Positive Parenting

Positive Parenting: Arts programs lower stress levels

6-year old Max Brown has been playing violin for half of his young life.

"It makes me feel awesome," he said.

Max does this because it's fun. His mom knows there could be more at stake.

Eleanor Brown heads the early childhood cognition and emotions lab at West Chester University.

Professor Brown studied 310 kids enrolled in the kaleidoscope preschool arts enrichment program at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Most of the students came from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

"They might be more likely to experience stressful family interactions that result from parents' anxiety about trying to make ends meet," said Brown, child psychologist at West Chester University.

Social scientists measured the kids' stress levels in a procedure like this. A Q-tip like swab under a child's tongue collected the saliva, which researchers analyzed for the stress hormone cortisol.

"Children who might experience repeated or chronic exposure to stress might end up with chronic elevations in cortisol levels," Brown added.

Researchers collected samples at homeroom to establish a baseline; then after music, dance and visual arts classes on two different days. All together, they analyzed more than seven-thousand samples.

"Children showed lower cortisol levels after music, dance and visual arts classes compared with homeroom," said Brown.

She says the findings suggest arts classes lower stress levels. For child educators, it may help validate what they have long suspected.

"The arts are giving so much more for our children," said Tarrell Davis, director of early childhood education at Settlement Music School. "It's helping level the playing field for our children coming in with a disadvantage."

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