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Why are the arts important to the education of young children? Present a short but informed general argument with specific examples drawn from two art forms.
The way children learn in their early years is important and it will indirectly influence their later development and learning. Therefore quality early experiences are viewed as crucial component needed for future achievement of the child. Every child has different ways of learning and to bring children's potential to the maximum, they must be given the opportunities to explore and experiment in the different areas of learning. Since children learn best through interaction with physical and social environment, arts in the form of drawing, painting, sculpture, music, dance and drama can stimulate children's senses. A stimulating environment created for such activities will enhance children's learning, thinking and creativity when they start to discover the world through senses, movement and body awareness. Providing opportunities to express their thoughts, ideas and feeling freely through arts not only enable the children to express things creatively, it also fosters the development of other domains such as physical, cognitive, language and social.
The importance of arts is viewed as a necessary component to be included in developing a child holistically in child development. Children who are exposed to beauty experiences will develop the skill to appreciate things that are taught to them in their early childhood setting. This development will ultimately lead to the appreciation and valuing of good design in their adulthood. At the same time, the concept development they acquire during the process enable them to have the ability to problem solve that involves thinking, imagining and decision making.
As mentioned by Jalongo & Stamp (1997) art education in early childhood is to create opportunities to experience and promote interest so as to learn to appreciate and develop the skill to evaluate art forms. Art helps people to understand about other cultures and examples has evidently shown that some of the information and knowledge we acquire about people from the past centuries were not recorded in the form of written words but rather in the form of drawing. The National Art Education Association(NAEA) also supported and viewed arts as the richest sources for understanding other cultures as they reveal the cultural activities and habits of the people through drawing and music.
Swanwick, K (1988) refer arts as a form of understanding one's thought as it express the feelings and actions of the person and they also 'give us a grasp of the growth and tenor of our civilization'. This will result in further thinking and clearer understanding as well as generating new ideas. The process can enhance the development of other skills and qualities of a person, such as the ability to control emotion better, more focused, meticulous and better interpersonal skill. However, he highlighted that arts must be perceived as stimulation of the mind that help to develop thinking, analysing, understanding and communicating skills and not just mere gaining experiences and acquire skills in education. Gullatt (2008), also mentioned that some researchers noted that physical and emotion are necessary components for the stimulation of mind that helps in the development of logical thinking. Without it, such development is not possible.
Swanwick, K (1988) further associate arts as play and use Piaget's theories to compare with the three elements of play that involved a child's learning through arts. The theories of Piaget discuss about children's intellectual development and his interest in finding out how human being construct knowledge. He believes that children built up their knowledge through various stages. The first stage being the sensorimotor stage whereby the children based on their senses to learn and develop about concepts through exploration and exposure to new experiences. The next stage is viewed as preoperational stage where the child use their past experiences to imagine as representation of objects. Each time, as they explore and experience, they start to find meaning in their representation and by doing so, they build-up their knowledge. During this stage, children also develop their linguistic abilities by using words as substitutes for objects. The third stage is known as the concrete operational stage whereby the children are equip with the abilities to classify objects, recognizes difference as well as able to reason about relationship between objects. These stages are similar to the three elements - mastery, imitation and imaginative respectively.
Drawing and music activities occur in stages, that is from simple to complex when new knowledge replaces the existing. Such processes involve developmental changes in the children's learning.
Learning in other domains also takes place through art activities. Through art education, children acquire knowledge, understanding and skills that help them in the development of physical, intellectual, emotional and social domains (PIES). Custodero, (2005), highlighted that learning takes place when engaged in creative work. Since such work involves critical thinking and problem solving for solution, it creates meaning which in turn create new knowledge. Children at the same time developed their observational and visualization skills.
Alvino, (2000), pointed out that arts allow children to enjoy success as it develop children's skills in eye-hand coordination, persistent, patience and good working habits. Besides visual arts, performing together during music and movement, dance or drama also gives children the opportunities to develop social skills as they work together as a team cooperatively. It further instils confidence and pride in their work.
Drawing is a cognitive process and by allowing the children to explore, experiment with colour, line, size, shape, texture and gain control of the materials, they can express their ideas, feelings and how they view the world. They develop an understanding of cause and effect. It also enables them to convey through drawing the things that they may not be able to express with words. Subjects like science and maths sometime use drawing to represent date or information like graph or chart. Children use drawing to show the life cycle of a bean plant instead of writing to record the process.
Drawing offers opportunities for physical development by developing the fine motor skill that is necessary for writing. Literacy skills can be developed if children are given the opportunities to 'reflect and respond to their own arts works and the works of others' as suggested by Wright, (2003). They will develop the skills to think, describe and talk before they start to read and write. Cooke, G et al., (1998) also mentioned that from the picture book, comics and advertisement, children are able or rather have developed the skill to tell and predict what the story or drawing might be. For the older children who can read and write, their vocabularies and concepts will be enhanced through sharing their thoughts and understanding and once again, this is supported by Cooke, G et al., (1998) who believed that children will learn faster if there is constant transmission of knowledge and skill between people. Children's drawings make sense to them as it represents their knowledge, meaning and values they have. It will help adults and teachers to understand them better as it is a form of communicating of information and ideas as well as telling them their feelings.
When we hear music, our body will sometime move naturally in response to the melody. Children too responses to music and feel delighted and may also sing along even though they might not get the words or tune right. Wright, (2003) viewed music as a way children used to explore their bodies movement as well as to express their feelings. By exploring the body movements, children develop their motor skills at the same time. The development of musical interests happens progressively through age and as children grows, their interests will broaden due to the exposure of different musical experiences and their movement abilities are also different. (Marjorie, K et al., 2007; Wright, 2003)
Children age two to three are exposed to simple song and rhythm accompanied with few types of movements and most of the times start off with imitating the movements. This is one of the important steps for the children to acquire movement vocabularies as suggested by Wright, (2003). As the children get older, they are more focused and involved in music and movement as they can follow directions and take turns. They have expanded their movement vocabularies and if given the opportunities and motivation, they can develop confidence by trying out new ideas through observation and that might give them a better understanding of the movements. Music activities contribute to cognitive and social development when children learn to listen to changes in the tempo and pitches. New words and concepts will be introduced through songs and movement. Children's creativity, imagination and problem solving skill will be enhanced if given the chance to compose songs, create dance steps or sound effects using musical instruments. Music and movement enable the children to work together cooperatively as a group as well as sharing and taking turn.
Arts education not only enhances development and learning in the aesthetic area, it also does so in other domains. By carrying out an activity, example in drawing and music and movement, children benefits in other developments. The creative process need to take time to occur. Children need time to try out their ideas, imitate what they see and hear and at the same time using existing resources to put materials together and taking it apart to experience. The process of children involving in art activities are important than the finished product. It is through this process, children's creativity is exhibited as they are actively engage in manipulating and exploring the objects provided for them. Therefore it is worth the time and efforts for educators to plan meaningful aesthetic experiences that make learning interesting and exciting whereby children can fully get involved and engaged.