How to Encourage Visual Arts in Early Childhood Education

visual arts in early childhood classrooms

Published: October 24th, 2022

Young children learn through the use of their senses, with sight being one of the most important in the early years. For an infant, visual art is a vital part of learning. Some of the first educational materials they’ll use will be photographs or drawings of faces and high-contrast images such as black and white patterns.

Once children are more mobile, they can begin to express themselves artistically, which has an impact on their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. Including visual arts education in early childhood settings can significantly benefit children’s learning capabilities.

Importance of creativity in early childhood education

Fostering creativity in children is an important part of their growth and development. Creative thought will assist them in navigating a variety of situations throughout life and will have a positive impact on their studies now and in the future.

Incorporating creativity into play helps children learn how to express emotions and explore new ideas. And learning to appreciate art teaches children to understand and enjoy natural beauty and take notice of small details.

Benefits of visual arts education in early childhood

Creative development is often the first thing people think of when considering the effects visual arts education has on early childhood development. However, it can have a profound impact on emotional, social and intellectual development and also influences physical development.

Discussing visual arts with young children can help them learn to process their thoughts and emotions in a more structured and healthy way. This in turn helps them to articulate their ideas and feelings when they need to verbally.

Visual arts education in early childhood also has a positive influence on the development of cultural awareness. It helps them develop an understanding and acceptance of others’ differences through the introduction of art and history from a variety of different ethnic groups and cultures around the world.

The teaching of language can greatly benefit from the incorporation of visual arts too, as children learn words and letters more easily when given visual examples. 2019 research from JAMA Ophthalmology shows that sight is one of the senses upon which we value the most.

Engaging in art activities encourages exploration of their emotional world and gives the teacher (or caregiver) a way to gain insight into a child’s emotional state. Research by Varnell in 2022 investigated the effect of visual art classes in pre-school aged children and found a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol when partaking in visual arts classes compared to all other classes.

Impact of visual arts on childhood development

Including visual arts in early childhood education has an impact on all aspects of childhood development. The benefits of introducing young children to visual arts education can’t be denied.

Cognitive development

Experimenting with visual arts can lead to the development of critical thinking. Creating art can also teach the concept of cause and effect – for example, if a child presses too hard with a pencil, the pencil may break.

Discussing their artworks and their process gives children the opportunity to work on their language skills too. Creating art is also a form of communication, and research shows that children’s art is closely linked to their thoughts. This means that art is a good way for children to express ideas and share their thoughts.

Through the creation of artworks, children learn logic. For example, that the background of artwork needs to be completed before you can start the foreground or that painting onto wet paint will create a mess. Additionally, they develop problem-solving skills – if they make an error when mixing a paint colour, they will need to find a way to correct that error.

Multisensory, tactile activities and experiences provide infants with the stimulants needed to grow the brain and form new brain-nerve connections.

Physical development

Creating art helps to develop a child’s fine motor skills. Grasping pencils, crayons, and paintbrushes increases their dexterity and improves their grip. Art activities are also a good way for children to work on their hand-eye coordination.

Emotional development

Young children are still learning verbal skills and can struggle to express themselves in a way that adults understand. Visual arts can provide a way for them to communicate and express their emotions and ideas.

Art therapy is a popular form of therapy used when needing to assist children. It gives them a creative outlet as well as a way to communicate things that they can’t with words effectively. Even when used with adults, art therapy can assist with the discovery of internalised trauma and provide a safe way to explore and communicate.

Visual arts also provoke an emotional response, which can teach children about different feelings and help them to explore their emotions. By using visual representations of emotions, young learners learn to identify how they feel which can help to improve their social and communication skills.

Social development

When creating art in a group setting, children need to learn how to communicate effectively and how to share. If child A is using the red paint and child B also needs to use it, child B will need to communicate that to child A effectively. Child A will then need to decide if they are willing to share the red paint or what the best way to share the paint would be.

Visual arts education exposes children to different cultures and viewpoints and helps them to become more tolerant and accepting of others, despite their differences. It fosters healthy interactions and sharing of ideas while also encouraging the challenging of social norms.

Creative development

A child does not have to be artistically talented in order to participate in visual arts education. Incorporating visual arts in early childhood education helps children to cultivate their creativity which benefits all areas of development as a whole. The encouragement of creative development plays a vital role in developing a child’s learning abilities.

Exploring various styles of art such as drawing, painting, collage and sculpture gives children the opportunity to increase their artistic range and experiment with different materials to express themselves creatively.

Incorporating visual arts in an early childhood curriculum

In an educational curriculum, it is the teacher’s role to teach young children about the significance of culture and making meaning in everyday life. This can be achieved through the incorporation of visual arts education into early education settings.

The discussion of visual arts provides the opportunity for students to learn about different cultures and schools of thought. It also indirectly teaches them about expressing ideas and emotions in a creative way.

In playtime

Creative play is very beneficial for childhood development. The incorporation of visual arts into playtime in early childhood settings provides a fun and free space in which kids can begin to master various skills.

Free play is important, so having a time where children can create whatever they want is an excellent way to blend visual arts education with free play. This promotes decision-making, logic development and problem-solving skills.

