How To Teach Visual Arts In Primary School

visual arts in primary school

Published: November 17th, 2022

We use art to make sense of the world, express ourselves freely and understand one another. Because of this, visual arts education should be an integral part of any primary school’s curriculum.

Children learn to understand their world through taste, touch, sound and smell. Adding visual arts as a way to further sensory awareness enhances a child’s ability to process information, develop a sense of self, and understand things such as cultures and their own identity within them.

But how can teachers make art education contemporary and meaningful in the modern day and age? In this guide, we will dive into what the visual arts are, how to hone children’s art skills, and how modern educational resources such as interactive whiteboards can be used to a teacher’s advantage.

What are the visual arts?

Visual arts help students to use a variety of mediums such as painting, drawing, sculpting, architecture, film, photography and printmaking to simulate life through a visual experience.

Within the visual arts, there are certain categories. One of these is known as decorative arts, or otherwise as crafts. This form of visual art involves the making of furniture or ceramics, interior design, jewellery making, metal crafting, woodworking and textiles.

Benefits of visual arts education in early childhood curriculum

Visual art is meant to provoke a certain emotion, memory or thought, which is why it is an important supporting subject in any school curriculum.

The visual arts curriculum should ideally revolve around making, investigating and responding to art. The latter can be done in expressive art as well, either through writing or painting or just through verbal response.

Here are the main benefits and reasons why it is so important to include visual arts skills in early childhood education:

1 – Develops fine motor skills

By creating their own work in visual arts education, children get to use their hands and body to create sculptures, paintings, printings or work with textiles and other materials. Engaging with these materials helps young students to further develop their fine motor skills with their artwork.

2 – Improves critical thinking

By investigating their peers’ artworks, exchanging ideas and critically reflecting on their art, young students learn to study and understand other people and themselves, which ultimately enhances critical thinking.

3 – Teaches children how to communicate ideas

Art enables children to communicate their emotions, ideas and situation in a way that sometimes words might not. But at the same time, explaining why they might have made use of certain materials or colours assists students in learning about themselves and expressing themselves.

4 – Encourages self-expression

Especially when they are allowed to work outside of artistic conventions, art education can be a wonderful confidence boost in a child’s understanding of who they are and how they make their choices and why.

By explaining to their teachers and the classroom why their pieces of art look the way they do, children learn how to express their emotions through art but also get to explore explaining these with words.

Strategies for incorporating visual arts in the classroom

Show how art is relevant across all subjects

At any school, art should be integrated into the other STEAM subjects such as science, maths, social sciences and languages. This can be incredibly useful in fostering students’ creativity and encouraging learning and knowledge retention much more effectively.

Include drawing and other forms of art in activities

In order to widen understanding of the subject, including art activities such as drawing,  sculpting, photography or woodworking into other subjects can be extremely helpful and not just an illustrative purpose.

By integrating visual arts into other subjects and activities, the activity itself will be experienced deeper and be retained much longer, assisting children with exploring the possibilities of the activity in their own way.

Assign projects that require visuals or even 3D models

Keep the schedule engaging and change the media through which the students deliver their art. Including projects that require visual models in the form of drawings or in 3D models provides students with better spatial awareness.

3D models could be made cross-curricular by integrating them into mathematics classes or potentially trying to rebuild animals for their biology class.

Teachers could also consider turning these into group projects, as the social aspect can enhance the above-mentioned learning benefits even further.

Using art education to enhance other subject areas such as maths, biology or language can be a great way for children to deepen their understanding and tackle the issue of barriers when it comes to individual learning.

Some children might be better visual learners and therefore more able to understand geometry by building their triangles. Others can understand biology better if they get to sketch their items of interest beforehand. In languages, a picture can spark creativity to express different writing concepts and speak freely.

Art activities for primary schools

Below are examples of various art activities for teachers who are looking to teach art in primary schools from Year One to Year Six.

It is important to note that each year should explore various focus areas, such as drawing, 3D modelling, printing, group projects, textiles and so on.

Year 1 visual arts

  • Drawing – Start by introducing sketchbooks (digital or analogue) to your students and let them start drawing simple shapes such as spirals and circles.
  • Printmaking – This is a fun way to explore symmetry, textures, colours and shapes. Use different materials to make prints – you can even encourage children to use vegetable printing with potatoes or beets.
  • Playful making – Give your students free rein over the materials they use. Teachers can do so by providing a cardboard box and all sorts of materials to create and beautify the box.
  • Exploring watercolour – This will help with a deeper understanding of complimentary colours and opposite colours, as well as enhance students’ fine motor skills through the use of brushes.
  • Sculpting – Sculpture making is a beautiful visual arts education form that can be integrated into various subjects. Why not use it in biology and let students first sketch a bird in their sketchbook and then let them sculpt it in 3D with clay?
  • Group project (collages) – Pick a topic and make small groups in which children can create a large piece of artwork together and explain what it means to each one of them.

