Academic journal article Childhood Education

Learning How to Learn: The Arts as Core in an Emergent Curriculum

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Learning How to Learn: The Arts as Core in an Emergent Curriculum

Article excerpt

The arts mean different things to different people. While many of us enjoy and appreciate artistic experiences, we often find it difficult to explain exactly what we have come to know or understand as a result of our artistic encounters.

"That is a picture of a lily pond. It is visually pleasing" (i.e., aesthetic appreciation). "It makes me feel calm and relaxed, because it reminds me of my childhood" (it relates to personal life experiences). In these ways, the visual arts, dance, drama / play and music have suggestive qualities to which we attach special meaning. Furthermore, they communicate these qualities through symbolic language. Language is more, however, than just audible, articulate and meaningful sounds. It is also a systematic way of communicating by using conventional signs, gestures or words. Hence, the languages of the arts can express and externalize ideas, feelings and beliefs, and convey meanings and messages that evoke responses. Like all other areas of learning, therefore, the arts entail cognition (i.e., "knowing" that involves the processing of information).

Vygotsky (1962) linked the term "cognition" with a kind of inner speech. It is possible, of course, to process information and become aware of one's self and the environment in ways that do not always involve words. The arts allow perception, awareness, judgment and the expression of ideas to occur in ways that are not purely linguistic or mathematical, as in reading, writing, science and technology study (Gardner, 1983). These alternative ways of knowing may be most visible in young children, who are not always able to clearly express themselves verbally.

Gardner's (1983, 1989) theory of multiple intelligences expanded our view of nonverbal forms of knowledge. More recently, Gardner tested his theory by studying children's development as related to seven domains of intelligence (Gardner, 1991). These domains amplify traditional notions of intelligence (musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal). The study's results suggest that children as young as 4 can show distinctive styles of cognition. Some children interact with their environment predominantly through language use, others through spatial or visual means, and still others through social interactions.

Many preschool teachers have informally confirmed Gardner's findings, noting that some children steer away from certain visually oriented activities such as block-building or painting, and instead spend a great deal of time climbing or digging. Others enjoy creating musical compositions or playing in a "home corner" (the area of an early childhood center that usually contains a miniature kitchen, bedroom and other home-oriented resources), but they may not be very good at telling stories.

Gardner's views have particular appeal to early childhood educators who find that many young children interact with their environment through sensory, experiences and nonlinguistic forms of cognition. Perception may govern young children's views of reality, and it is often the basis for their developing logic. In other words, they learn through sensory experiences and through interacting with objects and people. Many of these experiences occur as forms of play and involve turning materials or actions into representation.

Italy's Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education provides similar ways of expressing the significance of children's nonverbal communication. In the program notes associated with "The Hundred Languages of Children," a Reggio Emilia exhibition, Malaguzzi (1987) highlighted a number of issues pertaining to the recognition that humans have the privilege of expressing themselves through a plurality of languages (apart from the spoken); specifically, every language has the right to realize itself fully, and, in the process, enrich other languages. The Reggio belief is that expressive, cognitive and communicative languages must exist in equal dignity and value. …

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