Artistic expression is an alternative means of communication. For infants, toddlers, and young children, art provides a way of sharing thoughts, experiences, and emotions while gaining knowledge and skills. Encouraging artistic expression in classrooms and outdoor learning environments helps children make sense of their surroundings and who they are as individuals. Here are 10 ways to promote artistic expression in early care and education programs.

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Imagination Playground
  1. Emphasize the process.
    Creativity is a process. The act of solving problems, making discoveries, and communicating ideas is more important for children than the products they produce.
  2. Provide a wide variety of materials.
    To maintain interest and pique curiosity, stock many types of materials appropriate for children’s ages and abilities. Supplement basic art supplies with natural items and recycled material that can be used as a base (paper, cardboard, Styrofoam tray, piece of wood, or plastic lid), medium (drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting, and creating collage) or tool (brushes, stamps, sponges, found items, plastic droppers, or safety scissors) for open-ended art experiences.
  3. Provide ample time and space.
    Offering children sufficient time and dedicated space to engage freely with an array of artistic materials conveys these important messages: there are many possibilities, and children are competent and capable of exploring and creating.
  4. Provide many, varied opportunities.
    To truly create, some children need solitude, while others may want to collaborate with peers. Ensure that children are given a choice of how they will complete art activities to help them grow both socially and emotionally.
  5. Make art optional.
    Recognize that different sensations, like messy hands or strong smells, affect children in different ways. Be flexible, provide alternatives, and always allow the child the choice of participating, based on their individual level of comfort.
  6. Resist redirecting.
    Give children the freedom to independently discover, explore, imagine, and experiment when creating art. Although rules are necessary, minimal boundaries communicate to children that there is no right or wrong way to create art. The trial and error learning that results will lead to innovative approaches and unique discoveries.
  7. Respect all levels of artistic ability.
    Intentionally commend children’s effort and involvement in artistic endeavors rather than offering generic praise or admiring the artwork itself. Encouraging feedback helps support and inspire children’s creativity, thinking skills, confidence, and sense of self-worth.
  8. Make art as tactile as possible.
    The sense of touch allows children to experience their surroundings more fully and is essential for a child’s growth in all areas of development. Painting with their hands and feet, finger painting on different surfaces (plastic, bubble wrap, or tinfoil) or with added textures (sawdust, cooked rice, or glitter), and making creations with playdough and clay provide a deeper sensory experience, allowing children to learn through tactile as well as visual and auditory means.
  9. Allow children to display their art.
    Displaying art should be made available to children as an optional part of the artistic process. Seeing their work displayed helps children feel valued and appreciated, affirms their efforts, and boosts self-esteem. It also generates additional opportunities for learning as the work is seen from a different perspective, viewed by peers, revisited, and pondered.
  10. Invite conversation.
    Give children a chance to share what they were thinking while they were creating. The widely accepted “tell me about your picture” often results in static language (“I drew a house.”). Asking, “what is happening here?” implies that there is meaning behind the art. This question elicits rich language as it prompts children to explain their intent or tell any story they were imagining.

Remember, if you want creative children, you must allow them to think differently, act autonomously, and play freely. Start creating with your children today!

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”
—Albert Einstein

Rebecca McMahon Giles, Ph.D., is professor of elementary and early childhood Education at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. Her book, "A Writer's World: Creating Classrooms Where Authors Abound" is available from Exchange Press.

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