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 final part of the course, we discuss how well prepared you feel as a teacher to support children’s art-making and their progression and development in the visual arts. We will examine your professional identity and learning as a visual arts teacher, and ensure you have the knowledge, skills and confidence you need at the ready to use the visual arts as a key tool for curriculum implementation in your centre.

We will be looking at the ways that you might develop your own understandings and dispositions in relation to the visual arts, so that you can support children in more authentic ways. We’ll also be adding to your knowledge about how children progress in their development of skills in the visual arts, so that you can better respond to their current level of development.  

Our aims in this part are:
  • To reflect upon experiences and attitudes that influence your teaching pedagogies and practices in the visual arts
  • To develop confidence in your own visual arts practices
  • To make plans about how to continue your professional development in the visual arts
This will involve:
  • Reading about children’s progression of learning in the visual arts
  • Listening to a podcast summarising the course content and thinking about ways to move forward in your visual arts provision and pedagogy 
  • Reading about how to develop your confidence in the visual arts
  • Reflecting on your professional development needs related to the visual arts
  • Completing an evaluation form 

Revisit your learning so far

What are some of the intentional strategies you can use when preparing and planning art materials for children’s art-making and investigations?

  • These include:

    • placing specific materials and tools in relation to each other
    • thinking about what children could do with a given material
    • creating collections of materials that share a particular property
    • using documentation and displays in intentional ways

To conclude the course, we are thinking about ways to put into practice the things that you have learnt in the course. We will address issues such as planning, assessment and progression in children’s learning to ensure that your visual arts curriculum is truly effective.

The following guide to progression and development in the visual arts might be useful for understanding the kinds of expectations teachers might have of children at different stages in their art-making capacities.


What implications does the knowledge about children’s progression and development from the following reading have for your teaching and your role as a teacher in children’s art experiences?

Progression and skill development in the visual arts 

Teachers who want to intentionally support the visual arts learning of young children can benefit from knowing about what artistic skills children can learn and how they develop. 

Young children’s earliest forays into the visual arts are likely to take the form of mark-making, which may arise from a desire to imitate caregivers whom they have observed writing and drawing. Children are likely to imitate the gestures of drawing rather than the result, as their principal aim is to behave like an adult and, when early mark-making pleases caregivers, children are more likely to start to use art to communicate with them.

Early stages of art-making have been found to involve just as much complex and critical thinking, activity and cognitive development for toddlers as for older children. As early as their second year of life, children develop the ability for mental representation and using a signifier to evoke meaning. Toddlers are motivated to make art because of the opportunities it presents to explore concepts and ideas, rather than the pleasure it offers in terms of the physical activity of scribbling or developing fine motor skills.  Children use marks to represent form and movement and this mark-making is an important part of young children’s learning about the visual arts. 

At some point, children realise that their marks can communicate meaning. For example, they might be making marks with chalk and then realise that their marks look like something like a pirate ship or an animal. This exciting realisation that marks convey meaning makes it possible for children to engage in the world in new ways. In this stage, children tend to draw first and then give a name to the drawing they have made. Later, they draw with purpose, deciding what they will draw before making marks. Children’s intentions can be quite nuanced: for example, a drawing might represent a bird or, more specifically, the bird’s flight path.

Scribbling with pastels, crayons or pens, as an early form of drawing, progresses through a series of stages. Infants and toddlers usually start by making horizontal lines, as part of the ‘longitudinal scribbling phase’, before moving on to shorter lines and circular marks or ‘circular scribbling’. Scribbles may be used to create a dynamic representation of an object that focuses on the way it moves or feels rather than a figurative representation. In other creative endeavours, infants and toddlers may explore the properties of materials. For example, they might push and stack blocks to create constructions: in this stage, blocks are used simply as blocks and may be carried and stacked but not used for any symbolic purpose. A little later, blocks are used to reproduce a known, accessible object, such as a phone or a table in the room: in this way, the block construction represents a pretence which is closely aligned with reality. 

In their early explorations with clay or playdough, young children discover the properties of the material and experiment with the different effects they can create with different actions such as poking, pulling, pinching, squeezing, as well as the creation of texture on the surface of the clay. They also discover that clay can hold other materials upright.  

In later stages of art-making, children aim for more figurative representations, but these are likely to be fantastical rather than realistic: it is important to be aware that there are many ways in which children can be creative and demonstrate artistic thinking which need not involve realistic representation. Teachers should be careful not to overlook or fail to engage with children’s early artworks. Some researchers suggest that children are not interested in representing reality but rather their experience of it. For children, drawing or sculpting an object such as a pirate ship or an aeroplane is like creating an adventure that develops as the artwork progresses. Children’s art at this stage is likely to contain a blend of fiction and non-fiction as they draw from both their imagination and their comprehension. For example, they might combine factual knowledge of animals with fantastical elements such as wings. Children’s block constructions also become symbolic, perhaps representing a tree house or a spaceship. Blocks are adapted to particular play ideas, and play ideas are adapted to blocks. For example, a tall, thin cuboid may stand for the rocket needed to propel the spaceship. These ideas are symbolic as children are representing objects that are not accessible but exist only in imagination.

