Module Three, Part 1


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    Our aim in this course is to look at the visual arts as part of a holistic programme for supporting children’s learning across diverse learning domains. The previous module introduced you to some ways in which you might enhance and improve your teaching role in relation to supporting children with the visual arts. Now we turn to exploring how the visual arts can be used to extend children’s thinking and cognition, which makes them a powerful tool in any curricular project or programme.

    In the first part of this module, you will read about why the visual arts are an ideal vehicle for thinking about ideas and concepts. Later, in our case study, we will see how one team of teachers puts these affordances of the visual arts to good use in furthering their inquiry approach to curriculum with their children.


    Read ‘Supporting children’s thinking and cognition through the visual arts’, which explores how art supports children to take new perspectives and develop new understandings about concepts and ideas. 

    Supporting children’s thinking and cognition through the visual arts

    The arts offer children opportunities for complex and dynamic modes of thought and communication. Literacy is a set of abilities for creating and communicating meaning through representational forms or different kinds of texts, and may be expressed visually as well as through speech and writing. Like verbal language, visual ‘languages’ such as drawing, collaging and sculpting help children to develop their thinking. Children can use these visual languages to explore ideas and communicate their cognitive processes. In fact, the ‘multiliteracies’ or various languages that are afforded by the arts may support all children (especially those who have difficulty communicating verbally, or in English) to communicate and collaborate in making meaning, to express themselves, and to learn language skills. 

    How the visual arts contribute to thinking and cognitive development

    From a cognitive perspective, children use the visual arts to interpret the world around them through a process of encoding their understandings in whatever materials they have to hand in order to reflect upon them. Children might represent and think about relationships, how things work, their own identities in the present, and their future selves as they engage in the visual arts. When children make art, they integrate their memories, experience, observations and imagination. They can also create at their own individual level of ability, and draw on their own individual strengths, abilities and aptitudes.

    The fine motor skills that children develop through visual art experiences are also associated with cognitive achievement, and this may be because children who can perform fine motor skills automatically and efficiently can dedicate a greater level of attention and cognitive resources to more complex learning. Many different kinds of art activities involve the hands and fingers, and help children to develop good fine motor control. For example, activities such as moulding clay and dough, peeling stickers, picking up small collage items, stringing beads, weaving, using hole punches and cutting with scissors all develop finger strength and dexterity.

    The visual arts include a range of modes and modalities including drawing, printmaking, sculpting, creating ephemeral art (arrangements of materials), block structures, weaving, sewing and other textiles work. Each medium has both affordances and constraints which influence what children will think about, do and create with the medium. When children are offered a range of modalities or materials for expressing ideas, they can use the affordances of different mediums to engage knowledge they have received from a variety of sources and experiences. Different modes and media also direct children to different aspects of a topic and helps them to ask better and more diverse questions. As children integrate these diverse interpretations, they develop more complex meanings. Children can be encouraged to reflect on how the use of a particular medium influences what is communicated.

    It is a significant cognitive task to translate meanings from one sign system (such as verbal language) into another (a picture). Such tasks help children to think in divergent and metaphorical ways. When children attempt to use multiple languages to make meaning, their capacity for representational thinking and for mentally manipulating and organising ideas, images and feelings is increased, as well as their skills in using a range of expressive languages and using a range of media. In addition, children often use a variety of modalities (or forms of communication) alongside one another to help them communicate and explore ideas, and teachers who are receptive to this encourage children to use as many different sign systems as they need to communicate meaning. For example, children might provide a verbal narration and some expressive gestures alongside a drawing or block construction. A drawing might include images, written letters, numbers or words, symbols (such as flags) and may be accompanied by sound effects and gestures to enhance the meaning of the image.

