Sunday 4 December 2016

Children who read, paint and dance are happier - and do better at school

Published 06/10/2016 | 02:30

Stephanie Preissner, writer of ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’ stopped by St Columba’s School, North Strand, Dublin to launch the Arts Council and ESRI study on children and the arts and the impact of arts and cultural participation on Irish children. Photos: Andre Poveda
Stephanie Preissner, writer of ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’ stopped by St Columba’s School, North Strand, Dublin to launch the Arts Council and ESRI study on children and the arts and the impact of arts and cultural participation on Irish children. Photos: Andre Poveda

Children in Ireland who spend more time reading and engaged in activities such as music, painting and dance are happier and cope much better with school, according to a landmark study.

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The study exposes a big social and gender gaps, with children from better-off backgrounds, particularly girls, more likely engage in cultural and artistic pursuits.

Thomas Sweeney Warren (9), St Columba’s School, North Strand, Dublin. Picture Andres Poveda
Thomas Sweeney Warren (9), St Columba’s School, North Strand, Dublin. Picture Andres Poveda

The findings emerge in data about three to five-year-olds and nine to 13-year-olds.

It was gathered in the Government-funded 'Growing Up in Ireland' study, which has tracked progress of 20,000 children for almost a decade.

The report, the first of its kind, was compiled by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on behalf of the Arts Council.

Among the findings is that nine-year-olds who frequently read and attend classes in music, dance or drama are more confident about coping with schoolwork by age 13.

As 13-year-olds they are also happier, have reduced anxiety, better academic skills and fewer socio-emotional difficulties.

The study took account of children's engagement in popular culture, including television viewing and video games, as well as more traditional leisure time pursuits.

It found that while watching a lot of television promotes verbal skills, it is associated with greater social and emotional difficulties.

The social divide shows up early, with three-year-olds whose mothers have a third-level education 50pc more likely to have books read to them, than those whose mothers left school early.

Socio-economic background generally is a big factor in participation rates in the arts, with the cost of after-school classes such as in dance, art, music or drama, a barrier for low-income families.

Five-year-olds from more advantaged families are more involved in many activities, including reading, painting or drawing and educational visits.

They spend less time watching television or playing with electronic devices.

The study also found that children from migrant families and children with special educational needs were less likely to engage in structured cultural activities.

There are striking gender differences in levels of participation in the arts from as young an age as three, which persist throughout childhood, with girls' schools offering more arts activities as well as more girls participating in such activities after school.

Girls are more likely to read than boys, regardless of their socio-economic background. In addition, girls as young as five paint, draw, enjoy music or dance more than their male peers.

Dr Emer Smyth, head of the social research division of the ESRI, said the expansion of the free pre-school programme to two years offered huge potential for early years settings to become an important avenue for children's access to the arts.

Dr Smyth also said it was important to provide subsidies to disadvantaged families to ensure "more inclusive arts engagement".

Irish Independent

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