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The Arts and Early Education: Accept No Less!

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Parents: If you aren't angry, you aren't paying attention!

On the left is an example of an "arts" activity in any classroom for young children. If you find your child is bringing home these pre-cut, adult-directed gems you should bring them back to school with this question: What the heck is this teaching my child?

The teacher might say that the class is studying bugs. She/he might say she is teaching the skill of "following directions". She might also say, "I've been doing this activity for fifty-eight years and it has always been a success. Kids love it.


Where do I begin?

I recently finished teaching a course called Art, Music and Movement for Young Children. My emphasis is on integrated curriculum: Teaching the arts and teaching content in a kind of beautiful soup of connectivity. There is so much to learn. Art forms, techniques, terminology, standards in both the arts and the content areas. The students need to learn the stages of children's creative development. and the stages of social play, so that they can plan appropriate activities and units for each age. I find that I fall short every semester. I know I could have done more to communicate all that needs to be learned.

The final course project is two activities that teach math, science, social studies or language arts through and with the arts fields of music, drama, movement, and visual art. Each activity needs to emphasize an arts field and a content area. It is a hard assignment. I look for the ability of the children involved to make intelligent choices. According to many of my adult students, who seldom have seen the arts as anything other than a frill, their view radically changes (or they say it does) about teaching through the arts. 

Why do I begin with the example above? A student changed this idea to "make it more creative" by giving children pre-cut circles of differing colors. They had a choice, then. The children still had to conform to a model, and couldn't try out different ideas of how to demonstrate their knowledge of bugs (ladybugs are not the only bugs on the planet--I have child students who like ants quite a bunch). Why not look at bugs in paintings? Why not give them different materials, and ask them which bug they are choosing to create? 

Why not? Aww, but look at that ladybug! It's so cute!

Don't fall for it, parents! It's a trap made of decades of busywork cuteness in preschools across the country. It is lazy teaching. Tell the teacher that you will be assessing your child's knowledge, and looking for real creative projects. Tell her/him that you value creativity and honest intellectual inquiry from now on. Take charge of your child's learning.

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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 Friday, 15 February 2019