Part 2. Introducing the role of the teacher
Part 3. Exploring the role of the teacher
Part 4. The visual arts in an inquiry approach
Part 5. Developing inquiry through the visual arts
Part 6. Environments and materials for the visual arts
Part 7. Using materials intentionally in the visual arts
Part 8. Integrating visual arts into everyday teaching and learning


Need help?

In this part of the course you will use the ideas you explored in Part 4 to create an activity to implement in your setting. You will also complete some pedagogical documentation based on the activity you chose. There are options for both infants and toddlers and older children, so choose the activity that is most appropriate for you and the children with whom you work.

We also examine the pedagogy and practice of Reggio Emilia, which has a long tradition of combining a strong aesthetic and high levels of support for children’s art-making as part of the complex, deep inquiries of the group.

In this part, our aims are:
  • To learn more about some of the philosophical approaches that underpin the use of the visual arts to support and sustain children’s inquiries
  • To consider how some of the ideas explored in Part 4 might be contextualised in your own setting
This will involve:
  • Reading about the Reggio Emilia approach to pedagogy and their emphasis on the visual arts for curriculum implementation
  • Developing an arts experience which supports children’s inquiries and interests

There is some suggested further reading about the way in which the arts (specifically drawing) support children’s cognition. You might also like to join the online discussion to share ideas about how you do (or might) implement inquiry in your own setting.

Revisit your learning so far

How can drawing and other representative media help children in concept formation?

Drawing or representing ideas helps children to clarify their ideas about a concept. They also may be enabled to move from a specific representation and a surface understanding to a deeper, more generalised understanding. Children can also identify the constitutive components of a concept in representing it, and this helps them to connect the concept to other related ideas and concepts.


The Reggio Emilia approach is so called as it derives from the educational philosophies and practices of a municipal group of early childhood centres in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia. An understanding of the Reggio Emilia approach is a useful foundation when considering an inquiry model of curriculum development.

The Reggio Emilia educational philosophy derives from educational pedagogies and philosophies developed since the 1950s within early childhood settings in the town of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. This educational project was initiated in the aftermath of World War II and was intended to be progressive, democratic and liberating. The Reggio Emilia approach takes a constructivist and social-constructivist approach to teaching and learning, grounding curriculum in children’s inquiries and projects. Like Te Whāriki, it focuses on the idea of the child as creative and intelligent, capable of exploring and discovering for themselves, with both the intention and the right to make meaning in many different ways. This takes place in a context of rich relationships with other people and materials.  

The main features of the Reggio Emilia approach

Inquiry: The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on wondering with children about what they experience, think and feel and on encouraging children to make sense of their world. Inquiry is therefore flexible and responsive to children’s motivations, interests and contexts, and what is meaningful for children in their lives.  

Project-based: Teachers in Reggio Emilia seek underlying or overarching ideas in children’s play and inquiry as a basis for projects. Teachers are always prepared to ask children challenging questions. They encourage children to ask questions, form hypotheses and do research. Individual interests are developed into in-depth group experiences and projects. Children are invited to join projects and meetings in regard to co-researching specific learning interests. Teachers follow the children and make proposals or plan possibilities rather than designing predetermined plans. They hypothesise about what might take place in educational projects and formulate objectives that are flexible and can be adapted to children’s interests and needs during the project process. 

Environment as the third teacher: Teachers provide a well-planned environment with provocative materials as well as meaningful experiences in the world. This leads them to describe the environment as a ‘third teacher’. 

Expressive experiences: Teachers encourage children to make sense of experiences and ideas through ‘100 languages’, which recognises both multiple knowledge systems and ways of understanding phenomena, as well as multiple ways of expressing and communicating ideas. Each language is thought to help children to think about phenomena in a different light. For example, children might explore an interest in giraffes through the language of art or clay, the language of biology, or the language of measurement. 

Collaboration, dialogue and exchange of ideas: Children are encouraged to make explicit what they think and engage in interaction, discussion, and conflict (intellectual argument) in order to negotiate and build meaning with others. In this way children co-construct knowledge in relationship with other children and their teachers; they also are involved in co-constructing the culture (rules and meanings) of their early childhood setting, while teachers see themselves as observers, listeners, partners and provocateurs. Teachers build on the prior knowledge and beliefs of children by providing the communicative and practical skills as well as the concepts and knowledge systems children need to pursue activities related to their interests. Children, families and communities are all involved in planning and evaluating projects. 

Pedagogical documentation: this is a form of recording children’s actions and words in early childhood settings in order to listen to and come to better know the child, to develop new ways of relating to children, and to co-construct curricular experiences with children. Teachers use the process of documenting their practice and the children’s responses to explore their own teaching, to inform professional dialogue and to generate questions and inquiry about the children and their learning. Documentation aims to make children’s learning, skills, strategies, processes and understandings visible, foregrounding their learning processes for knowledge construction rather than the context and activities. It is shared with children and families to enable them to interpret, reflect upon, evaluate and co-construct the meaning of experiences.   

To read this guide on The Education Hub website, with references, click here.

All three of the case study centres in this course draw on the Reggio Emilia approach for inspiration, while being careful to contextualise their practices for Aotearoa New Zealand and the rich framework of Te Whāriki. You may have noticed that the teachers from Kids’ Domain featured in the case study in Part 4 draw on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, and that the discussion of Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten’s visual arts practices in Part 2 bears a number of connections to the Reggio Emilia approach.

