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Teaching Teachers Arts Integration

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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I teach early childhood education to teachers and caregivers. One of my favorite courses is Art, Music and Movement for Young Children. Since I have a performing arts background, I love sharing the teaching of the arts with ECE folk.

I did a two year program at the Kennedy Center's CETA Program (Changing Education through the Arts). In it I was taught to include the learning standards from both arts disciplines and other content areas. In the Virginia Foundation Blocks there are standards for all of these, arts included. My final project was to do two projects that addressed arts and curricular areas. The CETA trainers (National Board certified teachers and teaching artists) emphasized documentation as a way to make learning visible, to make process accessible to everyone involved in the education of children.

Since then I have added these ideas to my course. The final project is an integrated learning unit that addresses two content areas related to one theme that is taught through two arts activities. The students do these with children (or child) and document the process. Many of my students come out of the course with more of an understanding of how the arts (music, movement, dramatic play) can allow children to learn content without making a big deal about what the children are supposed to learn ("now we are learning about the letter F. Can you be a FOX?"--can you say, boring?

Still, many students are not able to wrap their minds around this approach. One came to me after class saying that since she wanted children to make caterpillars out of egg cartons for a life-cycles theme, she couldn't figure out how to let them be creative . "Maybe I can let them choose the colors", she said. I suggested giving the children materials and allowing them to create and then explain their caterpillars; to use an open-ended, three-D project to address visual art, language arts and science objectives. This was tough for her to swallow. Why is this so hard to understand?

Part of the problem is that many students have received most of their training from directors, and older teachers who do not accept the more organic, integrated approach to teaching young children that is part of best practices. In the NAEYC book, The New Early Childhood Professional: A Step by Step Guide to Overcoming Goliath, the authors discuss the gap between what we as a profession know, and what we do. Those directors and teachers who train our students, and the centers who employ them, reflect how our profession is a patchwork, hodge-podge mish-mash of practices.These practices don't always reflect what we actually know in the profession. Hence the egg-carton caterpillars supposedly teaching about actual caterpillars, or art. Old habits are hard to break!

On the first night of Art, Music and Movement for Young Children, I start with this video: Music and Dance Drive Academic Achievement on Edutopia. Watch it! You will be amazed! When my students see this, it elicits comments such as, "Why couldn't my child have been in that kind of program?", and, "I want this for all children." The subject of money inevitably comes up. Where would it come from? That one program is sponsored by a rich man. What about everyone else? So I tell them about resources right in our D.C. area--The Wolf Trap Institute of Early Learning Through the Arts, or CETA, at the Kennedy Center (Changing Education Through the Arts. These programs not only come into schools, but educate teachers to include arts integration. Teachers who work in CETA or Wolf Trap schools say that the children are passionate and eager to learn by taking part in arts activities (dance, drama, music, visual art) that lead them through learning the materials that their teachers are required to teach. It is a two-fer! You get art education and the content areas as well.

So let’s teach our teachers of young children that learning the alphabet, colors, numbers and shapes doesn’t need to be onerous drudgery. Let’s teach them to view every curricular requirement as a challenge to their capacity to integrate the world of the arts. Everyone will benefit, and we will be bringing more of what we know into what we do.

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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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