About the NEA

Preschoolers Benefit from the Arts


A man with rasied arms and sporting a big smile dances in the middle of a circle of children.

Musician Kenneth Jackson uses the blues to help teach young children academic concepts such as the alphabet and numbers, as well as life skills including how to behave and how to practice good hygiene. The program was developed by the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, with NEA support.

1994In 1981, the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts - a nonprofit organization that presents and produces performance and education programs for local, national, and international audiences - established the Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts. The Institute places professional performing artists in classroom residencies to work with children three to five years old through the disciplines of drama, music, and movement. It has received wide recognition for its achievements in early childhood education, including a Coming Up Taller Award in 1996. The Institute has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, The Today Show, CNN World News, and BBC. The National Endowment for the Arts has supported Wolf Trap's Institute since 1994, when it provided seed money for a study on how preschoolers learn through the arts. Significant research had been done on the benefits of arts education for older children but not as much was known about its impact on preschoolers. Wolf Trap used the information it gathered to develop its early learning program. It brings specially trained professional actors, dancers, storytellers, and musicians into Head Start centers and pre-school classrooms to engage children, their teachers, and parents in performing arts learning activities. Wolf Trap's residency program is designed to help children improve their self-confidence, socialization skills, and ability to concentrate and remember information. Wolf Trap also offers workshops to provide teachers with strategies that allow them to weave these arts activities into their entire curriculum. "It's made the arts part of the early learning experience for tens of thousands of children in our 13 regional programs. We’ve also given teachers and parents a sense of how the arts can connect with their own lives and how they can approach the arts and learning," said Miriam Flaherty, Director of Education for the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. NEA support also helped Wolf Trap attract corporate funding, allowing it to expand the program across the country. "Whenever we get NEA funding it's like a slingshot. It helps us launch new programs and initiatives. Not only does it inspire our other funders to come on board, but the schools respond to the Endowment's support as well," observed Flaherty. "Also, the teachers are impressed. They recognize the NEA's support means they are taking part in a quality program."