    Concept formation and development

    To make the connections between ideas that promote more abstract and complex thinking, children need a sound understanding of the concepts they are investigating. Producing a visual form of their ideas can help children to distill and crystallise these concepts. For example, discoveries can become clearer when children are drawing: a child trying to draw the shadow of an object may make new discoveries about shadows and how they are formed because he or she has to look closely at the shadow in order to be able to draw it. Similarly, as they attempt to represent particular concepts, children have to think about what components to draw or what might be the essence of a concept. For example, for a toddler, ‘dog’ might be represented by fur and movement, while an older child might try to draw four legs and a tail. Children can also deepen their understanding of a concept from a very specific representation to a more abstracted understanding: for example, drawing many different kinds of dog can help children to notice the key similarities and differences between breeds. The experience of trying to represent a concept moves children from a surface level understanding to a deeper understanding. Understanding the core features of a concept then enables them to connect it to other ideas and concepts.

    Extending learning

    Using the arts within a process of inquiry or exploration can encourage children to engage with an idea or topic for longer and to extend their thinking about it by becoming aware of different possibilities for representing it. Drawing and other visual arts help children to process their ideas, questions and misconceptions, and to make their thinking and knowledge visible so that they can extend their ideas. When children draw, they draw their own cognitive understandings about themselves and their worlds rather than trying to create realistic images, and it is these cognitive understandings that teachers should seek to intentionally explore and deepen. For example, to express ideas about birthdays, a child might draw themselves standing next to a table with a birthday cake on it. They might draw the table from above, so that the cake is clearly visible, but draw the candles on the cake front on, because it is more important to the child that they communicate their understandings about having a birthday then that they convey a realistic image. This means that, rather than looking at children’s art for evidence of their developing artistic skills, teachers should view children’s art as holistic representations of the experience and knowledge children have gained from their sociocultural context. Teachers can focus intentionally on helping children to more clearly represent, clarify or extend their ideas and plan experiences related to the ideas in which children are interested.

    Enabling diverse thinking

    Some researchers have found that children with English as a second language use the visual arts as mediating devices to help them communicate with others and express ideas. The use of the visual arts can be particularly appropriate for neurodiverse learners and speakers of other languages as they provide the flexibility for children to draw on their particular strengths and skills, and to identify culturally relevant topics and areas of interest that engage them and in which they can be successful.

    Next, we take a quick look at the Reggio Emilia approach, so called as it derives from the educational philosophies and practices of a municipal group of early childhood centres in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia. All three of the case study centres in this course draw on the Reggio Emilia approach for inspiration, while being careful to contextualise their practices for Aotearoa New Zealand and the rich framework of Te Whāriki. An understanding of the Reggio Emilia approach is useful as a foundation for the consideration of an inquiry model to curriculum in New Zealand early childhood settings. You may notice some connections to the discussion of Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten’s visual arts practices in the previous module.


    This reading introduces the key ideas that underpin the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.

    The Reggio Emilia educational philosophy derives from educational pedagogies and philosophies developed since the 1950s within early childhood settings in the town of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. This educational project was initiated in the aftermath of World War II and was intended to be progressive, democratic and liberating. The Reggio Emilia approach takes a constructivist and social-constructivist approach to teaching and learning, grounding curriculum in children’s inquiries and projects. Like Te Whāriki, it focuses on the idea of the child as creative and intelligent, capable of exploring and discovering for themselves, with both the intention and the right to make meaning in many different ways. This takes place in a context of rich relationships with other people and materials.   

    The main features of the Reggio Emilia approach 

    Inquiry: The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on wondering with children about what they experience, think and feel and on encouraging children to make sense of their world. Inquiry is therefore flexible and responsive to children’s motivations, interests and contexts, and what is meaningful for children in their lives.  

    Project-based: Teachers in Reggio Emilia seek underlying or overarching ideas in children’s play and inquiry as a basis for projects. Teachers are always prepared to ask children challenging questions. They encourage children to ask questions, form hypotheses and do research. Individual interests are developed into in-depth group experiences and projects. Children are invited to join projects and meetings in regard to co-researching specific learning interests. Teachers follow the children and make proposals or plan possibilities rather than designing predetermined plans. They hypothesise about what might take place in educational projects and formulate objectives that are flexible and can be adapted to children’s interests and needs during the project process. 

