The content knowledge of visual art in young children

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As early childhood teachers, we need to understand the meaning the curriculum, because it gives us the scope and directions to implement teaching practices so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to each child's holistic development (Nuttall, 2002). Depending on diverse countries, cultures, beliefs and values, curriculum has a number of definitions (McGee, 1997). Gonzalez-Mena and Widmeyer Eyer state that curriculum means the subjects or courses, which refers to everything that happens throughout the day within an educational programme(Gonzalez-Mena & Widmeyer Eyer, 2004).Bredekamp and Rosegrant (1995) defines curriculum as an "organized framework that delineates the content that children are to learn, the process through which children achieve the identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children achieve these goals, and the context in which teaching and learning occur" (cited by Gordon & Brown, p.386). Similarly, Essa (2006) views curriculum in early children education as a holistically subject for children, which in relation to the holistically development of children. The term 'curriculum' is also defined as a method that teachers use to find out how children are progressing in basic academic areas such as math, reading, writing, and arts (Princeton City Schools, 2009). Moreover, the term curriculum is described as everything children see, hear, do, feel and learn in early childhood settings regardless of planned and unplanned (Duff, 2006).

New Zealand's national curriculum Te Whāriki, which is mainly influenced by two curriculum framework, Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Emergent Curriculum, is such a holistic framework that provides the goals and learning in children's development (New Zealand Tertiary College [NZTC], 2009). Te Whāriki views curriculum as "the sum total of the experience, activities, and event, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children's learning and development" (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 10).  It is a bicultural curriculum that regards Maori culture as an integral part of the curriculum. It is also a good curriculum to support children's learning. It helps children to develop their sense of well-being, belonging, contributing, communicating, and exploring(Ministry of Education, 1996).  . The New Zealand Curriculum is another curriculum that is a clear statement of what we want students to know and to be able to know.  It is a framework curriculum for teaching and learning in English- medium New Zealand schools. It specifies eight learning areas: English, the arts, health and physical education, learning languages, mathematics and statistics, science, social sciences and technology (Ministry of Education[MoE], 2007). Each learning areas has their own values and meanings for children's holistic development. It helps children to build on exiting knowledge and take it to higher levels. It also provides the direction and the framework for schools.  

 The arts in early childhood education are essentially about the child using their bodies and other media to interpret their thoughts and feelings. It reveals the impressive impact on children's cognitive, social and emotional development (Sousa, 2006). As an integrated part of art, visual art, (such as: painting, drawing, sculpture and photography) is an important aspect in young children's learning and development. The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) mentions that children develop visual literacy, aesthetic awareness, communicate skills and creative problem-solving skills by visual arts education. Meanwhile, their personal well-being and confidence is enhances(MoE, 2007).  Moreover, it also links to Te Whāriki's strand of exploration, because visual art is a way to explore new materials and experiment with an ongoing creative process. Through engaging in visual arts, children explore the environment that round them by using their senses, such as touch, see, smell, hear, and feel (Ministry of Education, 1996).

Most of young children are currently in the second stage of Piaget's theory. In symbolic play stage, they learn by imagining and doing. They tend to develop a set of visual symbols of their creation to represent familiar ideas (Dockett & Fleer, 2002). Therefore, compared with babies and toddlers, young children do not just limit on scribbling. Because there are a high development of their motor and gross skills, language skills and cognitive (Berk, 2001), they start to seek a schematic way of depicting what they know of the world (Graham & Jeffs,1993). For example, during my practicum, I found young children always tend to draw the things which they have personal knowledge, such as families, pets and the favorite stories. They can combine different shapes together to create definite things, but sometimes colour they use is not related to reality. Furthermore, art fosters young children's creativity. If children have had many experiences with visual art media, then they will utilize the information to create ( Moomaw & Hierongmous, 1999). Moreover, through visual art, young children could improve the ability to control large and small muscles and hand- eye coordination (Moomaw & Hierongmous, 1999). For example, teachers can provide play doughs and clays to improve children's finger strength. We also can provide different size brushes to help them develop control of the arm and wrist. Young children could refine hand-eye coordination by cutting or drawing. In addition, visual art also provide young children an opportunity to promote their social skills. When children share the art supplies and work spaces, they learn to consider the others needs. It will help them learn to cooperate and empathize with others. (Koster, 1997)). For instance, children would negotiate with their friends when they want to swap their art material. It is also an important part of language development. They learn new words when they describe what is happening in their picture ( Moomaw & Hierongmous, 1999).

 Early childhood teacher has a crucial role in guiding children's development through visual art.  Teachers could create an environment that supports the development of children's creativity by providing a wide variety of art materials and tools. The teacher could regularly change the materials to reflect long-range goals the centre's curriculum, and input from children ( Moomaw & Hierongmous, 1999). The teacher could also provide opportunities to let children explore many forms of art (such as painting, drawing, gluing sculpting and creating with multimedia) to let  young children start to have the basis concept of artist and develop artistic knowledge/skills, because children in those age will start to aware the role of art in the wider world( NZTC, 2009)..

Moreover, it is important for teachers to avoid creating product models, because modeled art tends to discourage children's interest in art rather than encourage it. Teachers could ask leading questions to assist child instead of drawing particular objects directly ( Moomaw & Hierongmous, 1999). For example, if we want our children to draw a monkey, we might ask "Does a monkey have a head? What does its tail look like? Is the monkey's tail long or short?"  Those questions will remind the young children what a monkey looks like and facilitate their artistic development.


In this essay, it has discussed the term 'curriculum' with the link of Te Whāriki and the New Zealand Curriculum. It has also examined the content knowledge in visual art area and how young children develop and learn in this area. As early childhood teachers, we need to use Te Whāriki and New Zealand Curriculum as a guild to enhance our understanding and knowledge about the visual art. We also need to use some teaching strategies to foster children's holistic development through implementing visual art's activities. .