By Chinar Som
Art activities have been included in early childhood education for generations. Renowned educationists and philosophers have been trying for centuries to highlight how significant art is in healthy development. Yet, only in recent times the depth of its importance has been understood. As brain researches continue exploring and establishing it's role, art education gains a much desired scientific leverage.
Friedrich Froebel, founder of the Kindergarten concept and a highly influential educational reformer of the 19th century believed art encouraged “full and all sided development of each child” (Froebel 1826 in Englebright Fox & Berry 2020).
Still for many parents around the world, Art is simply understood as drawing and an activity that children should be doing only in their spare time. Even today it is considered an unnecessary or unproductive activity in certain socioeconomic strata. There are a couple of possibilities behind this mind set.
Reinforcement of the idea that only academic excellence or trade skills will establish a career:
In the last century at least, there were limited job opportunities especially in developing countries. Excelling in education was considered a ticket to securing jobs. Hence anything that took away from core academic studies or learning the skills of a family business could only be put on a back burner. Therefore Art was not viewed as a source of a stable livelihood and was best limited to a hobby.
Playing by the rules that curbed the love and flair for art in a child:
As I reminisce from my own childhood in the 80s, it was a common practice in our community, for parents to enroll an art inclined child in a drawing class/school during “free time”. The structures of those lessons were usually far more stifling than encouraging for someone with a creative spirit. With the emphasis being on technicalities rather than on individual strengths or styles. As a friend shared, that he lost his love for drawing for over 3 decades after being forced to draw inside measured grids in his art school.
This gives us the insight that young children need to enjoy the process for it to continue further into their lives.
This article here on briefly attempts to discuss the concept and importance of Art in early years, in a more concrete manner for the benefit of parents.
What is Art?
Philosophically speaking, it is controversial to even attempt to define art but for the purpose of making it concrete, we shall go with the following:
Various branches of creative activity like painting, music, literature and dance constitute Art.
Traditionally, the types of art have been categorized as:
- Visual Arts (Painting, drawing, sculpture)
- Literary Arts (Poetry, Drama, story etc)
- Performing Arts (Dance, music, opera, puppetry, mime, theatre etc)
Observation tells us that children are happiest and deeply absorbed while building something, dancing, singing, telling stories, exploring with colours or drawing etc. Therefore, most children engage in activities which are natural forms of art. Art is entwined in their play and as we know, Play
is all important in healthy development of children.
Why is it Important for Young Children?
Art enhances various skills in the different areas of human development. Since brain development is rapid in the first five years, introducing art in early childhood is valuable.
Cognitive (Intellectual) Development: Doing art activities helps build neural connections and enhances brain function. It develops critical thinking and problem solving skills as they realize cause and effect relationships. Eg:- If two colours mix, a new colour is formed or If more water is added in the mud/sand, it won’t hold shape for the structures being made.
Pictured above: Shaela and Kaia after learning about “India’s Rangoli” found a way to make their own “Rangoli powder” by crushing river bed rocks.
Mathematical Awareness and Reasoning: Despite being viewed as extreme opposites; Art and Math involve the same core skills of spatial reasoning and ability to recognize patterns (Farmer Kris, 2017). Use of Geometry is also a common factor in both. Hence doing art activities can develop mathematical awareness.
Engaging in any kind of art is a multisensory experience. It involves seeing- hearing-moving-feeling/touching or (V-A-K-T) Visual- Auditory- Kinaesthetic- Tactile experiences. Since multisensory learning approaches enhance cognitive skills like memory (by improving retention of information), attention, concentration, critical thinking etc. Therefore using art for children can also improve their ability to learn.
Socio-Emotional Development: Art builds self-esteem as it instills a sense of pride and accomplishment after creating something. The praise and appreciation linked to it that follows, whether from adults or peers also adds to the esteem and self-image. Art activities have innate therapeutic/ healing effects as it allows a healthy form of self-expression. It also brings up suppressed emotions to the surface for release.
The use of artistic methods is therefore seen in multiple therapeutic approaches. It is not restricted to Art therapy alone. Even Play therapy, Music therapy and Dance movement therapy tap into the healing element of the arts.
Physical-Motor Development: Manipulating different materials with hands while building, colouring, and drawing develop the fine motor skills in young children. This helps develop strength in the hands and controlled movements for other future tasks like writing, buttoning clothes, tying shoelaces etc.
Language Development: “Research has demonstrated that arts support conventional literacy skills- reading, writing, speaking and listening across different learning abilities” (Anderson, 2017) As children learn about the things involved in their art and talk about their own performances and creations, it leads to an increase in vocabulary.
We share some guidelines for parents to encourage arts in a healthy manner.
Give children ample time, space and materials to explore and create.
- Let artistic activities be more process based than product based. Let them enjoy doing the activity more than worry about the end product or outcome.
- Encourage exploring and appreciating nature and finding natural materials to build. Eg:- leaves, stones, twigs, dried flowers, seeds.
- Introduce them to various art forms but don’t enforce your choices on them.
- Incorporate music and movement in their lives. Let there be music in your home. Rhythm gradually develops through singing, reciting, moving/swaying/jumping to music.
- Let there be no right way or wrong way of doing any creative art. Each creation is unique and individualistic.
- Help them pursue their passions and interests.
- Praise their efforts and refrain from constant questioning about what they are doing.
- Have Family outings to places and events that develop art appreciation. Eg:- musical events, puppetry shows, flower shows/topiary gardens, theatre workshops, museums , art galleries, art festivals with children’s events etc.
Whether we view it scientifically, philosophically or spiritually, the fact remains- Art matters in holistic development. Make it an integral part of your child’s life and see their personality bloom.
About the author-
Chinar Som has Post Graduate degrees in Special Education and Human Development, with over 16 years of experience. She has taught from High school to Post-Graduate University students in India. She is an expert on a wide range of educational and parenting topics. A polyglot with a passion for writing. She practices a holistic healing lifestyle.
We sincerely thank all mothers for their valuable contribution to this article.
Image Credits: Devaleena Sen