| Elementary | Tweens + Teens

It's OK to choose arts over sports

Let's face it: We're a sports-crazed culture. Golfers and baseball players have achieved near rock-star status in our country, and chances are more people know who won the Tour de France than who conducts the city's orchestra.

Youngsters begin participating in the athletic arena with amazing post-delivery momentum. Tiny tot gymnastics, swimming and -- yes -- yoga classes fill quickly, with organized sport teams hovering closely on the preschool horizon.

But what if your child is more Tom Hanks than Hank Aaron? Or would rather toot a tuba than swing a racket?

Relax. The dual worlds of music and drama beckon both the sports-minded set and the kids who seek options that come without teams, balls and competition.

For some young students, music or theater offers one more outlet -- an add-on to soccer, science club or chess. "These are the kids who love to do everything -- they're busy and well-rounded," says Sara Boos, artistic director of the Northwest Girlchoir.

Karen Sharp, program director for education at the Seattle Children's Theatre, agrees. "Plenty of kids who are attracted to drama and theater also play on sports teams," she says. "And some of those skills can be transferable."

Other children find themselves simply hooked on arts. "This is the child who loves to sing -- who perhaps can't stop singing -- and might also study piano and flute," Boos says.

Fitting in
For some kids, theater groups offer a safe haven. "Sometimes a parent will say, 'this is the only place they feel like they fit in,'" Sharp says. "In these classes, children connect with fellow students in a way they can't with sports. Here, they can feel successful."

The theater environment celebrates individuality, says Kati Nickerson, director of youth education for the Village Theatre in Issaquah. "There's room for all sorts of kids to be involved in shows. It's not just a slice of a school environment, where kids hang together because they're alike," she says. "Here, the nerds, geeks, cheerleaders and jocks are all in the same room.

They get to understand each other and see each other in different ways."

Working collectively to put on a show helps kids develop special bonds, Nickerson says. "They connect to each other through a shared love that they don't find as common everywhere." Boos also talks about "building a community" and "being part of a team" through music. "We aren't competitive," Boos says. "We put together wonderful concerts without having to win or lose every week -- though we like to think we're always winning."

Developing skills

Music education -- much like physical education -- helps children hone both small and gross motor skills, says Marta Olson, performing arts program manager for Seattle Public Schools. "That's a beautiful combination for development."

And music takes mental discipline. "You can drop other activities for awhile; but you can't do that with an instrument and be successful," she says.

The best schools offer students a mix of learning experiences in subjects such as the arts, technology and sports, Olson says. "Adding the arts helps the cultural learning environment of the school. When you have a balanced school program, you have many ways that kids can find opportunities to fit in and feel successful."

Linda Morgan writes frequently on education issues for ParentMap.

Ways to develop a child's inner Beethoven
By Zart Dombourian-Eby, as told to Linda Morgan

My daughters, ages 17 and 21, are musicians. One plays the oboe, the other plays bassoon.

We started them at age 4 with piano lessons. They adored their teacher. I can't stress enough the importance of finding someone your child clicks with.

No child enjoys practicing. So you use bribery to get them to practice: stars, a new Barbie Doll, or a My Little Pony. It works.

Many kids drop music in junior high. What helps is going to a school where music is cool. My daughters went to Washington Middle School, which has a strong music program. Then they went to Garfield High School, which has a great music tradition.

One of my daughters played basketball every year. It is possible to do both sports and music. You don't have to pick one or the other.

You get similar things out of music and sports, especially when you're in an ensemble. You learn to be part of a team. But it's true that it's generally cooler to be a sports jock than a music jock. As a society, we place more value on sports.

Parents who want their children involved in music should start their kids young. Beginning with the piano is an excellent way to go -- piano gives immediate gratification. After they've had that foundation, then let them start taking up instruments.

It's important to find the instrument that suits your child. Certain instruments fit some children better than other instruments, depending on the child's personality. Go to the music store and try to get a feel for what they're into.

And, don't overlook what I call the "college scholarship instruments" -- the ones not as often played. The French horn, viola, trombone, double bass -- the classical musical world is desperate for people to play these.

You have to have a private music teacher. Even in the best of schools, kids can't really learn an instrument in school.

Your children will appreciate music more and have a richer life because of their early music exposure; they will be well-rounded people.

Zart Dombourian-Eby plays flute and piccolo for the Seattle Symphony.

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