avoid programs that discuss body types or engender shame about body size or types. She said programs should be open to all body types. "For an overweight child, a dance program might be a great opportunity to relearn their self-esteem physically because it shows them that they can be successful and competent regardless of their body type." Carter said she has met many professional dancers who developed a passion for dance after being introduced to it because of physical concerns, such as flat feet. Their parents enrolled them in dance programs to remediate their problems and the youngsters developed a love of dance.
  • Good models. Carter said instructors need to model proper dance decorum, through their dress and behavior, to help students show respect for each other and appreciate dance as an art form that requires discipline.

Selene Carter can be reached at 812-855-5523 and The IU Contemporary Dance Program is in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Information about the program's precollege dance program can be found at Top