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When engaging through art viewing and art making experiences, these can in turn be very strong and rich indicators in the visual arts in the domain of learning for young children (Eckhoff, 2007). However, Eckhoff further states that art viewing and making isn’t seen as a strong component in early childhood education and in some cases can become non-existent in their curriculum. However, it is clearly stated in the national education standards and curriculum that art viewing experiences is an essential component of children from birth to eight years.
Art isn’t truly defined by Eckhoff. According to Eisner, (1994), art is a form of representing your own personal ideas and your own concepts to the public eye. This is a broad definition of art, and doesn’t clarify what children’s art entails. Many people convey to us what children’s art really is. Young children use their art to communicate to others, what their own understandings and views of the world are, before they ‘acquire means of conveying their thoughts and feelings with words’, (Danko-Mc Ghee and Slutsy, 2003 cited in Bae 2004). Not only does art help children to communicate with the outside world, it helps develop their Cognitive, Emotional, Social and Sensory Motor Skills. Creating an image of something expresses the way a child might feel. Children in my view need art to give them a voice, so that their feelings can be seen, as in most cases, would not be heard. Children need to have the freedom of art, and not simply shown what to do. The Highscope method highlights this theory and gives children a voice and lets them choose what they want to draw, colour, paint etc. However not all approaches are like this, and in my opinion, when we talk about art, the Highscope approach best fits the children’s needs. Art is a learning experience that provides the child with many challenges, which in turn when achieved gives them a sense of pleasure. Through art, the child will learn complex thinking skills and will be able to master developmental tasks put in front of them (Belden and Fessard, 2001 cited in Reyner, 2007). It is the activities that early years educators set out that engage and encourages the child’s developmental skills to evolve even more. Art activities provide a foundation for children with learning experiences through sensory skills that they can master at their own rate. Not only does these activities help children develop their skills, but the activities laid out should be designed in a way that they incorporate the children’s own work, and should not be told by a practitioner what to do or how to do it to a certain extent.
One of the most important people in children’s art is adults. The adult has a role in providing the child with materials and accessories needed, and in turn, these materials provide different skill developments. The child might also discover new skills and in turn develop these (Reyner, 2007). The adult and practitioner have a more important role than just providing the materials and the sanctuary in which the art is created. Grainger (2004), claims that as professionals more must be done than just recognize and provide multimedia objects for children. She believes the adult must do more than just the ordinary practitioner and create an environment where the children can use their creativity and imaginative skills as best as possible. However, it is thought that this isn’t being done. From being on placement in an early years setting, I have seen first-hand that this isn’t happening and that the practitioner is simply handing the bare minimum materials to the child, and telling them what they must create. This isn’t in any way helping the child develop his creative or imaginative skills. Practitioners should have full resources available to the children, and should support the needs of the child as best they can.
In today’s world, art is seen as a struggle in Early Years Education. It is not just seen as a struggle from an outsider’s point of view, yet the educators themselves find it hard to educate children through art. Early Childhood Educators continue to struggle with different ideas around the concept of art and where it stands in the early year’s curriculum. Not only this, they also find it very hard to teach it to children and struggle to find the most effective way to do so (Twigg and Garvis, 2010). In Early Years Settings, the practitioners find it hard to fit art into their daily routine. However this should not be the case, as art is seen as a strong component for children in developing a range of different skills, previously highlighted by Reyner (2007). This was the view of Educators of Queensland, Australia. In New Zealand, teachers know their role when it comes to art educating. In New Zealand, children are given the time and space to express their ideas. It is seen as a child-centered approach. This is set in an environment where creativity and experimentation is encouraged by teachers. The teachers themselves adopt a non-interventional role as a facilitator. They provide the child with adequate resources, an environment in which they feel most comfortable, and continuously offering praise to the child for their efforts. Children are encouraged in developing their skills; observe themselves and others around them, to create and plan in their daily cycle and also to reflect their own pieces of art work. The teacher’s role was to help and scaffold this process (Stott, 2011). However this isn’t the case here in Ireland in some settings. The teacher’s role in art is an unclear and ambiguous concept and some teachers try to neglect art as a subject that needs to be taught. In New Zealand the teacher is an essential part of the child’s life in that it provides the child with these opportunities to develop their skills.
Stott goes on to highlight the views of Ballengee-Morris and Stuhr (2001), that visual art should be taught ‘contextually’ and not just as an isolated subject. They believed this should be the way in teaching art to children as it would provide a better understanding of how children see their lives in which they live.
Jean Piaget, a developmental psychologist, argued in Margaret Brooks (2007) Journal Article, that a child performing an art activity such as drawing reflected the child’s cognitive competence. Piaget didn’t however believe that drawing acted as domain of development, yet it gave us an insight into the child’s overall cognitive development. Brooks (2007) , then gave her own personal opinion to Piaget’s view of art. She believed that when a child creates a drawing, the drawing itself involves all of the child’s past and present experiences, which would also incorporate the child’s imagination and emergent thinking. What Brooks is trying to highlight in her journal is that drawing involves many skills, including imagination, creativity, observation, memory and most importantly experience. This theory once again highlights what Reyner (2007) believes art involves also. When a child begins to draw, it begins to become fully engaged with the object being drawn. With all of Brooks’ theory in mind, a longitudinal research study was carried out in 2003 to investigate drawing activities done in the child’s home, preschool and schools. Ring (2003), carried out the study and investigated how the children were doing when drawing activities were being carried out by adults. The study found that the ‘child’s voice was not being heard’. The adults and practitioner were doing the drawings for the children and were not letting the children use their own creativity and imagination, and this in turn, goes against what Margaret Brooks believed drawing for children involved. It is the adults and practitioners who lack theoretical preparation when it comes to teaching art in early childhood. They have their own views on art yet none have theoretical back up and supporting evidence.
”Arts education policy is subject to the interplay of many values, de¬nitions, and approaches regarding both the arts and education. Some believe the arts are basic to education; other see them as important, but less than basic; still others see them as a low priority or expendable, given the importance of other core academic subjects such as mathematics and English language arts”(Heilig, Cole and Aguilar, 2010).
However, personal opinions aren’t really accepted and are not seen as ‘best practice’. As previously mentioned, this is the case nowadays in Ireland. In two of the early years settings that I have attended, and also a Primary school, this appears to be the case in both of them. The adult ended up doing the art activities themselves, and when asked ‘why they are doing the activity for the children?’ their response was ‘to make the finished article look good’. It is in early years were children’s drawings change and their understanding and attitudes change. This change can be guided by adults and practitioners, however in the wrong way (Bae, 2004). The views of adults and practitioners of what art really means in early years varies from one person to the next. Bae claims that children use art to communicate their feelings, understandings and views of the world. This is the same view that Harris (1963) has that children use their art to express their ideas, feelings and emotions on a page. They both back up Reyner’s theory previously mentioned.
In conclusion, art in early years education in today’s world has different and contrasting views from many different people. This leads into primary school education. Here in Ireland, many programs have been set up to combat the problems that some practitioners might have when it comes to teach art. We as an educational framework are seriously falling behind to other countries in particular New Zealand. They have a framework built around art which helps the practitioners understand their role as an early year’s educator and how to use art as best they can to develop children’s developmental skills. The method of letting a child create their own art work and not by the adult is how I see best the child will develop their own skills. I don’t see this being the case here in Ireland were it can be seen that some setting’s still tell the child how to do things and what way to do it. I would be strongly of the opinion that this area is a possible avenue for further research and analysis.
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