Stressing out our kids

Art, not drugs, saved me from the horrible trauma of my childhood. So why do we think it’s optional for our kids?
This is my grandson Jake when he was a few months old. He starts kindergarten this year. I really hope he has time to paint and draw in school.
The overall death rate in Britain and America started dropping at the turn of the last century—except for childbirth deaths. They increased, even though women were healthier overall. At odds with every other health marker, rich women were more likely to die in childbirth than poor women. Why?
For most of history, midwives attended laboring women in their homes. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that women began to be attended by doctors and to deliver infants in hospitals or private nursing homes. Since the medical profession had no understanding of sanitation, doctors inadvertently spread puerperal fever from one patient to the next. That’s when they weren’t intervening with forceps, anesthesia, caesarians, and other frequently-fatal procedures. Rich women were more likely to be on the forefront of medical care, so they suffered disproportionately.
The New Puppy, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Camden Falls Gallery.
I love math. I’m pretty good at it, and I see it as a description of the beautiful unity of the world’s design. I’m all for teaching math and science.
But to make room for math and science, we’ve cut back on art and music. And every time a public school needs to trim its sails, they start with the art department. That disregards the important role art has always played in liberal education, and all the science that tells us that art plays a critical role in developing intellect and character.
Miss Margaret, by Carol L. Douglas. She was a pretty good stress-reducer.
According to Athena Health, the percentage of pediatric patients with an anxiety diagnosis more than doubled from 2013 to this year. The percentage of patients prescribed anti-anxiety drugs over that time increased by a factor of six.
My sister and brother died when I was a child, in two separate, brutal accidents. There were no anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds back then. Luckily for me, I had art, so here I still am.
A recent study from Drexel University shows that creating art significantly lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Competence and the difficulty of the task had no significant effect on the results, but younger participants had a more consistent positive effect.
White Sands of Iona, by Carol L. Douglas, available.
I’ve written about brain growth in kids from doing art, doodling and executive function, neuroplasticity, and many other subjects. Training in drawing is associated with an increase in brain gray matter and changes in the prefrontal cortex. Making art improves the functional connectivity between cortices. Even passive engagement with art helps brain function.
Can anyone cite similar positive outcomes from their school’s football program?
Someday (I hope), we will classify the educational bureaucrats who dismiss art education with the well-meaning, misguided doctors who killed so many women in childbirth. But until then, we need to keep the pressure on to restore art to its proper place in western education. And parents, by all means, keep your kids drawing.

Everyone should make art

Why spend money teaching kids arts and music when we can drug them into submission?

Not only did yesterday’s painting class develop their brains, they watched an osprey family on that nest on the pole.

 As a parent, I skirmished with my kids’ school about doodling. I agreed to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for my youngest just so they would let him doodle in class. To me it was obvious that doodling helps kids who are stressed from sitting in one place for too long.

A few years ago, I wrote about a teenager arrested for doodling. Sadly, it wasn’t the only time it happened.

I tell my students to carry a sketchbook at all times, mostly to help them improve their drawing chops. I draw whenever I’m waiting or listening. I’ve drawn through twenty years of church sermons, and I don’t think it’s damaged my ability to hear what my pastors have said.
Sadly, my kids’ school didn’t agree. Even with an IEP, drawing in class was eventually banned for my son. (The good news is, as an autonomous college student, his grades are great.)
Gwendolyn Linn taught a class within one of my painting classes. Her audience was rapt.
Science tells us that doodling-repression is flat-out wrong. A recently study at Drexel University used fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) technology to measure blood flow in the so-called ‘reward pathway’ of the brain while subjects drew.
They were tested while doing three different short activities: coloring in a mandala, doodled within or around a pre-marked circle, and free drawing. All three activities caused an increase in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex.
Of course, the medial prefrontal cortex is not just the ‘happy button’ that gets turned on when you do something enjoyable or misuse drugs. It’s also involved in planning, personality, decision-making and moderating social behavior. Among its more important processes is the development of a sense of self and that Holy Grail of educators, executive function.
Nancy Woogen working on her pre-frontal cortex in my Sea & Sky Workshop a few years ago.
Doodling in or around the circle had the greatest neural impact, followed by free drawing and coloring. Mostly, the differences weren’t significant. The exception was for subjects who self-identified as artists. For them, coloring inside the lines turned out to be a negative experience.
There have been many studies with similar results. Training in drawing is associated with an increase in brain gray matter and changes in the prefrontal cortex. Making art improves the functional connectivity between cortices. Even passive engagement with art helps brain function.
Studies have shown similar positive results on the brain from making and listening to music.
Still, the arts are the orphan stepchildren of our educational system. They’re the first thing cut. But why spend money teaching our kids arts and music when we can drug them into submission?
Corinne Avery rearranging dinghies at another workshop, this time at Camden harbor.
Note: I’m demoing painting today at Windjammer Days in Boothbay Harbor from 1-4 PM. My pals Ed Buonvecchio and Bobbi Heath will also be there, along with my two favorite schooners, American Eagle and Heritage. If you’re free, come see us. You may discover a whole new way of lighting up the neural pathways in your brain.