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Visual Arts in Early Childhood Education workbook

Visual Arts in ECE online course

Visual Arts in
Early Childhood Education

An online course from The Education Hub

This is the personal workbook of

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 1: Introducing the visual arts

Notes on how you view visual arts

Your ideas about art will depend to some extent on your own experiences, education, family and culture, and it can be good to reflect on these and challenge yourself to view the visual arts through other lenses. We might sometimes be limited by thinking about the visual arts in very specific ways.

Compare your list to the one below, and see where the differences lie.

Art is…
  • Creativity
  • Self-expression
  • A problem-solving tool
  • Skill
  • Technique
  • Language
  • Communication
  • Aesthetics
  • Play
  • Exploration
  • Experimentation
  • Free
  • Elite
  • Frivolous
  • Thought-provoking
  • Emotive
  • Display
  • Cultural practice
  • Knowledge
  • Process
  • Product
  • Structured
  • Critic
  • Individual
Notes and reflections on An introduction to the visual arts in early childhood education

As this reading makes clear, the visual arts support a broad array of learning outcomes across the early childhood curriculum.

Exploring the links between the visual arts and cognition forms an important part of this course, as we advocate for using the visual arts as a way to support, engage with and extend children’s thinking. 

Notes and reflections from Building teachers confidence engaging with the visual arts 

Sarah encourages teachers to reflect on their memories of learning or doing art, especially if they involve negative experiences. Even if your early experiences were positive, leading you to become an enthusiastic artist in your spare time, it can be important to think about your memories of being introduced to and involved in art experiences, and the feelings that accompany those memories.

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 2: Introducing the role of the teacher

Notes from Why is the teacher’s role so important in supporting and facilitating visual arts experiences?
Notes and reflections about support children to develop their thinking and skills in the visual arts

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 3: Exploring the role of the teacher

Notes from Teacher scaffolding and support for children’s art-making experiences

Take notes under the following headings:

Notes from The importance of visual arts in early childhood education.
Relate your learning to practice

Have a go at Louisa’s planning process and prepare an art experience for children in your own setting. You can try Louisa’s coloured plastics provocation, choose from the list of ideas below, or make up your own idea. 

  1. Once you have selected a key material and a key concept, brainstorm a list of resources to set up in your own centre (make sure they are things you actually have to hand or can procure). Remember that these will help connect the material you’re planning to use to the concept you intend to explore. Louisa had various types of coloured plastic, but also tools such as pegs to hold the plastic, because she wanted the children to be able to hold the plastic upright to catch the light. Don’t be afraid to plan to include objects that are quite different to your focus material if you think that these things will help children to explore the concept. For example, you might include old frames from an op shop for children to stretch various kinds of string and ribbon across. Also include on your list the tools that you think would help children to explore the material and concepts you’ve chosen. Consider which will you offer straight away and which will you hold back to the side for a little while.
  2. Make a list of the actions and techniques that can be performed on those materials. For example, tearing or cutting paper, slicing clay with wire, stringing metal washers onto wire, and so on.
  3. Generate a list of vocabulary you can use with children while they are exploring. Making such a list now will help you to use richer language in the moment with children. 
  4. Using all the ideas you have developed so far as well as the lists of materials and potential actions, vocabulary and artistic techniques children might use, create a set of three or four play prompts to be used at the beginning of and during the experience, and (for older children as appropriate) three or four reflective questions that you might ask children about the things they make or do. You might like to revisit Louisa’s video for ideas. Note that for infants and toddlers, just listing actions and vocabulary will be plenty, as you will want to have a more unobtrusive presence in their exploration, focusing instead on responding to their cues.
  5. Set up and explore this provocation in your early childhood setting with children. Experiment with the layout and positioning of resources, remembering that it is often best to keep the set up simple at first and to keep some resources aside to extend play when appropriate. 
  6. Join children at play and observe what occurs. Remember that you too will learn about the properties of these materials if you get involved. Allow time to observe children’s interests and layer in your play prompts, reflective questions and modelling of techniques when it is meaningful. Take photos, videos and make notes of children’s comments and conversations. You might like to document these. 

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Below are your notes and reflections from Part 4: The visual arts in an inquiry approach

Notes from Supporting children’s thinking and cognition through the visual arts
Notes and reflections on the Kids’ Domain video

In the case study video, the teachers talk about taking the same small group of children on a walk in the Auckland Domain, but also about producing a stop motion video with just three children. In other words, their inquiries are not necessarily carried out by the whole group.

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 5: Developing inquiry through the visual arts

Notes about the The Reggio Emilia approach
Relate your learning to practice

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.

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. 

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).

Plan how you will share this documentation when it is completed.

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 6: Environments and materials for the visual arts

Notes from the Tots Corner video

One possible answer is that if something is moldable, manipulable, and movable, it could be an art material. If it can be transformed, or put to a creative purpose, it could be an art material. In other words, anything that is relatively open-ended could be an art material. Consider how hard it would be to transform or put to a (different) creative purpose a realistic model of a shopping till. Its very realism makes it hard for us to conceive of it as anything else. A cardboard box, pinecone or a scarf have so much more potential. The next reading describes the use of loose parts in early childhood environments in broad ways, and provides a useful foundation for thinking about resources and materials for the visual arts.

Notes from Materials for play: A short guide to selecting loose parts
Relate your learning to practice

Remembering that the teachers at Tots Corner said they need time to research materials and find out what creative possibilities they engender, think about your experience and knowledge of different materials.

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 7: Using materials intentionally in the visual arts

Notes from Intentional strategies
Notes on Why the visual arts are so important for infants and toddlers
Relate your learning to practice

Below are your notes and reflections from Part 8: Integrating visual arts into everyday teaching and learning

Notes and reflections from Progression and skill development in the visual arts
Notes and reflections from Visual arts pedagogy and 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.

Notes from How teachers can build their confidence to plan and implement a rich visual arts curriculum
Relate your learning to practice

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.

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