Building Language Skills through Art

The Brain Needs Novelty

An electrical signal travels down the axon of the nerve body.  When it reaches the end, it causes a chemical release of neurotransmitters across the synaptic gap.

The number of neurotransmitters traveling from one synapse to another is important.  If many are released, the message travels very strongly.  If few are released, the message is weak.

The more experiences a person has around a topic then, the stronger those neurotransmitter messages can be. In other words, “if you don’t use, it you lose it”.  Those strong neurological connections are directly related to reading comprehension. The more you have experienced, the more you have the chance to understand later. Experiences build connections; they also build vocabulary and memory.

Novelty also increases the neurological transmissions – they really do light up your brain! Not novelty, like buying a novelty at the store, but novelty as in something that causes you to think a little differently about something or someone. This thinking literally changes the electrical pathways in the brain. Art is an experience that creates novelty just by being.

Art Builds Language

We often look at an art piece differently than someone else based on our experience with the topic, medium, or the artist. Questioning can expand that brain a little bit further: “what does this remind you of?”; “why did the artist choose to create that piece?”; or, “would someone really buy art like that?”.

The flip side of that coin is that questioning needs to be open ended to create strong messages. When a parent or teacher asks close-ended (yes or no response) questions, the child is not required to do much thinking and often will give the response they feel the adult wants to hear. An example that comes to my mind is the Big Red Ball that was at the first Art Prize.

I’m not saying that a Big Red Ball should ordinarily be a particularly powerful inspiration, but when a child is in awe but hears “oh, a big red ball. Nothing much.”, his or her brain stops there. This ball was so much more!

The amount of language development that could come from that big, red ball could have been missed:

  • What kind of red? Like an apple, or like a brick?
  • What size ball? 12 feet? Bigger than a breadbox?
  • Could I move that ball? Would I want to?
  • What is it made of?
  • Could it fit in our house?
  • Would it float?
  • How big do we think it would be if it was deflated?
  • What would inspire someone to create that piece? Could we speak to the artist?

And, for this particular Big Red Ball: Where is it now?

Other fun language opportunities could include making silly sentences like “The tall ball sits next to a wall”. This is building reading foundations and critical thinking without kids feeling like they’re taking a test or doing homework or parents feeling like they are inadequate to be their child’s teacher.

What language experiences will you build this year?

More on ArtPrize 2012

Next: Language Connections to the Kid Friendly Guide to Art Prize from our Friends at

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One thought on “Building Language Skills through Art

  1. […] Engaging Their Brains! The Specialized Language Development (SLD) Center , a community resource of West Michigan, is committed to bringing the power of reading, writing and spelling to all individuals with dyslexia or other unique learning styles, enabling them to achieve their full potential. Skip to content HomeAbout ← Building Language Skills through Art […]

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