Why Art is Important for Young Children
Before making decisions about what to include in our arts programs and how we will go about our work with the children, it is important to give some thought to why we make such decisions. Without some strong philosophical underpinnings, our visual arts programs could be simply a series of ad hoc activities or the slavish following of a formula.
Research in early childhood art education has enjoyed an increased amount of attention over the recent years (e.g., Bresler, 1994; Kindler, 1996; Matthews, 1999; Piscitelli, 1996; Thompson, 1995; Wright, 2000). A review of the literature shows multiple forces pulling in different directions, with policy statements emerging from the field of early childhood and the field of art education. Uncertainties are perpetuated in a number of common beliefs or myths about the nature of art, development, and creativity of young children (Kindler, 1996).
The complexity and diversity of influences that have shaped views on the teaching of art can be understood as a palimpsest, a term that describes the way in which the ancient parchments used for writing were written over, but new messages only partially obliterated the original message beneath. Both the new and the original messages still stand, albeit partially erased and interrupted (Davies, 1993). A reading of the numerous philosophies and practices of art education throughout our relatively recent history allows us to see familiar things in new ways. This new way of seeing enables the continuous exploration of new ideas in bids to improve practice, while recognizing that traces of previous thinking are not always completely obliterated but instead recur, shape, and interact with new developments.
At the site where a young child is learning about art, there are points where ideas about the child, art, and teaching meet, sometimes connecting, sometimes colliding, sometimes competing. We have beliefs that have shaped our ways of seeing the child, art, and teaching. Media can enhance our understanding of children and the art media themselves and how we can scaffold young children's learning within these media.
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