Relate your learning to practice (older children)

For this activity you will link an art experience to an inquiry. You may already be working on a specific inquiry or project with a child or group in your centre, but if not, you can use one of the children’s interests as a focus for this activity. The aim of the activity is to support children to engage in thinking through the visual arts. This activity is designed for older children, and there is a separate activity for infants and toddlers below.

  • Think carefully about a problem that can be explored through the visual arts. Select one of the following three goals for your planned visual arts experience: 
  1. Find out children’s ideas and working theories on a topic related to your inquiry or their interests. This needs to be well matched to children’s current interests so that they are motivated to share ideas with you: for example, ‘why did the dinosaurs die out?’ or ‘how will we know that Spring is on its way?’ Working theories can best be explored when the question focuses on relationships between things or the processes by which things happen.
  2. Find out children’s opinions or perspectives on an inquiry-related topic: for example, ‘if you were going to a wedding, what would you wear?’ or ‘what kind of playground would you design for the birds in our garden?’
  3. Record children’s experiences related to an excursion or a visitor to the centre. This can be as simple as a walk in the local area. What did children see, what did they hear, what were their favourite parts?
  • Think about how to present the topic for thinking to children. Often this will be in the form of a question, as in the examples above. Have a go at drawing your response to test out your idea, ensuring that there are a range of ways in which children can respond. 
  • Choose a medium that is best going to facilitate children’s representations. The teachers at Kids’ Domain and Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten say they often start with drawing. Remember how the teachers at Kids’ Domain thought about the quality of the mushrooms when they decided on the art materials to provide. They also ensured that these materials were ‘special’, engendering respect and thoughtful participation. 
  • Talk to your teaching team and gain their support so that you can spend some uninterrupted time exploring this activity with children. Perhaps you might even be able to have a colleague observe while you engage with the children.
  • Gather a small group of children to participate. As we heard in the case study interview, you will want enough children to create a dynamic for rich conversations and perspective-sharing, but not so many children that it gets chaotic to facilitate and observe, or leads to some children dominating and others being marginalised.
  • Observe how children respond, listening both to what they say about their art-making as well as how they tackle creating their response. Take photos and notes (of children’s words in particular) so that you can document this experience later.
  • Reflect on this experience – does the use of visual art contribute anything new to the project or inquiry you have been investigating, or your understanding of children’s interests and thinking about these interests? 

Relate your learning to practice (infants & toddlers)

Your activity with infants and toddlers involves you developing your inquiry about what the visual arts might mean to infants and toddlers (in the next part of the course we will look further at supporting infants’ and toddlers’ own inquiries into art materials). As an infant and toddler teacher, it is important to be able to observe children’s tiniest movements and expressions, because this is the way that they communicate their ideas and feelings about the materials they use. 

  • Choose an art medium – it might be the same medium as you used for the activity in Part 3, because infants and toddlers thrive on repetition and a slow pace of change. 
  • This time, as they explore, be a focused observer. You can choose to focus on:

Children’s emotions

or children’s physical actions

or children’s collaboration with others in relation to the materials / media

  • Develop an inquiry question for yourself that focuses on the relationship between the art materials and media you have provided and the children’s responses. For example, what kind of actions and concepts does paper make it possible to explore? How does a large block of clay invite children’s collaboration? 
  • Talk to your teaching team and gain their support so that you can spend some uninterrupted time exploring this activity with children. 
  • As you observe, think about how the material makes the particular actions, emotions and collaborations possible. Take photos so that you can document this experience later.


Thinking about the activity you have just completed with children, try to make a list of the working theories that children were exploring (for a guide to recognising and identifying working theories, see here). These might be working theories about the topic, or about how to approach the task. Which of these theories most surprised you? Which are you most excited by? 

Note that even when children share their opinions and perspectives, these are often informed by working theories. For example, in relation to the examples of choosing what to wear to a wedding, children might say or be thinking ‘you must wear your favourite outfit to a wedding’. In relation to designing a playground for birds, they might say ‘birds won’t want monkey bars because they don’t have arms’. Working theories can also be spotted (or at least guessed at) in the actions of infants and toddlers. 

Relate your learning to practice (all ages)

Whether you completed the first activity for older children or the second activity for infants and toddlers, in this activity you will document some of the visual artwork created and what you observed. Think about the large printed photos and transcribed words of children that were displayed at Kids’ Domain, and how, for the teachers, these displays served as an invitation for further engagement by the children initially involved, but also for others in the community (other children, teachers and families). Given this purpose, which photos and words are most important to display? Which are most provocative in terms of inviting further thinking, or generating a range of perspectives and opinions? Which would you like to revisit with children? Plan how you will share this documentation when it is completed.


The important points to take away from this part are: 

  • The Reggio Emilia approach and its focus on projects, inquiry, a relationship with expressive materials, collaboration, dialogue, and documentation may serve as inspiration for an inquiry approach using the visual arts.
  • Children’s inquiry is paralleled by the inquiry of teachers as they explore how children are thinking and what experiences might best support the development of that thinking. 

Discuss online

Some questions to discuss in the online forum for this part are:

How do you structure the curricular programme in your setting?

Do you use the concept of inquiry?

If so, how often do you use the visual arts as part of your inquiry?

How might you incorporate some of the ideas of this part into your ongoing teaching? 

Further reading

Read Margaret Brook’s paper about the importance of drawing for facilitating young children’s thinking and meaning-making, and in particular, how children can use drawing to explore and develop concepts.