Structure and layout
The visual arts curriculum is structured to provide a broad-based and balanced programme for each of four levels: infant classes, first and second classes, third and fourth classes and fifth and sixth classes. Each level has six strands, which are organised to ensure a balance between making art and looking at and responding to art.
The strands are
- Paint and colour
- Fabric and fibre
Activities in each strand are interrelated and they involve the children in perceiving and exploring the visual world and making art and in looking at and responding to the visual world and art works. These activities help to develop sensitivity to the elements of the visual world and to develop the child's ability to communicate visually. They involve awareness of line, shape, form, colour and tone, pattern and rhythm, texture and spatial organisation.
The development of perceptual awareness helps children to see and to understand the world around them and to express their ideas, feelings and experiences in visual form. Attentive looking helps them to make connections between their own work and the work of others. It also helps to develop concentration and the ability to focus attention generally. These experiences are an essential part of every art lesson.
A threefold structure is suggested for choosing thematic content or subject matter, based on children's
- observation and curiosity.
This structure provides opportunities for children to give visual expression to inner concerns which may be difficult to put into words, to give expression to the wonderful world of the imagination, and to pursue their curiosity in the physical attributes of the world. Very often two or even three of these are being drawn on in a single art activity or project, at varying levels of emphasis.
Children soon discover drawing as a natural way of communicating experience. Through drawing, they create and express imaginary worlds and give free expression to their imaginative powers. Older children also use drawing to clarify, develop and communicate plans. As they progress they demonstrate a developing visual awareness in their drawings and a sensitivity to the expressive powers of other artists' drawings.
Paint and colour
Children develop an understanding and appreciation of colour from observation of and delight in colour seen in nature and in manufactured objects, and they use colour to express their experiences, interests and imaginative ideas. As they progress they demonstrate a developing awareness of colour in their own work, a growing sensitivity to other artists' expressive use of colour and its impact on crafted and designed objects.
Through experiences in print-making, children learn to focus attention on and deepen their understanding of graphic processes. They have opportunities to experiment with print-making techniques, to use them inventively, and to produce prints for functional use as well as for their own sake. As they progress they learn to take a more thoughtful approach to shape, edges, layout and composition in print-making and develop sensitivity to the expressive qualities in the work of graphic artists.
Children enjoy the freedom to form and change clay and to use it imaginatively. Through experience of clay and from a need for expression, they learn the skills of forming and changing it in increasingly purposeful ways. As well as sculptural expression, they have opportunities to design and make objects for use and wear (the latter to a limited extent in the absence of a kiln), using their powers of invention and expression. Developing sensitivity to underlying form in the environment and in art works enables them to enjoy and appreciate great sculpture and to appreciate craft objects critically.
Construction activities provide opportunities for exploring imaginative worlds in three-dimensional media. Children are encouraged to make imaginative and expressive use of materials for designing and inventing and to make models to their own design. This involves exploring the possibilities of the materials, experimenting with new ways of balancing and combining them, and developing understanding of structural strengths and possibilities. Experience in construction helps children to look with curiosity and enjoyment at structures in nature and to develop sensitivity to and appreciation of the structures of great architects, sculptors, and craftspeople.
Fabric and fibre
Work in fabric and fibre helps children to be curious about how everyday fabrics are structured and develops greater sensitivity to colour and tone,texture, line and shape. They are encouraged to use fabric and fibre as materials for imaginative invention in both two- and three-dimensions, for example to use free stitching as a way of changing or developing a fabric surface; to create their own fabric, using fibre imaginatively and with a developing range of techniques; to use fabric and fibre to interpret three-dimensional natural forms, and to express imaginative play through puppets and costume-making.
Through work in fabric and fibre, children begin to understand some craft procedures and skills and some of the creative design processes in craft weaving, knitting and fashion design, for example. As they progress they develop the ability to appraise craft materials critically for suitability for a particular task, as well as the artefacts and art works that are carried out in these media.
The visual elements
A basic understanding of the visual elements is essential to purposeful teaching in the visual arts. Line, shape, form, colour and tone, pattern and rhythm, texture and spatial organisation are the basics of two-dimensional and three-dimensional composition. The teacher should be aware of the visual elements and informally draw attention to them as they arise in the children's work, in the work of artists and in the observed environment. Awareness of the elements and their interplay is essential to quality design in both two and threedimensional work, including craft. A developing visual vocabulary and a growing ability to think visually and spatially help to focus children as they strive for visual expression.
Line is the basic element in children's early drawings. In art work, line can create shape, pattern, movement and unity in a composition. Line can be thick, thin, textured, delicate, bold, curved, straight, continuous or broken. Children soon discover that lines can make shapes and they use them to invent their symbols.
Shape is created by merging, touching and intersecting lines. It can also be defined by colour and tone and by texture. Everything has a silhouette shape as well as other internal shapes. The shapes that emerge between shapes are called negative shapes. Shapes can be regular or irregular, closed or open.
