Many new parents are curious about the benefits of liberal arts education in elementary school. Answering that question requires us to first understand what a liberal arts education looks like. The Association of American Colleges and Universities describes a liberal arts education as “an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world... helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”
In other words, focusing on the liberal arts fosters literacy and knowledge transfer skills that help kids become responsible and conscientious citizens. While many American schools maintain a narrow focus on topics like math formulas, text acquisition and test mastery, liberal arts-based schools encourage students to apply their skills and knowledge to broader contexts. They teach kids how to think for themselves. Here are some more specific benefits of liberal arts education in elementary school that every parent should consider:
Promotes Critical Thinking and Curiosity
Disagreeing or arguing in school is not often encouraged. But in a liberal arts education, it’s required. Critical thinking is promoted in a liberal arts school in many ways:
It may be as simple as comparing and contrasting two different texts.
Perhaps students must choose an aspect of an article they disagree with, and explain their stance.
Another way to approach critical thinking is to have students extend their understanding of a text through independent research. They can look into the author’s biography for clues about why he or she wrote about a specific event. Or they may conduct in-depth inquiries into a section of the text of particular interest or confusion.
Getting kids to think critically about their world is how we will create the next generation of competent leaders and innovators. It’s not always easy at first, because so many kids have been trained to “go with the flow” and focus on finding the “right” answers. Learning that there is no right answer for an assignment can feel confusing and unstable. But with practice, children immersed in a liberal arts curriculum will become more curious and more capable of navigating the uncertain world around them.
Teaches Students to Communicate Effectively
A liberal arts education puts emphasis on the development of effective communication skills. Writing, listening, and speaking skills are three critical pillars of what it means to be a good student and citizen. Mastering the ability to listen to and communicate with others will make a child more empathetic.
Communication and empathy create a circle of growth within a child. When a child practices really hearing what a peer says, and then empathizes with their situation, the child understands and communicates better with their peer. Empathy and communication are two skills that make for better overall citizens.
Encourages Students to be Well-Rounded
Many American schools leave social development out of their curriculum. The attitude is that these soft skills, like interpersonal skills, should be left up to the parents and the individual to develop. But a liberal arts curriculum understands that all of a student’s scholastic and personal skills are interconnected and therefore important to their scholastic success.
For example, good communication skills are vital to interacting with other kids in a peaceful and productive manner. These skills will be equally important in a grade 1 classroom and in any future employment settings.
In a liberal arts environment, children also have more room to explore areas of interest and discover what they’re passionate about. Self-directed inquiry and creative expression are two important ways children should stretch their minds and grow critical skills. When kids are allowed to pursue topics of interest to them, they will stay more engaged with the learning process. Kids who are allowed to read literature they want to read, they will not develop a distaste for reading.
Teaches Students to Think Globally
Students in a liberal studies program are coached to develop a sense of social responsibility. In an elementary setting, these exercises often begin with a focus on their immediate school community. They may explore questions such as, how does my behavior impact those around me? What can I do to improve my classroom community? What are my responsibilities as a young scholar and citizen?
As children grow and become more aware of the larger world around them, these questions expand as well.
Civic engagement is another important topic that is pared down to focus on elementary students’ understanding of their world. They are introduced to broad concepts that impact us all every day, such as laws and social contracts. They will critically think about these overarching topics and brainstorm solutions and alternatives when they are ready.
Prepares Students for Lifelong Learning
When it’s done well, a liberal arts education is interesting and engaging for students of all ages. Inquiry, self-expression and critical thinking are not just buzzwords. They are activities that keep kids interested in their learning. Keeping kids “tuned in” to their education is key to creating avid readers and lifelong learners.
Interested in learning about what a BASIS Independent Academies liberal arts education will offer your child?
BASIS Independent Academies are tuition-based, liberal arts private schools. In the inaugural year, the school is looking to serve early kindergarten through grade 10. Each year the school will serve a new grade until it is a full early kindergarten through grade 12 school.