Art and Photography

Making Meaning in Early Years Art

Early years’ psychologists suggest that children’s self-directed art activities are ‘wasted time’, but Sue Lyle shows how seeing young children as intellectually capable and taking their artistic expression seriously can have a profound impact on their learning experience.

When I visited Swedish kindergartens this year I was struck by the quality and depth of the children’s artistic expressions. This led me to ask questions about the work of the Atelierista in the school. An Atelierista is a teacher with a visual arts background who works with the other teachers and the children to develop arts-based projects to summarise children’s learning experiences. Each kindergarten had an atelier (workshop or studio area) with its tools and art materials and the children spend one day a week in the studio. Art is a vehicle for enquiry in the kindergartens, and the learning taking place is very different to what I usually see in the UK. The children are taught to use art tools and are given the space to express themselves not for art’s sake, but as a source of development. The adults help the children to express their ideas because they respect them as being capable of artistic expression and they have respect for the young child. This got me wondering. Why is it that in the UK we don’t hesitate to engage in direct instruction in the basic tools of literacy and numeracy, but not in using art tools? Part of this can be explained by the problematic relationship we have between the creative arts and education in the UK that starts in the nursery, and this made me think about an experience I had recently when I visited a morning playgroup.

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