HOW IS ARTS EDUCATION GOOD FOR THE BRAIN?
The brain develops through experience in the world.
- The mind initially develops as an interaction between infant and caregiver.
- Safety is the first issue. Security is next, very close behind.
- Parts of the brain are pre-wired to determine if a stimulus is safe or dangerous.
- The caregiver provides safety and security to the developing infant, who gradually begins to take over these capacities for themselves.
- Each new neurological experience, including those related to safety and security, strengthens synaptic connections (neural networks). These networks involve all parts of the brain/body.
- Emotion- starting with ‘safe-not safe,’ ‘calm-excited,’ ‘approach-avoid’ is at the front of the sequence.
- Emotion is considered to be the way the mind appraises the meaning of a stimulus, responds to engagement with the world, and prepares the self for action.
- Perceptions that are registered as “dangerous” shortcut access to the full range of
- otherwise available synaptic connections, and direct energy toward avoiding or meeting the danger.
- Several levels of events occur in a safety-oriented communication:
- The child feels safe, and neurological energy is freed up to scan all available internal synaptic networks.
- One of the networks that is initiated is in the form: “She is a safe person, and I can be myself in her presence.”
- Another is in the form: “The world has safe people in it, and I can find them easily.”
- Yet another is, “I am successful in finding safety and using all of my potential- I must be pretty good!”
- Thus, a sense of self emerges directly from self-other interactions.
- In a non-safe interaction, exactly the opposite occurs.
- The right side of the brain, where emotional, imagery, bodily sate, social experience, etc., are processed, is dominant for the first three years of life. A huge repertoire of non-verbal social experience builds up.
- The left side of the brain, where words, self-concepts, logical understanding, autobiographical memory, are processed and stored, doesn’t switch into full throttle until sometime during the third year of life.
- Therefore, the sum total of all this right-brain automatic and learned experience underlies all interactions. The result is that kids know immediately, instinctively, and absolutely if they are safe with you. Your posture, facial expression, tone of voice, (later) the words you choose, etc., send the message way before you have a chance to explain.
- The brain continues to develop throughout life. Your kindness, empathy, etc. actually builds and/or strengthens neural pathways.
- The brain, like all living organisms, has an inherent drive toward complexity and differentiation.
- It is the progress toward this complexity that makes us mature, well-functioning individuals- and societies.
- Therefore, any experience that fosters complexity and differentiation enhances the growth and development of children.
- If we gave children art materials, instruments, room and permission to move around the room any way they wanted, then left the room, we may, for some children, promote a greater range of free expression, and perhaps, for a very few, further right-brain development.
- Other functions would work against that, as you well know. Habit, peer influence, lack of initiative, safety in certain themes, boredom, to name a few, would limit the growth in pure free-form expression.
- Stay in the room, and you add the witness/caretaker-child element.
- Provide instruction, and you add integration of left and right brain function.
- Provide support and empathy and you add the emotional glue (safety) that enables the child to effectively respond to the instruction with all of their inner resources.
- NDI is particularly interesting in this regard because the teacher embodies integration of left and right (“Me first, then you follow these steps”). Further, the NDI instructor has the advantage of being able to switch in and out of a communication style that is directly congruent for children- the exaggerated movements, the permitted/encourages silliness, etc.
- All of this (witness, instruction, free expression within wide boundaries) directly enhances neural integration within the various systems of the brain, across the hemispheres, and in the interpersonal realm.
- Soapbox:: We would be serving children’s development even more effectively if we had more methods of integrating the studio and the classroom.
Dan Seigel, The Developing Mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience
Daniel Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Human Infant
Joseph Chilton Pearce, Evolution’s End
John Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain