by kellie abrahamson
As most are aware, recent budget cuts have crippled schools all over Florida, leaving kids without supplies for art, instruments for music or teachers for phys-ed. First Coast schools are no exception. Until the schools get more money for these “luxuries” it’s going to be up to us to supplement our children’s educations to ensure they become well-rounded adults. Thankfully there are still resources within the community to help us do just that.
Usually the first to get the axe come budget cut-time is art. This is particularly unfortunate since studies show that kids who are involved with fine arts achieve academic success in much higher numbers than those who go without. We’re talking higher standardized test scores, better overall grades and a dramatically reduced drop-out rate.
To help integrate some art into your child’s life, start with the obvious: our area museums. Both MOCA Jacksonville (mocajacksonville.org) and the Cummer (cummer.org) have art classes available for kids of all ages. In addition, you can add a dash of art education by simply taking them to the museum to view current exhibits and explore the areas set aside specifically for children. Best of all, both MOCA and the Cummer have days set aside for people to enjoy their offerings free of charge, making this an extremely cost-effective solution to the no art problem.
The free art exposure doesn’t stop there. Why not take the kids to one of the area’s many art walks? There are no admission fees and plenty of great pieces by local artists to examine. Festivals are another great way to combine fun and visual art. Most of the big festivals have art by local and regional artists on display and for purchase. If you want to go this route, be sure to check out the Riverside Arts Festival (riverside-avondale.com) on September 6th and 7th.
Simply exposing your children to art is great but there’s nothing like letting them create their own. For a free way to do just that, head to the library. The Main Branch Downtown, for instance, has Family Art Time on September 10th at 11:45 am. This is just one of the many programs available through the Jacksonville Public Library. Head over to jaxpubliclibrary.org to see about art programs at a branch near you.
One thing we all know is that kids today simply aren’t getting enough exercise. With the childhood obesity epidemic in full force, the cutting of Physical Education programs from schools is arguably the most detrimental thing to happen to kids this year. Team sports like football and soccer can be expensive but luckily there are plenty of free and low cost ways to get kids moving.
The best resource parents have is our local parks (jaxparks.com). In addition to just running around at playgrounds and exploring the numerous trails, there are a number of specialty parks that kids will enjoy. Children into BMX will get their fix at Ray Greene Park on the Northside and young skaters can rip it up at Cuba Hunter Park on the Southside and Robert Laryn Skate Park in St. Johns County. You may also want to check out the indoor pool at Cecil Aquatics Center, which is open year round. Finally, Christian Surfer of Jacksonville (christiansurfersjax.com) is offering a free surf camp beginning September 6th. This is a rare opportunity for your child to try something new without costing you a dime, so take advantage of it.
Still, you may have to shell out a little cash to get the kids off the couch so why not choose an activity you know they’ll enjoy. Roller skating at Skate Station (skatestationfunworks.com), rock climbing at the South Metro YMCA (firstcoastymca.org/southmetro) and laser tag at Adventure Landing (adventurelanding.com) are great ways to get the blood pumping without running into exercise boredom. For something completely different, give yoga a try at Artoga (artoga.org) or take a spin around the ice skating rink at Jacksonville ICE (jaxiceskating.com). Last but certainly not least, a low impact stroll through a corn maze combines fall fun and exercise. Conner’s A-Maize-Ing Acres in Hilliard (connerscornfieldmaze.com) opens on September 27th and has plenty of fun attractions to keep kids (and parents) busy and, more importantly, moving.
Often times when art gets cut, music is sure to follow. Once again, eliminating this “non-essential subject” from a student’s schedule does more harm than good. It’s been shown time and time again that kids who study music become better readers and mathematicians.
Obviously the very best way to get kids the music instruction they lack in school is to sign them up for lessons. For many families, though, this can be a financial strain. You can still help foster a love of music in your child without buying expensive instruments and investing in pricy lessons by letting them experience live music. Take your kids to one of the many free concerts in the area. These shows range in genre, from jazz to rock to classical, exposing kids to a wide variety of instruments. This month’s free shows include Jazz Personified- The St. Augustine Jazz Society All-Stars at the Plaza de la Constitución in St. Augustine (plazaconcerts.com) on September 1st, cellist Alexei Romanenko at the Main Library (jaxpubliclibrary.org) on September 9th and the United States Navy Band Country Current at the Thrasher-Horne Center in Orange Park (thcenter.org). For a complete listing of concerts in the area, head to pages 27 to 31.
Our very own Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra (jaxsymphony.org) has events and concerts just for kids. JSO’s Target Family Series kicks off in October and is comprised of four kid-friendly concerts. Before each show, children are able to meet the musicians, get an up-close look at instruments or do fun crafts. Another way the JSO helps inspire kids is through the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra. Children can try out for a spot in the orchestra or they can come to a concert and see their peers succeeding musically, which is always encouraging.
Yet another fun way to incorporate some music into your child’s life is to head to the theatre. The Alhambra Dinner Theatre (alhambradinnertheatre.com) has several musicals throughout the year that are kid-friendly and well worth the cost of admission. Another great resource is Theatreworks (theatreworksjax.com), which puts on several terrific children’s plays, many of which are music-driven, throughout the year.
Finally, allow kids to try out the musical instrument they already have: their voice. Consider signing your kids up for one of the local children’s choirs. The Jacksonville Children’s Chorus (jaxchildrenschorus.com), Jacksonville Mass Choir (jacksonvillemasschoir.com) and the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Choir (jacksonvillemasschoir.com/jacksonville_boys__girls_choir) are wonderful organizations that give kids of all ages the opportunity to unleash their inner songbird.
Obviously, there are lots of ways to keep art, music and PE in our children’s lives; it will just take more effort from us, their parents. Thinking outside the box is the key to making that happen. Make it a point to incorporate fun, enriching activities into their daily lives and your children will never know what they lost after the budget cuts.
by kellie abrahamson