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The Link Between Art and Student Well-being

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

How is art instrumental to well-being? How did Policy affect Arts Education? PLUS Kikori activities to bring out your students' creativity


Most of my recent blogs have been about the importance of writing, not just for the well-being of youth but for all of us as humans. Art is a beautiful thing we have developed as a species that comes about through our emotions. Art is a window into our subconscious and expresses how we truly feel at the moment. Because of the emotion it conveys, art has an immense power to bring people together and to make a statement. But what about the act of doing art? What does it do for the artist?


Since March is both Women's History Month and Youth Art Month, Kikori is focusing on blending the two with Social Emotional Learning activities that promote well-being for your students!


Below, learn the ways that art improves student well-being and how policy has affected the arts in U.S. classrooms.


How Does Utilizing Art Activities in the Classroom Improve Student Well-being?

A recently published study by Hoferichter and Steinberg investigated the effect of art on the stress levels and overall well being of a group of university students. Their study was linked to stress from COVID-19, and the students’ audio/visual art centered around their feelings about the pandemic.


The study tested students' stress levels before the ‘art intervention’ in comparison to how they felt after. After answering questions, each student would complete a form of art in order to express their feelings. Based on the data collected, the researchers concluded that art significantly lowered the students' stress levels and led to increased feelings of joy after participating.


In another study, data collected by The College Board, showing that the average SAT scores of students who took 4 years of art or music in highschool (only 18% of test takers) were 92 points higher than those who took one half year or less (16% of test takers). This is a significant number, and provided the study was published in 2017, this means the data was taken during the ‘NCLB era’ (maybe my SAT scores are in there!).


The developmental benefits of art are many and include: Motor Skills, Language Development, Decision Making, Visual Learning, Inventiveness, Cultural Awareness, and Improved Academic Performance!

"We say arts education is good for general education, but that's not the point. The arts are what great nations are remembered for. They are a mirror."
- Damian Woetzel, President of Juilliard School

According to, "Living the Arts through Language + Learning: A Report on Community-based Youth Organizations" by Americans for the Arts, a student involved in the arts is:

  • 4x more likely to be recognized for academic achievement

  • 4x more likely to participate in a math or science fair

  • 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem

  • 4x more likely to participate in youth groups

  • 4x more likely to perform community service

  • 3x more likely to win an award for school attendance

  • 3x more likely to be elected to class office

  • 2x more likely to read for pleasure

  • Low income students highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate compared to their peers with no arts education, and have a 5x lower dropout rate



History of Policy and its Effect on Arts Education


I would like to briefly break down the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002, and address why the 13 years this legislation was active, still lingers today.


Even though the NCLB Act has since been overturned almost 15 years after the fact in 2015, and replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), there was a long span of time where the NCLB seeked to define a student’s success by rigid standards. Vaughn wrote about the relevance of the No Child Left Behind Act, which drove a push towards standardized testing and a heavy focus on math and reading skills. The NCLB frustrated many educators because it was trying to streamline assessment to see what areas the students were failing in, and it required students to be ‘proficient’ in reading and math. Many saw this term ‘proficient’ as vague and claimed that the legislation’s goal was to standardize testing for students because it would be too hard to standardize teaching for teachers.


Looking in my student rear view mirror, I can support the claim that there are many ways to teach. There is no one formula that will make a student succeed, and I think much of a teachers 'success’ comes from the heart; when they truly want to be there.

Thirteen years later, ESSA was set in place of the NCLB, relieving a lot of this tension. This law labeled arts and music a part of a “well rounded” education for students. Much of the decision making, money-wise and student’s progress/success-wise is now handled on a state level, leaving each state in charge of where the money is being allocated. This is a huge achievement and relief for educators all over the US, giving not only music and arts, but teachers of all subjects more room to breathe when it comes to how they run their classroom. Learn more about the differences between NCLB and ESSA.


Why does this matter? Well, this seemingly small blip in education history is actually my entire primary and secondary education (along with the rest of young adults my age!). Jaw-dropping to think about. Some research suggests there was no significant decrease in the share of visual and performing arts education in US schools during the NCLB era, “by comparing reading, math, and arts programming data for 6th to 12th grade for 1999–2000 (before NCLB) with data for 2007–08 (after NCLB had been operating for five years).” But it is important to note, there was a predecessor to the NCLB act: “The Goals 2000: Educate America Act” passed in 1994, that was active during the time this data was collected. The 1994 legislature was more heavily focused on math and reading, leaving no room for arts and music within its “core subjects”, explained further in the original article by Vaughn, mentioned above.

What Can We Do Now?


This heartfelt dissertation written at the University of Minnesota, by Lisa Arrastia on “Love Pedagogy and the Unmaking of the NCLB Generation” gives us valuable next steps. The beginning speaks volumes to the importance of promoting self exploration, and self love in the classroom. A great way to do this? Through arts and music activities! I looked up what “love pedagogy” was, and to my delight I found that it completely overlaps with SEL Learning, and our mission at Kikori.


In short, now more than ever, it is important to somehow “undo” the deficit in arts and music education that the NCLB generations faced, by incorporating the arts and emotional understanding through activities in our classrooms now and to come. I also want to note; there really isn't a lot of research about the after affects of the NCLB era that student generation, and I think anyone who is studying education could really make a statement diving deeper into this!


Download Kikori’s Arts Sneak Peek SEL Playlist to promote the arts in your classroom!


Looking for ways to bring more experiential and reflective arts activities into your classroom? Look no further than Kikori! Enjoy a special Sneak Peek into the Youth Arts Month Playlist to see a collection of curated education arts activities that your students can play today!



Youth Arts Month Playlist
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Download PDF • 2.17MB

Interested in sharing about Women in the Arts with your students?

Check out March's Women Trailblazers in the Arts - a view through time to learn more about ways that women have used their poetry, songs, acting and art to make a difference in the world.


If you would like to use quotes in your classroom, click on the Kikori Women's Quotes activity and find a free Quotes Printable!


Do you have a personal experience as an educator, related to No Child Left Behind or the Every Student Succeeds Act? Comment below and share with us!


Sources (shout out to Researchers!)


1. Gilbert, A. D. (2016). The Framework for 21st Century Learning: A first-rate foundation for music education assessment and teacher evaluation. Arts Education Policy Review, 117(1), 13–18. doi: 10.1080/10632913.2014.966285. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1074&context=musicfacpub

2. Klein, A. (2018, October 25). No Child Left Behind Overview: Definitions, Requirements, Criticisms, and More. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/no-child-left-behind-an-overview/2015/04

3. Team, U. (2019, October 17). The Difference Between the Every Student Succeeds Act and No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/articles/en/the-difference-between-the-every-student-succeeds-act-and-no-child-left-behind

4. Beveridge, T. (2009). No Child Left Behind and Fine Arts Classes. Arts Education Policy Review, 111(1), 4– 7. doi: 10.1080/10632910903228090

5. Gara, Taylor, et al. “Did Consequential Accountability Policies Decrease the Share of Visual and Performing Arts Education in U.S. Public Secondary Schools during the No Child Left Behind Era?” ARTS EDUCATION POLICY REVIEW, 13 Dec. 2020, pp. 1–17., https://doi.org/10632913.2020.1854911. Retrieved From https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10632913.2020.1854911


6. Fiske, E. B. (Ed.). (1999). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning. Arts Education Partnership.


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