Floating Experiences: Empowering Early Childhood Educators to Encourage Critical Thinking in Young Children through the Visual Arts

By Danko-McGhee, Kathy; Slutsky, Ruslan | Art Education, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Floating Experiences: Empowering Early Childhood Educators to Encourage Critical Thinking in Young Children through the Visual Arts


Danko-McGhee, Kathy, Slutsky, Ruslan, Art Education


Engagement in the arts ... nurtures the development of cognitive, social, and personal competencies ... when well taught, the arts provide young children with authentic learning experiences that engage their minds (Arts Education Partnership, 1999, p. 2).

In order to get children to think critically, the teachers of those children need to become comfortable with the problem-solving process themselves. In this article, we illustrate how preservice early childhood and art education teachers were immersed in a critical thinking activity prior to engaging young children in it. The experience was part of a course we co-taught on the Reggio Emilia approach.

The course was taught in 2 weeks, meeting a total of 36 hours, during the summer semester, '!he first week was spent discussing the Reggio Emilia approach, which included viewing videos that provided students with opportunities to see how children in the Reggio Emilia schools engage in long-term projects and test theories related to these projects. Discussion also allowed students to gain insight into what in Reggio Emilia is known as the "Hundred Languages," which is a metaphor used by the Reggio Emilia educators to mean that children have at their disposal 100 languages to communicate their ideas, knowledge, and experiences (Hdwards, Gandini, & Fornian, 1998). For example, a child using clay to tell a story or to explain an idea or concept is using one of the 100 languages. The clay becomes a language through which thoughts and ideas can be communicated, thus involving critical thinking skills.

During the first week of class, students watched a video on a long-term project that took place in a Reggio Emilia school and discussed the meaning of the "Hundred Languages." We also reviewed other components of the Reggio Emilia philosophy that included the importance of the learning environment as a 'third teacher'; the project approach which involves an in-depth study that tocuses on the interests of children; the importance ot viewing the child as knowledgeable and capable of leading the learning experience; the teacher as facilitator rather than director of learning experiences, and the power of documentation as an assessment of learning (Edwards, Fandini, & Eorman, 1998).

Through Reggio inspired art experiences, students examined the "Hundred Languages" and the project approach in the second week of class. The "Hundred Languages" were explored through a wide variety art materials that included clay, wire, paints, a variety of papers, a light (able, various printmaking and weaving materials, and a variety of drawing tools. These materials were introduced and university students were shown a variety of ways in which the materials could be used. They were often left alone for individual or group exploration of possible learning experiences that could result from using these materials. The goal of this second week was to help university students explore these languages so that they would discover the many opportunities and ways for using them creatively in helping their own students develop problem-solving, visual perception/discrimination, critical thinking and social skills. The cloud project discussed here evolved from one of these experiences.

The Cloud Project

The cloud project included two components: a class discussion and a hands-on experience. The first component of the project involved students in a discussion about clouds and related weather conditions. Stories about clouds were read, such as It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw (1993); Cloud Dance by Thomas Locker (2000); and Little Cloud by Kric Carle (1996). In the second component, students explored ways of making their own clouds. For this cloud-making activity, students used small plastic bags and white foam paint. Each bag was filled three quarters of the way with the foam paint followed by adding an assortment of liquid watercolors. Students manipulated the colors in order to make new colors. …

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