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Art Outside!

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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I have written before about outdoor music, and I present workshops on this topic. I am a musician, not a visual artist. But outdoor visual art embraces so many of the values we early childhood educators hold dear. We value creative partnerships between children and teachers. We value the outdoor environment for the health and welfare of children (and teachers!). Children need nature more than many folk realize. Just digging in the dirt enhances children's immunity,  It increases feelings of well-being as well (did someone really have to study this to find out?). Whole community organizations are advancing the idea that learning outdoors is inherently crucial to the development of healthy children.  So why not do art outside? Isn't this a no-brainer?


Painting on a sheet with spray bottles is an oldie but goodie. Liquid water color works well, and children can investigate the way color sinks into or runs down fabric, provoking questions for discussion. Pumping a spray bottle brings up scientific inquiry (how does it work?). Children will most certainly come up with other techniques and ideas. Teachers need to be flexible. If a girl asks to use a brush, then those brushes must come out! Should we say no to mixing color with mud and smearing it on the fabric? No! Everything is food for thought and fun.

Using "loose parts"  is another way to include visual art outside. Use loose parts from nature, such as stones, logs,and "tree cookies". Include manufactured items such as tires. These entice children to create. It is more productive when teachers consciously prepare children with stories, pictures, and anecdotes inside the classroom. A child's imagination needs to be fed something beyond Ninja Turtles and Princesses! Feed their imaginations with stories about  outdoor creations. The work of Andy Goldsworthyinspires all ages. Alexander Calder's early life demonstrates what children can do with found objects and scraps.

Finally, taking children to see outdoor art installations that adults have created legitimatizes this work. They need to know that what they are doing isn't just something adults have them do to fill time! Children need to see that what they are asked to do is meaningful in the adult world. Investigate your community's cultural resources. Not every town has a National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, but even Marfa, Texas has outdoor art!

I hope this post has given some teachers and parents not only ideas, but reasons for doing art outside with children. I can't think of a greater gift to give.

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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 

Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

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Guest Sunday, 17 February 2019