This involves giving significance to children's everyday experiences and developing imagination, and organising ways of meeting their learning needs through art.
The teacher should have some understanding of children's visual imagery and some practical experience of the processes of making art with the materials the children will use. An understanding of the stages of development in art will enable the teacher to plan ways of meeting individual learning needs in accordance with the agreed objectives of the school plan. Practical experience in handling materials and tools is essential to understanding their expressive possibilities and the challenges they pose for children at the different stages of development.
A child's record may indicate insufficient or inadequate experience in looking and seeing, or insufficient experience in handling and exploring the possibilities of materials and tools in one or more media. Children at infant level may require more time and greater depth of experience in some of the strands. Older children may need to re-interpret the activities outlined for a level or more below that recommended for their age to help them find their present level of visual expression.
When the teacher is setting openended tasks, planning could include opportunities to chose materials and tools for different tasks, to help develop awareness of their creative potential. Work procedures should be organised so that changes in children's understanding and expression can be observed and recorded in simple form, both during and on completion of work, as an aid to future planning.
A theme or topic that is relevant to children's experience should be chosen in advance, or may occasionally arise spontaneously during a motivating session. Through planned and openended questioning, children should be stimulated to conjure up ideas, feelings, images and experiences which are significant for them. Verbal stimuli could be used, as well as visual, aural (sounds) or kinaesthetic (dance, drama), and they would include visually descriptive poems and prose extracts.
Areas of the children's experience would include
- the world they know and live in
- people and other creatures
- the fantastic and the mysterious.
This approach enables children to 'live' the experience, real or imagined, and to make a response that is unique to themselves.
Practical starting points
One of the most challenging tasks facing the teacher is knowing how to introduce a particular art activity. Purposeful art activities begin with a stimulus that fires the children's interest and imagination and makes them want to get started. Any one of the activities that underpins guided discovery methods, or a combination of them, is a possible starting point. These include
A particular starting point may be more appropriate for work in some media than in others: for example, using materials and tools is the most appropriate starting point for print. Ideas for working in other media may be triggered by one or more of the suggested starting points and the teacher may choose between them. To maintain the integrated nature of the strand units, the work of artists and craftspeople could be used as a stimulus in conjunction with the other suggested starting points.
Working from children's experience and imagination
Much of children's art evolves from their everyday experiences, real or imagined, and they often need some form of stimulus to trigger a visual response to them. Their interest must be sparked from the outset through brief and focused motivating sessions. Experiences of home and school, play, friends, hobbies, special occasions and places must be given a sense of immediacy so that they become sources of exciting and rewarding art work. Sensory experiences of sight, sound or touch, or evocative language, can stimulate them to live or relive events and give them the confidence to express them visually in a personally meaningful way. Learning to perceive and enjoy the world through sensory experiences and to respond visually and verbally is a continuing challenge that must be repeated throughout the primary years. Their experience in handling materials and tools and their developing observational skills will influence the quality of expression.
In expressing experience, children portray themselves, their families, their relationships with people close to them, and the ordinary, everyday things they do. These have importance for them because they themselves are involved, and they gain satisfaction in depicting the various situations that affect their everyday lives. A developing imagination provides outlets for inventiveness, fantasy and everyday experience in the first years in school.
As they progress through school, expressing experience continues to be of central importance, especially their relationships with their friends:
- 'playing a game with my friends'
- 'listening to our favourite band'.
A consciousness of self and context can be expressed in 'my room' or 'our street', for example. Older children again may express the importance they attach to 'image': the desire to be accepted by their peer group and the objects and activities that acceptance endorses, for example clothes, music and whatever is in fashion. There should also be a place for expressing personal and more individual interests. Imaginative themes tailored to their age and interests can result in amazingly lively and original work. This should be supported, however, by working from observation so that they are not embarrassed by their work -- by their drawing of a figure in action, for example. Besides its obvious place in pictorial work, imagination is essential in designing, planning and inventing in two and three dimensions, and children show great enthusiasm in these areas.
Using materials and tools as stimulus
Focusing on the visual and tactile qualities of materials and tools can be an exciting starting point for an art activity. Children should experience the joy of handling and manipulating a wide variety of materials and tools so that they can learn to use them with confidence. The less experience they have had, the more important it is to talk about the discoveries they make and the possibilities they see for creativity and invention. They should also be encouraged to talk about the media they like best to work with or those they think most suitable for a particular task, and why. The discoveries and the decisions they make when they dab, dribble, swirl, strike, push, pull, tear, roll, confine, build, arrange, form and balance with materials and tools are an essential part of their development in making and responding to art. Initial experiments could form short, complete lessons in themselves, especially with younger children. Subsequent experiments should be designed to deepen understanding and expression, to encourage risk-taking and to develop increasing control in using materials and tools.
Working from observation and curiosity
Young children explore the characteristics of their physical world both directly by seeing and handling objects from nature, for example, and by exploring the physical characteristics of art materials. Texture, colour and form, for example, are all closely examined and marvelled at. They also investigate how objects and people relate to each other in space. From babyhood there is a consuming interest in such concepts as inside/ outside, up/down, before/behind, and with things being hidden and reappearing. This can be discerned both in the three-dimensional work of children and in their drawings, and they often find refreshingly original ways of expressing these spatial concepts. The classroom should have lively collections and displays of natural objects as well as interesting bric-à-brac, which are regularly changed as soon as they cease to be a focus of interest.
As children progress beyond infant level, interpreting from direct observation can be introduced increasingly and it becomes especially important during the last years of primary school. It informs their expression, helps them to get beyond repeated symbols, and answers to a natural analytical curiosity. It can also enrich and inform their approaches to design and construction in three dimensions. A chosen theme can be backed up or initiated by looking at relevant work by artists, designers or craftspeople.
Using the work of artists and craftspeople as stimulus
Children's immediate and keen responses to art objects and images can be a valuable starting point for art activities. They should have many opportunities to contemplate a wide variety of great achievements in the visual arts and enjoy them for their own sake. At times a practical activity designed to enhance their looking and responding to art can be enriching. Learning to 'read' what an art work is about, how it was made and what was intended, and having time to reflect on how they feel about it, can help to reinforce children's understanding and appreciation of their own work and the work of others. Access to a wide range of art styles and traditions would help them to see how their own interpretation of a theme relates to the work of artists or craftspeople and to see themselves as part of the worldwide community of art workers. An art work should always be used as a stimulus to imaginative activity, however, and not as an excuse for imitation or pastiche.
The classroom climate
An accepting, supportive work environment is essential to the development of children's creativity. In the visual arts class, the acceptance of individual children's ideas and the value placed on activities and on the completed work all contribute to creating a suitable classroom climate.
Where the teacher and pupils can, in an open and honest way, discuss and question personal ideas, feelings and experiences, and ways of expressing them, the working atmosphere will be supportive and sufficiently structured to allow the children to develop in their own way, increasingly independent of the teacher. An approach to teaching the visual arts that values children's experience helps to develop their confidence to formulate and ask questions, and to find their own answers. Such a learning environment is trusting of how children want to work and of their ability to be responsible for their work. Children's developing confidence in their ability to communicate ideas visually and verbally will enable them to develop their own personal and highly individual forms of expression.