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The Arts as Therapy

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Poverty, violence, and instability have been associated with chronically high levels of stress in kids. Now, a newly published study suggests that involving preschoolers from disadvantaged neighborhoods in music, dance, and visual arts programs may reduce their stress levels.

Six-year-old Max Brown has been playing violin for half of his young life.

“It makes me feel awesome,” detailed Max.

Max does this because it’s fun. His mom knows there could be more at stake. Eleanor Brown, PhD, is a child psychologist and heads the Early Childhood Cognition and Emotions Lab at West Chester University. Professor Brown studied 310 kids enrolled in the Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Most of the students came from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“They might be more likely to experience stressful family interactions that result from parents’ anxiety about trying to make ends meet,” explained Brown.

Social scientists measured the kids’ stress levels in a procedure that involved using a Q-tip-like swab under a child’s tongue to collect saliva, which researchers analyzed for the stress hormone cortisol.

“So children who might experience repeated or chronic exposure to stress might end up with chronic elevations in cortisol levels,” Brown told Ivanhoe.

Researchers collected samples at homeroom to establish a baseline; then, after music, dance, and visual arts classes on two different days. All together, they analyzed more than 7,000 samples.

Brown said, “Children showed lower cortisol levels after music, dance, and visual arts classes compared with homeroom.”

Professor Brown said the findings suggest that arts classes lower stress levels. For child educators, it may help validate what they have long suspected.

Tarrell Davis, director of early childhood education at the Settlement Music School, detailed, “The arts are giving so much more for our children. It’s helping level the playing field for our children coming in with a disadvantage.”

Professor Brown said parents tend to focus on learning letters and numbers when selecting a preschool. She recommended finding programs that also emphasize play and creative activities, like art, music, and dance.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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