The Benefits of an Art Program
Friedrich Froebel, often known as the father of kindergarten, believed that art activities helped develop all parts of a child. Today, early childhood educators still agree with that approach, although pressure to provide more academic activities is limiting art time in many early childhood and kindergarten classes. When art activities are thoughtfully planned with clear objectives in mind, though, they can be an enriching part of the preschool day that actually enhances academic learning. Through art opportunities, children gain fine motor skills by using scissors, paintbrushes and other art implements. Children learn that art and writing are important ways of expressing themselves, a precursor to reading and writing. Math involves more than just counting and numbers. Patterns, shapes and rhythms are a part of math, just as they are a part of art. Art is a sensory activity, giving children the opportunity to explore science topics, such as texture, temperature, consistency and form.
The thought of developing an art center may seem overwhelming to teachers with limited time and money. Begin by developing a system to keep things organized. Bins or baskets, clearly labeled allow children to work independently. Also consider ease of clean-up and place the art center on a washable surface, near a water source. Enlist parents’ support by communicating with them your philosophy of art in the early childhood classroom and the benefits it may have for their children. Send home a letter to parents with a list of preschool materials to keep in an art center. Ask them to send in recycled items or other materials.
Check with art stores, university art departments or framing departments. These organizations may donate art materials or sell them at discount. Additionally, many grants are available for developing art programs, particularly if your program ties literacy with the arts. Consider writing a grant.
Art Center Materials
The list of preschool materials to keep in an art area will vary depending on the needs of the children and the philosophy of the teacher. A basic list, though, might include a variety of paintbrushes and implements, including sponges and stamps. Fill baskets with items from nature such as rocks, shells, feathers, twigs or dried flowers. Children love exploring clay and play-doh and these materials are very calming, as well. Provide many types of paper such as construction paper, fingerpaint paper, scrapbooking paper or tagboard. Collage materials might include aluminum foil, ribbon, twine and pompoms. Gluesticks, bottled glue and scissors are also important materials for an art center. And don’t forget paint. Instead of paying for paint in every color, buy the basic set and allow the children to mix colors to make new shades. Store these in baby food jars and allow the children to name the new colors of paint.
Additionally, provide paint smocks or recycled men’s shirts. Set up a system for drying and storing children’s art work, as well as for cleaning up materials. For yet more ideas see this detailed list of materials.
Using the Art Center
Teach the children how to use the materials and care for them before opening the art center. Allow only two or three choices at once, and don’t change the materials too quickly. Offer a balance of structured and open art activities and allow plenty of time for the children to explore. Some children may want to work on a project for several days.