Form is the name given to threedimensional shape. It is solid. Form can be modelled in clay, Plasticine or papier mâché. Ways of suggesting three-dimensional form on a flat plane (surface) are explored through drawing and painting.
Colour and tone
Colour in art is referred to in terms of hue, tone, intensity and temperature. The basic characteristic of pure colour is called hue, for example yellow, red, blue. Tone is the lightness or darkness of a hue. Intensity refers to the relative strength or weakness of a hue. Temperature in art terms (but not in precise scientific terms) refers to the warm and cool halves of the colour spectrum. Developing awareness of colour and its impact on everyday life is vital to developing children's visual awareness and awareness of the effects they can create with colour in their own work.
Pattern and rhythm
Pattern is the constant repetition, with variation, found in everything from the pattern of sea shells to the forms of hills and clouds. The teacher draws attention to pattern and rhythm in nature, in art and in the children's work as it arises. Children can use pattern and rhythm as a design element in two or threedimensional compositions to achieve unity, variety, movement and directional force.
Texture is the roughness or smoothness of a surface. Everything has texture. Surfaces may be silky, shiny, hairy or bumpy, for example. Texture is an important aspect of the visual and not just the tactile world. Children need opportunities to work on variously textured surfaces and to discover their own ways of suggesting textures seen in nature.
Spatial organisation in two-dimensional work is concerned with creating an illusion of space and depth on a flat surface and also with organising the flat picture plane. Three-dimensional work (construction, for example) involves finding ways of working with various closed or open spaces or compartments to create structures: this applies to non-representational as well as to representational or imaginative structures.
The visual elements in context
Learning in art is activity-based and developmental and it builds on children's previous experience in different media. Children develop awareness of the visual elements and their interplay through making art and through looking at and responding to art works. While they have relevance for all six strands, attention should be drawn to them informally, in context and without undue emphasis at primary level. Children learn to use line, shape, colour and tone, pattern and rhythm and texture expressively and for design purposes through opportunities to look closely at the visual environment and to draw and paint themes that have personal meaning for them. Simple print-making and creative work in fabric and fibre help to further this development. Children acquire a very immediate sense of form through working with clay. How people, objects or abstract elements relate to each other in space is a primary concern in the art of children as well as in that of artists. Young children struggle very creatively with this and invent their own ways of suggesting space. Older children, who generally want things to look 'right', will be interested in seeing how artists solve spatial problems in non-representational as well as in representational work. Careful planning ensures that opportunities for developing visual awareness are built in to every art lesson.
The emphases in the curriculum
The emphases in this curriculum are:
- understanding the creative process children go through in making art
- understanding the stages of development in children's art and their relevance for drawing in particular
- the provision of a broad, six-strand curriculum to which drawing is central and which incorporates art, craft and design activities in a balance of two- and threedimensional media
- balancing opportunities to make art with opportunities to look at and make a personal response to art.
The creative process
In making art, the process of making is as valuable as the final product. The emphasis is on exploring and experimenting with the expressive possibilities of different materials, tools and media and with the choices they offer for different tasks. Talking about their work and, when appropriate, as they work is central to this process.
The atmosphere during the art class must always be challenging, motivating and supportive and must allow the children to express understanding of their world in a personal way. The teacher must constantly be alert to their needs and successes to ensure that they are involved in a creative rather than in a passive or imitative way.
To focus concentration and encourage effort as children work, the teacher moves among them, discussing, questioning and, where necessary, directing observation and helping to rekindle interest that has waned or courage that has failed. The teacher should be sensitive to when such intervention would be helpful and when not. When children are disappointed by their efforts, their difficulties are discussed to help them pinpoint the problem area. Positive aspects should also be discussed, for example how well they saw and interpreted a particular curve, shape, colour or mood. Questions should be designed to elicit a visual and at times kinaesthetic response and to stimulate the children to further concentration and involvement:
- I like that colour: how did you make it?
- Was that your favourite jumper/dress? Did it have a design on it?
- Do you remember how your legs went when you were running?
- Can you show me the way the dog's mouth went when he snarled at you?
- Can you make a big movement with your hand to show me the way that twig curves/the flow of your friend's long hair/water going down the sink?
The task of the teacher is not to teach clever techniques or to demonstrate ways of producing images and forms he/she finds acceptable but to build on interests and strengths by drawing the children out and making suggestions as appropriate. Children should not be taught to follow instructions unquestioningly, as this is likely to hinder creativity and spontaneity. They should be helped to appreciate the value of working independently and on their own initiative, and experimentation and interpretation should be encouraged equally in twoand three-dimensional work. In an art lesson, the children should remain the designers: this role should not be taken from them.
Extra care should be given to considering the creative process when integrating with other curricular areas: it is possible to combine different sets of objectives without losing the integrity of any.
