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Using Art in the Early Childhood Classroom
Early childhood educators have long recognized the value of art in the classroom. Through art, children develop creativity. They learn to express what they are feeling and thinking and come to understand that symbols--either the strokes of a paintbrush or letters written with a pencil--are powerful tools for communication, which in turn fuels their motivation to gain literacy skills. Art has a soothing effect on many children because of its tactile nature and lack of constraints. Unfortunately, many teachers feel pressure from administrators and parents to provide more academic activities in preschools and kindergartens, although research has shown that providing playful, creative opportunities for children actually increases their ability to learn, according to Elena Bodrova and Deborah J. Leong in "Educational Leadership." Share research on the value of art, as well as your own personal observations, to enlist support.
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Setting Up the Center
Start by getting organized. Get bins or baskets to store materials for your preschool art center. Gather natural materials, such as feathers, twigs, twine, shells and dried flowers. Ask parents and local businesses to donate materials, such as paper, string, clay and collage materials. Set up the center near a water source on a washable floor and don't forget the paint smocks.
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Teach your students how to use and care for the materials before you begin using the preschool art center, and don't provide too many materials at once. Provide a balance of structured activities and free-art. Consider starting an art museum-a special place in the classroom to display children's artwork. Share your love of art with the children by painting occasionally yourself. The children will enjoy watching your work and you can model techniques in an objective, non-judgemental way. Incorporate art into your literacy studies. For example, after a unit on the work of Eric Carle, try his technique of painting tissue paper and cutting the pieces into a collage. Or make a mural as a group project for a dramatic play backdrop. After reading, "The Three Little Javelinas," by Susan Lowell, paint a desert scape, complete with prickly cactus. Additionally, the art center can be used for making props to act out stories, such as bear headbands for "The Three Bears," or masks for "Abiyoyo."
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Extend the Experience
Expose children to the world of art around them. "Activities that involve children in both making and enjoying art are essential if programs are to meet the needs of the whole child," advises Jill Englebright Fox, PhD and Stacey Berry, M.Ed. in Early Childhood News. Take children on field trips to art museums or spend time studying the work of the masters in the classroom. Invite parents to help in making group projects or ask an artsy parent to spend a day doing a special project with the children. Special visitors are a good choice when introducing a new skill or material, such as clay.
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References and Resources
Bodrova, Elena and J. Leong, Deborah. (2003) "The Importance of Being Playful." Educational Leadership. April, 2003.
Fox, Jill Englebright, PhD. and Berry, Stacey, M.Ed. "Art in Early Childhood: Curriculum Connections." www.EarlychildhoodNews.com