Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Learning from Early Childhood Philosophy, Theory and Pedagogy: Inspiring Effective Art Education

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Learning from Early Childhood Philosophy, Theory and Pedagogy: Inspiring Effective Art Education

Article excerpt


When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college--that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said 'You mean they forget?'(Ikemoto in Weiler, 2011, p. 1).

In the early years of life, art-making is characteristic to childhood. Children do not question whether their work is of quality, whether they are good at it, or whether they can actually draw; this is of no concern. It is play, it is fun and it is a language of learning. As parents and adults, we celebrate the art of our children. It papers the walls, the fridge and the screensaver, and yet as children grow, they lose their confidence and motivation. Could it be that we educate it out of them?

The significance of a strong arts education has been highlighted in recent years (Ewing, 2013) with the importance of the arts as a mandatory learning area addressed in recent national and state curriculum documents (see for example, ACARA, 2013; NSW Board of Studies, n.d.). Art plays a 'significant role in how meaning is made in people's lives and provides an opportunity to explore social and cultural values and different forms of communication' (p. 6). Further, research mainly originating from North America substantiates the benefits of an arts-rich education (Catterall, 2009; Davis, 2008, 2012; Eisner, 2006, 2011; Ewing, 2011; Gibson & Ewing, 2011). Students who have strong arts engagement in educational settings experience advantages over time and the positive effects of such learning lasts long after the student has left formal schooling (Rabkin in Catterall, 2009).

That said, research reports that teachers in primary school lack confidence in teaching the arts (Alter, Hays & O'Hara, 2009) and feel they do not have time to teach the arts in an already crowded curriculum (Garvis, 2012). Art-making in this context is considered to be teacher-directed, product-oriented and lacking in artistic merit (Schirrmacher, 2002), as Eckhoff (2013) states 'primary school art is often shallow, linear explorations of art media and methods culminating in a pre-determined model' (p. 365).

This inquiry explores effective art education in an early childhood setting and reports the theory, philosophy and pedagogies used to inspire educators from both early childhood and primary settings to support educators to become confident in their arts teaching.

The arts in early childhood education

Educators' pedagogical decisions are crucial to understanding the provision of an exemplary arts-enriched program. The pedagogical approaches in any educational environment, whether that environment be early childhood, primary or secondary, influences learning outcomes. Thus, the decisions made by educators directly influence children's opportunities for art-making and learning. The way the educator sets up the learning environment, the types of art-making experiences, the repeated opportunities and the educator's interactions with the children influence learning outcomes. If the educator provides activities that have predetermined visual outcomes, what will the children learn? If, on the other hand, the educator provides opportunities for children to paint every day with good quality art materials, with an educator who raises the child's awareness about their art-making, what are they likely to learn? These questions are critical.

Within Australian early childhood settings, where the curriculum is less explicit and less content-oriented than in primary schools, the authors are aware of many examples of outstanding art programs. Critically, there are few examples of these programs documented, nor is there analysis as to how these programs are developed and implemented. In situations where there are a lack of resources to guide educators and their preparation, teachers may feel inadequately prepared to deliver a quality arts education (Alter et al. …

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