Children develop skill with sculpting materials such as clay through actions such as pinching and rolling shapes. Once children can successfully roll sausage shapes, they can begin to explore coiling, which is often an intuitive next step. Young children will progress to making things by combining pieces of clay (the synthetic method), such as beginning with a body and adding a head, legs and a tail to make a dog. Other children may begin with a single lump and squeeze parts from it.

Well-known schema of children’s representational drawing indicate stages of drawing and often link each stage to a particular cognitive understanding. For example, one schema shows how children develop in their ability to draw people: initially, children draw people with arms and legs coming out of their heads before learning at a later stage to add a body to their drawing. However, these schemata may encourage adults to prioritise realistic artistic representation in children’s development in the visual arts and to undervalue children’s early achievements in relation to mark-making. Rather, each child’s visual arts production should be valued not in relation to a progression or stage but in its own right. While stage theories can provide a frame of reference, it is important to recognise that multiple social, cultural and personal factors contribute to children’s learning in the visual arts. The interactions and support children receive from adults can be a major influence on their artistic achievement.

To read the referenced version of this research review, click here.


As we come to the end of the course, it is time to think about moving into your own visual arts pedagogy and practice. This podcast offers some guidance and things to think about, including:

  • differentiating your planning based on the age of the children
  • developing an approach to planning that works for you
  • documenting learning with notes, photos and videos to help you reflect on your approach

You might like to have a pen and paper handy to make notes as you listen.

So we’re coming to the end of our course on visual arts and inquiry, and we’ve had a look at three fabulous centres that are using the visual arts in really wonderful ways as a major part of their curriculum implementation. By that I mean that they are really using the visual arts to connect together a holistic range of learning in many different areas. And we’ve had a look at some of the materials that you might use when working with the visual arts, the pedagogical style you might use, such as an inquiry or a project, and we’ve also looked at some specific teaching strategies – intentional strategies that you can use to promote and support children’s art making. We’ve also tried to develop a bit of an understanding about how children might progress over time in their visual arts work, and all of this puts you in a better position to really take stock of your current visual arts provision, and to assess children, and to make an intentional plan as to how you might strengthen some of that provision. 

And so when it comes to planning, you’re going to take a different approach depending on the age group that you work with. So with infants and toddlers, you’re going to have a really strong intention to support them to explore different media and really develop a familiarity with each visual language. For your planning, you might decide to plan a provocation, like Louisa Penfold showed us. You might choose a colour or a concept and use that to guide your selection of materials. You might plan some language to use, some ideas in the ways that children might use the materials, but you would hold back on those. You would mainly be spending your time observing and watching the infants and toddlers for their cues that they wanted some shared engagement around the materials with you. Or you might decide that you want to do a collaborative artwork with children, drawing and experimenting alongside them and describing what you see.

With older children, like we saw in some of the case studies, you might take a holistic view of a topic of interest, and in your planning you might be trying to think about how you could use the visual arts to help children explore that interest and develop their thinking. On a formal written plan, you would really try to identify that topic of interest and the ideas that you have about the real key aspects of that interest for children. So instead of thinking that children are interested in trees, really clarifying that it’s the height of trees that interests them. Then you would come up with some inquiry questions, and those might be something like ‘what makes trees so high?’ or ‘what would it be like to climb to the top of the tree? What would you see?’ You would then ask children to draw or use loose parts, or work outside – whatever is their most comfortable language. What you want to know is what children are thinking about and what they’re trying to represent, and for that you need to be alongside them, and you need to be looking for those multimodal ways in which they express their ideas, so when they’re talking and acting and using their bodies as well as the drawing and painting that they’re doing. You’ll want to try and identify what you think their working theories might be, and you want to keep finding ways to generate discussion amongst the children. You also probably want to choose some languages that children can translate their ideas into, and at the same time, you’d really be developing their art skills. So you might ask them: ‘how could you use the whole page to show the tree? If you had several sheets of paper, how tall a tree could you draw? Can you make your clay tree stand up? Could you make a forest of clay trees?’

There are many ways to record this planning, and you really have to experiment and find the way that works for you. Think about the information that you need to have upon it – things like the resources that you’re going to use, your intentions, your questions, the language and vocabulary you’re going to use, and the concepts. And keep evaluating that plan, seeing if it’s working for you. There are also many ways to assess the learning that’s happening. In the early stages, and at key transition points, such as when you move from one language to another language, I really recommend that you take very detailed notes, and photos and videos, and you can use those to develop a short narrative that you’re writing to help yourself and your teaching team to reflect on what’s going on for children, to decide what you might like to re-launch, which was an idea that we picked up from Jacqui in her case study. 