When young children engage in group play, they learn about collaboration and communicating effectively. Incorporating group activities into art education is one of many teaching strategies that give children the space to practice sharing with their peers.

In the classroom

Visual arts can be incorporated into an early childhood classroom setting in a number of ways. Children respond very well to visual stimuli, and many learn well with visual examples of what they are learning.

Having educational posters on the wall that illustrate the numbers, alphabet, and other key concepts that the children are currently learning brings the visual arts into the early childhood classroom.

Another way to add visual arts elements into the classroom setting is to display the art that children have made. This creates a space for them to interact with each other by discussing their artworks and encourages positive communication. Having their art displayed on the wall can also provide a confidence boost.

When early childhood teachers are educating their classes about new subjects, they could encourage children to learn about the subject by asking them to draw something related to it. For example, if they’re learning about domestic animals, the teacher can ask the children to draw their favourite farm animal or their pet.

Art education

Structured art activities will assist in educating young learners about visual arts in the early childhood classroom. Young children don’t have long attention spans, so shorter activities will be more effective. Incorporating collaborative art projects into early childhood education will encourage language practice and verbal interaction.

Incorporating movement into their art education will assist in keeping their concentration and will also help them to release some built-up energy. To enhance social development and teach young children about sharing, group art education activities involving shared materials can be added to the curriculum.

It is important to note that the final, finished product is not always what is important. Sometimes, the act of creating an artwork is a child’s true form of expression, rather than the artwork itself.

Teachers should bear this in mind and pay attention to the actions of a child when they are working on their art. This can give insight into what they are thinking and what emotions they may be processing through the creation of the artwork.

We’ve listed a few fun activities to include in your early childhood curriculum in the next segment.

Educating teachers about incorporating visual arts into lessons

A teacher’s role in fostering a love for the arts in early childhood as well as encouraging the development of creative thinking skills is a key part of early childhood education. Not all teachers have been educated on how to incorporate the visual arts into their lessons or are aware of the positive impact it can have on a child’s development.

While many early childhood teachers incorporate creative activities into their lessons and daily schedule, they may not know about the important impact that art education can have on childhood development.

Teachers should try to add visual materials to their teaching practice and throughout the curriculum in order to create the best and most supportive learning environment for their students.

Hosting a seminar from time to time to provide education about the positive impact that art education has in early childhood will benefit both the teachers and the children. Encouraging teachers to share ideas about how to engage children in art education and what activities you can include that will pique the interest of young children is another way to help educators.

Visual arts activities for young learners

Including visual arts activities in early education assists young children in developing the ability to imagine different scenarios, follow instructions, engage with their peers and represent their thoughts and ideas through art.

When appropriate, teachers should consider recommending that parents also incorporate visual arts activities into their child’s routines. The following activities can be included in the curriculum or shared with parents as suggested activities for home.

Play dough modelling

Play dough is a great way to incorporate sensory play into early childhood education. Developing their tactile senses, this activity introduces the art of sculpture to young children. Moreover, it can be used to provide education on colour theory through the combination of different coloured doughs.

Play dough creates a space for children to explore and devise different innovations – what new shape can they produce, or how can they combine different colours to create a new shade? Asking the child about their creation encourages interaction with the art and gives insight into their perceptions of the world.

Using play dough in a free play environment fosters independence as the children choose how to utilise the medium and what they wish to produce. It also exercises their imagination.

Resist art

Resist art is the use of either crayons or stickers to form a pattern on paper before painting over the pattern with watercolours. Once the paint has dried, the stickers can be removed, and the space they left behind will be white. If crayons have been used, the area covered by the crayon will not absorb the paint, so will stand out.

This activity teaches young children about cause and effect and helps to develop their understanding of space. To add to this, it aids in the development of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

Nature impressions

A great way to encourage exploration is the collecting of nature impressions. This will develop a child’s attention to detail and appreciation of natural beauty and will demonstrate how art can be inspired by nature. These impressions can be created by placing paper over a chosen texture and rubbing crayons on the paper to make an impression.

Learning how hard to press the crayon against the paper to form an impression of a leaf or bark will require trial and error as well as practice. The more the child perseveres, the more likely they will be to have success. This task will help them to develop strategies on how best to complete the activity.

While this may seem ambitious, incorporating an outing to a museum or art gallery into the curriculum is a great way for educators or caregivers to teach young children about the visual arts and introduce them to artistic communities.

To make the outing more interactive and fun, and to help keep the children focussed, you can turn the visit into a game by asking them to find specific objects in various paintings. This will help them to develop good observational skills.

Using an interactive display to teach visual arts in an early childhood classroom

Modern technology lends itself to educational innovation, and using interactive displays in a classroom setting can enhance the learning environment by giving teachers an interactive way to educate children about visual arts.

When used in collaboration with practical activities, a smart panel can promote inspired thinking which aids innovation and experimentation. In this technological age, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to understand multimodal communication.

Incorporating one of these displays into the classroom can assist in teaching children how to interpret meaning from images as well as accurately interpret visual texts.

Incorporating interactive whiteboards into their teaching practice can help teachers to enhance their learning materials and expand their curriculum too. Teachers can gain inspiration from the various educational resources that come with the interactive display, and the teaching software will make lesson planning a breeze. To learn more or book a free demo, speak to a Promethean expert today