The cultural arts fulfill a basic human need for beauty in our lives. A family that tries hard to enjoy the arts enriches their family life. The arts may allow us at once to inspire, instruct, and edify.
Different arts come more naturally to different individuals, so give children the chance to discover what appeals to them most, whether it be literature, music, painting, sculpture, drama, or dance. It is basic doctrine that we all do not have every gift. (See D&C 46:11.) A sense of rhythm, the ability to carry a tune, perfect musical pitch, speaking ability, physical coordination and grace—these are all gifts. Although all of us do not have all gifts, each of us has gifts we may yet develop. “Every son and every daughter of God has received some talent,” wrote President Joseph F. Smith. (Juvenile Instructor, November 1903, page 689.)
Since every child has capacity for creativity, we will want to help our children desire to express that creativity in individual ways. When we encourage our children to describe what they see and feel in writing, music, art, and dance, we help them to learn about themselves. They can also learn about their cultural heritage as they are encouraged to become familiar with traditional stories, music, and dance.
Our knowledge of each child’s abilities and potential can help us provide opportunities for development in each area. Each child has individual gifts. Few things are more harmful to a child’s free development of creativity than the parental expectation that all children in a family will have the same talents or express them equally well. Parents can help identify the gifts each individual child has. Then opportunities for growth and further development of each talent can be sought.
This often requires sacrifice and practice. But each time a child expresses his talents, he increases his ability to do so, and the discipline obtained in developing a talent influences every part of his life.
Most people do not read as much today as in times past. We cannot assume that our children will somehow just begin to enjoy reading. We need to help them develop good reading habits when they are young. We can hold young children on our laps and read aloud to them even before they are old enough to hold a book or turn a page. This will introduce them to the sounds of words, the rhythm of verse and the flow of a story. It will also stimulate their interest in new ideas.
Reading to children will also help increase their attention span, enlarge their vocabularies, and encourage a love of good literature. Such sharing will build stronger parent-child relationships and will help each child learn moral values and common sense, along with good judgment.
Furthermore, reading aloud with a child is fun, and it can help him gain confidence and competence in his abilities. Drama and poetry are especially effective. One family opens and closes its family home evening with members taking turns reading a memorable piece of literature and telling why they like that piece.
“Good reading begins at the bedside of your little ones,” Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve counsels parents. “Never be too busy to read wholesome bedtime stories at the close of the day. Select from the classics of children’s literature uplifting stories that can build noble ideals in your youngsters. … Consider the difference in children who are cuddled and snuggled by parents at bedtime as they listen to stories from good books, and then kneel at their bedside in prayer, as compared to those who go to bed after having viewed a violent television program.” (General Conference, October 1977.)
Writing can be encouraged while children are still quite young. Perhaps the most natural way is to encourage them to keep a journal or to send letters to relatives and friends. Like other talents, writing skills improve with practice. If children don’t yet write—and even if they do—try sitting down with them to tell a story and let each one contribute a part to it. You’ll be surprised at how creative your children can be!
Music is an international language; good music sets a tone of warmth and self-expression that unites people. Likewise, in our families, good music can bring us together in common emotions. It can set the mood for many family experiences. Family home evenings and gospel study time are greatly enhanced when accompanied by good music, and hymns sung before family prayers can invite the Spirit to be in attendance.
Take time to consider what types of music your family listens to. This might be a good way to discuss the value of variety. Rather than trying to convince a youth, for example, not to listen to so much rock music, consider a more positive approach. Sit down with your children, list the different types of music there are, and discuss how often family members listen to each type. Suggest that for a few weeks, family members not only listen to the music they usually listen to, but other types as well.
Most children enjoy singing, especially if they are sung to when young. Musical expression can also include listening to music or playing musical instruments.
Children reared in homes where father and mother value good music will be inclined to enjoy good music themselves.
Our Church leaders have often counseled us to beautify our surroundings. This we can do by decorating the walls of our homes with copies of beautiful pictures or paintings. We can also make our homes reflect gospel teachings as we display photographs of family members, pictures of temples and prophets, and paintings of the Savior. Gospel art is an extremely powerful teacher of ideas and feelings and a daily reminder of eternal principles.
Children can participate in beautifying our surroundings by creating art work of their own to display. As soon as a child can hold a pencil, pen, or crayon, he is fascinated with the marks and colors he can place on paper. If nurtured and encouraged, nearly all children can draw or paint pleasing pictures expressing the world as they see it.
Music, dance, and drama are found in all cultures. Many communities offer excellent dramatic programs presented by schools, universities, or community groups. Families often find that attending local dramatic performances is far superior to attending movies. Television may also provide opportunities for family enjoyment and discussion of drama, ballet, and opera.
Children like to pretend and dress up when they have the opportunity. You can encourage this by helping them act out gospel-related stories during family home evening. Children can also express themselves with appropriate dancing to good music.
The word art has been applied to many things not worthy of the name. How is a family to know when something is good art or bad art? Bad “art” as such may not always offend immediately. It may be only after we consider the message it sends that we realize how much it conflicts with gospel values. We would do well to set up a means of evaluating art from a gospel standpoint.
Art can express faith and hope; it can also promote sin and despair. It can glorify God, or it can attempt to replace him. Unless we educate ourselves and our children about the various cultural arts, we will not only be weak in artistic expression, we will also lack artistic appreciation—the ability to discriminate between the moral and the immoral, the well done and the poorly done, the edifying and the degrading.
In a family council meeting, decide how you can encourage the appreciation and expression of the cultural arts in your home. This is the best place for children to learn how to bring beauty into their lives. The more they think of arts appreciation, the more they will do it; the more they do it, the better they will be at it. They need only the time, materials, and encouragement to express and satisfy the creative talents they have brought with them into this world.