The stages of development in children's art
Patterns of development are discernible in children's art up to the end of primary schooling. They are most evident in children's imagery and they provide a broad outline of typical progress. They begin with mark-making and so-called 'scribble pictures' and may develop to where realistic representation is the main concern. A personal set of symbols (their own visual interpretations) will typically evolve for familiar objects and figures, such as a person, a tree or a house. The development of a 'scheme' (schema) for expressing ideas may result and may be used in their story-telling. As they progress, it is important to help them develop beyond symbols which are used with little variation. They should also be encouraged to use drawing to plan their art activities, for example if the theme is to be carried out in another medium. An understanding of the stages or patterns of development in children's art is crucial to the objective assessment of children's visual expression, and to planning.
The six-strand curriculum
The curriculum provides opportunities for activities that incorporate art, craft and design in two- and threedimensionalmedia, both in making activities and in responding to works of art, craft and design. The twodimensional media are drawing, painting and print, and they include collage. The three-dimensional media are clay, construction and work in fabric and fibre, some of which have traditionally been referred to as craft activities and are now further developed as a creative process. It is important to maintain a balance between activities in two- and three-dimensional media to give children a real sense of the threedimensional nature of the world they live in as well as an imaginative capacity for expressing it on a flat surface.
Drawing has primary importance in this curriculum. It is through drawing that children's development in art is most evident. Because it is something most young children do naturally, it is particularly important in promoting visual awareness and the ability to record what is seen, felt or imagined. Drawing activities also help to develop a confident and expressive use of materials and tools.
Making art and responding to art
The curriculum places much emphasis on attentive looking, both in making art and in responding to art. Art activities are structured to help children develop sensitivity to their visual surroundings and to art works and to make connections between what they observe and their own work. Children's developing ability to observe closely and to interpret what they see is the basis for expression and design. They need opportunities for close observation of the natural and living environments as well as opportunities to see how artists, craftspeople and designers interpret them. They should have access to a variety of art styles from different times and cultures as stimulus for their own art activities, as a way of making comparisons between different interpretations of an idea or theme, or simply for the pleasure they give. The emphasis should always be on art as inspiration, and not as something to copy.
Children are constantly bombarded with aggressive advertising images which are designed to deliver their message in the shortest possible time. The deeper, subtler and more meaningful values that can be appreciated in art, however, take more time. The teacher's task is to help them to look at art works for a longer period and with a more open attitude than they might otherwise have done. Openness to art enables children to evaluate art works in a critical and personally meaningful way. Their attention span and powers of concentration expand and deepen with continued exposure to a wide variety of art works.
Preparation could include deciding on
- how much information to give on the artist's life and methods
- at what point in the class to give this information
- compiling a list of questions based on the art work and designed to stimulate the children's visual faculties
- whether to follow up with a practical activity.
It is important that children are enabled to make connections between the work of artists and their own work. They should be encouraged to discover and talk about variety in visual expression from different times and cultures, its role in those cultures and how it differs perhaps from today's. As they progress they should also have opportunities to analyse and discuss the visual images that have such a strong influence on their ways of seeing the world, for example images projected by television, posters, advertising, magazines and street fashion. This would be helpful in developing a feeling for graphics and design.
It is important that children are introduced to a wide range of craft processes to help develop sensitivity to and appreciation of beauty, good taste and good workmanship. As well as being intensely enjoyable, experiences in looking at and handling well-designed craft objects help to develop discrimination and a critical faculty. Children should also become familiar with traditional Irish crafts, especially with living local crafts: visits to local or regional craft workshops could well be among their most memorable learning experiences. Experimental ways of working with craft materials should be explored.
Design has a very important role to play in the primary curriculum, and can be defined as active planning, inventing, making and relating parts to a whole in either two- or three-dimensional media. It is not an isolated discipline but underlies every art and craft activity, whether the end in view is expressive communication or the creation of a useful object.
Close observation of the world around them enriches children's visual awareness and the vocabulary on which to draw for expression and design. Drawing attention to well-designed objects and buildings helps them to develop sensitivity to good design and the ability to form and design their world. Many types of design activities provide valuable experiences at all stages of primary schooling when they promote observation, invention, expression and creativity.
Children make design-related decisions when, for example, they
- make decisions about the layout of their work
- enrich a surface with pattern and detail
- change a piece of fabric purposefully by removing from or adding to it, even in infant classes
- choose scraps of cloth or paper for a collage and make decisions about where to position them
- rework a sketch for use as a design in another medium, for example making changes to a drawing from nature for use as a print
- plan to make something to their own design: trying to visualise it; making sketches and plans for it; thinking about the materials they might use and how they might use them, for example a costume for use in drama, or a working three-dimensional model
- plan to make a functional object in clay, for example, and make decisions about how its functional demands might be met.
It is in these contexts that design awareness has an important part to play in primary school art.