And so now, it’s over to you! I hope the tools and the knowledge and the skills that you’ve picked up through doing this course on visual arts and inquiries really offer the key for improving your curriculum implementation and I wish you the best of luck. Karawhiu!


Thinking about the ideas presented in the previous video, what kind of approach to planning, assessment and evaluation do you think might work for you and your centre? What will you commit to trying out in your practice?

At this stage in the course, we want you to be envisioning your ideal visual arts practice and pedagogy, at the same time as assessing where you (and your centre and the children) are now and what steps you might need to take to move forward in realising your aspirations for the visual arts. Much of this rests with your own professional development, and improving your visual arts curriculum could be an excellent topic for a team internal evaluation or an individual teacher inquiry as part of a Professional Growth Cycle. The following reading offers some starting points you might find useful.


Read this short section about how teachers can build their confidence in the visual arts so that they can support children’s learning better. Make a note of any strategies or ideas that might suit you. 

How teachers can build their confidence to plan and implement a rich visual arts curriculum

There are several ways that teachers can build their personal confidence and pedagogical knowledge to teach the visual arts in the early years. An important starting point is self-reflection. This could be a personal journey or part of a shared centre-wide inquiry. Reflecting about personal history with the visual arts can enable teachers to identify when and how their confidence was lost in the first place. There is real value in sharing the memories of these experiences within teaching teams. This can be an effective strategy for building a shared philosophy of the visual arts by deciding together how the visual arts could be valued and woven into the curriculum. It is also important to have these discussions with families. Asking how the visual arts are valued in children’s homes and cultures and inviting parents and caregivers with visual arts expertise to spend time sharing their knowledge with the children (and teachers) can serve to strengthen partnerships and actively embrace multiple perspectives concerning how the visual arts can be valued.

It is vital that teachers have both practical and pedagogical knowledge of the visual arts. There is great value in playing with visual arts materials before offering them to children. Teachers could sign up to an evening class or organise a professional learning event in order to develop new techniques or understandings of different art genres. It is much easier to support children’s art making when you can truly empathise with the challenges of working with different media. Teachers can then engage in authentic conversations with children about art making, which many children relish. The same can be said for pedagogical knowledge. Professional development that develops theoretical understanding of the impacts of different teaching approaches is another vehicle through which teachers can examine and perhaps reframe how they view children as learners. This in turn fundamentally impacts how they respond as teachers.

To read the full version of this research review by Dr Sarah Probine, click here.

As we conclude the course, I want to challenge you with these words from Gai Lindsay, in an article that was suggested as further reading in Part 1 of the course. Gai says we should be careful to avoid ‘entertaining and sensory art activities’ which she calls junk food, and instead provide children with ‘the nutritious meal of empowering, educative art processes that build upon past experiences to transform materials, produce aesthetic products, and propel children’s interests toward definite achievement and growth’ (Lindsay, 2016, p. 7). Now, with this challenge to provide children with enriching and empowering arts experiences and tools, it is over to you! I hope this course has whetted your appetite for engaging in the visual arts with children, and given you the tools, knowledge and skills you need to make the visual arts a key tool for curriculum implementation in your centre. Karawhiua! Go for it!


Take some time to think about how you might progress your visual arts practices and pedagogies, and how you can bring what you have been learning into your daily practice with children in your setting. Write a personal reflection on the strengths that you have that you can draw on, as well as how you might develop your own ability in and aptitude for the visual arts, and the next steps for you to increase your own knowledge. What will you commit to trying out in order to build a culture of visual art-making in your centre?


The important points to take away from this part are:

  • Teachers can be more intentional about supporting children’s development in the visual arts when they understand the typical progression of skills and abilities.
  • Planning for visual arts learning will vary with children’s age and ability, and will offer holistic experiences very much connected to children’s interests and inquiries.
  • Teachers need both practical and pedagogical knowledge of the visual arts.
  • Practical knowledge might include knowledge of using media, techniques, or different art genres.
  • Pedagogical knowledge might include theoretical understandings about the impact of different teaching approaches as well as the development of a range of pedagogical strategies to support children. 

Discuss online

Share one goal you have for developing your visual arts knowledge, skill or dispositions, and how you intend to achieve this goal, in the online forum for this last part of the course. 

Further reading

This paper by Felicity McArdle might be interesting for those who want to reflect on their existing or prior beliefs about art, and want some stimulus for rethinking their position on art education.

Join the end-of-course webinar with Dr Vicki Hargraves

Watch the end-of-course webinar hosted by course director Dr Vicki Hargraves.

Relate your learning to practice

As the final step in completing this course, please take some time to fill in the course evaluation form. We are keen to hear your feedback and ideas for how we might improve the course in future.

Congratulations! You have completed this course.

We hope you have enjoyed this course and have developed more understanding and skill about the importance of visual arts in early childhood settings. Your personalised certificate will be available on your Profile page once you have marked this section as complete.