Year 2 visual arts

  • Drawing – Introduce students to the possibility of drawing items they have collected. This adds a sketching level as well as self-expression to the project. This can also evolve into charcoal drawings in Year 3.
  • Printmaking – Let the printmaking techniques evolve to mono printing.
  • Playful making (architecture) – Encourage students to build their own little houses and gardens, or let them design their perfect playground.
  • Expressive painting – Creating abstract oil or watercolour paintings can teach students how to express themselves with art.
  • Transformation project – Give students several items and let them create something completely new from them. For instance, using sticks and threads to create miniature people or animals.
  • Music and art – Play a song and let your students draw what they feel to hone their expressive skills.

Year 3 visual arts

  • Stencils and collaging – All students need is a pair of scissors, and they’ll be able to create a piece of art through collaging cutouts together.
  • Sculpture and storytelling – Let the students explore sculpting based on stories and culture.
  • Change the media – Why not switch sketchbooks for a piece of cloth, the paint for pieces of thread and the brush for a needle and let the students create pictures like that?
  • Animated drawings – Create paper puppets and record a video of them moving around, or make a photography series which can be displayed on interactive display accessories.
  • Using natural materials – Integrate natural materials to create dyes and colours to use for images and making art.

Year 4 visual arts

  • Storytelling & drawing – Sequencing drawings in order to tell a story can be a fun way to teach art, as children this age are often getting interested in comic strips.
  • Displaying art – Introduce different ways of displaying artwork. Whether that is on plinths, framed or on a table, each display has its own effect on the artwork.
  • Still life drawing – Explore different artists that work with still life and let students create their own.
  • Sculpture & structure – Hone technical skills by building sculptures and different structures with different build materials.

Year 5 visual arts

  • Typography and maps – Students can learn about their country or city by drawing maps and learning dimensions and directions. This can also be integrated into geography lessons.
  • Fashion design – Working with textiles to create their own clothing or fashion items is a great way for older primary school students to express themselves as they become individual beings.
  • Architecture – Creating their own architectural model is a wonderful idea for students whose motor skills have fully developed and will inform future career opportunities.

Year 6 visual arts 

  • Transforming 2D into 3D – Create 2D drawings which can be turned into a 3D object; this can either come from a graphic design or sculptural perspective.
  • Culture & activism – Show students how art and visual images are used to convey political messages or are used to reference pop culture.
  • Portraiture – As their personality grows, provide students with the ability to create their own portraits with different creative methods.
  • Crafts & design – Let students create their own furniture items or models to express their personalities through crafts.

Tips for teaching primary school art

Here are a few tips on how to provide art lessons and engage children in art-making in primary schools.

1 – Pick a focus

Whether you are teaching for a term or half a term, decide what you would like your pupils to focus on. This can be printing, painting, sculpting etc.

2 – Include contrast

Whether that means including contrasting colours and materials or introducing children to contrasting artists, it is important to show them different media and approaches to develop their understanding and appreciation for different art forms and their interpretation of these.

3 – Use different media

Whether it is sketchbooks, iPads or another form of interactive display, children need to engage with different forms of visual art displayed on various forms of media to keep it contemporary as well as traditional.

4 – Be flexible

Your pupils don’t need to be Pablo Picasso yet, though some might surprise you! Be flexible with your response to how your pupils will interact and learn this topic.

FAQs about primary school visual arts

How can you use visual arts in primary school teaching?

Visual art can be used in many forms of teaching and with many techniques. You do not necessarily have to be confined to art-making as long as it uses the child’s creativity.

The visual arts can be used by teachers in writing classes to engage their students in a visual way that might stimulate their creativity for story writing. 

Visual art could also be used in maths to solve calculus problems or in history classes and in subjects that evolve around personal development. For instance, using photographs of facial expressions help students with their understanding of different people and cultures.

What are visual art activities?

Visual art activities can be:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Constructing
  • Inventing
  • Sculpting
  • Printing
  • Photography
  • Textiles

Engage children with an interactive display

Visual arts are a key component of any primary school curriculum and often go hand-in-hand with interactive displays. So why not bring your lessons to life with such a display and allow your students to get creative? Book a free demo today to learn more and see the Promethean ActivPanel in action.