    Environment as the third teacher: Teachers provide a well-planned environment with provocative materials as well as meaningful experiences in the world. This leads them to describe the environment as a ‘third teacher’. 

    Expressive experiences: Teachers encourage children to make sense of experiences and ideas through ‘100 languages’, which recognises both multiple knowledge systems and ways of understanding phenomena, as well as multiple ways of expressing and communicating ideas. Each language is thought to help children to think about phenomena in a different light. For example, children might explore an interest in giraffes through the language of art or clay, the language of biology, or the language of measurement. 

    Collaboration, dialogue and exchange of ideas: Children are encouraged to make explicit what they think and engage in interaction, discussion, and conflict (intellectual argument) in order to negotiate and build meaning with others. In this way children co-construct knowledge in relationship with other children and their teachers; they also are involved in co-constructing the culture (rules and meanings) of their early childhood setting, while teachers see themselves as observers, listeners, partners and provocateurs. Teachers build on the prior knowledge and beliefs of children by providing the communicative and practical skills as well as the concepts and knowledge systems children need to pursue activities related to their interests. Children, families and communities are all involved in planning and evaluating projects. 

    Pedagogical documentation: this is a form of recording children’s actions and words in early childhood settings in order to listen to and come to better know the child, to develop new ways of relating to children, and to co-construct curricular experiences with children. Teachers use the process of documenting their practice and the children’s responses to explore their own teaching, to inform professional dialogue and to generate questions and inquiry about the children and their learning. Documentation aims to make children’s learning, skills, strategies, processes and understandings visible, foregrounding their learning processes for knowledge construction rather than the context and activities. It is shared with children and families to enable them to interpret, reflect upon, evaluate and co-construct the meaning of experiences.   

    Watch a video

    Kids’ Domain is a hospital-based, long-day care centre, catering for 100 children divided into four distinct rooms of up to 25 children, (two groups of 0-3 year olds, and two groups of 3-5 year olds). It is located in the grounds of the Auckland Domain, a large park in the centre of Auckland, and you will notice the teachers talk a lot about their visits to this green space with the children. Kids’ Domain takes an inquiry approach to their curriculum to best reflect their philosophy and their beliefs that learning is relational, emergent and complex. Inquiry involves children and teachers in self-directed, experiential learning that empowers children as capable and competent investigators. This approach is founded upon a strong relationship-driven environment, building a community of inquiry that includes children, teachers, families and the material and natural environment. The team views inquiry as an interrelational, living process of research in which everyone engages as a community endeavour. Children and teachers co-construct the curriculum, and the visual arts provide a key tool for teachers to listen to children’s ideas and theories as they inquire about a part of their world. These practices for inquiry are inspired by the child-centred pedagogies of Reggio Emilia.

    Introducing the teachers

    Bridgette Towle joined Kids’ Domain in 2009 as Pedagogical Leader and in this role has helped develop and embed an inquiry-based learning approach. In April last year Bridgette stepped into the role of Director (during the first week of the Covid lockdown!).  She has a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership and Management and in 2017 completed a Master of Education. Her thesis explores the active role of materials in relational learning. 

    Marguerite Evening is a proud kaiako of 10 years at Kids’ Domain Early Learning Centre. She places high importance on supporting children’s learning through visual arts, and believes the arts enrich children’s abilities to express themselves, to wonder and explore the world around them. She greets you in her home language: Ni Sa Bula! 

    After many years of working in the theatre world, running her own jewellery business, dabbling in the visual arts as an interest and raising three children, Angela Heape decided to re-train as an early childhood teacher. She has now been teaching for close on eleven years, most of which have been spent at Kids’ Domain. She particularly enjoys Kids’ Domain’s culture of inquiry and immersing herself alongside children in the visual arts and the use of technology to enhance them.

    Angela Hogan has been teaching in ECE across all ages for just over 20 years. She has had the privilege of working at Kids’ Domain for over 14 years now, and currently co-leads the preschool room alongside her colleague and friend, Angela Heape. She holds a Diploma in Teaching ECE, and appreciates the way that Kids’ Domain continues to support and provide in-house and external professional learning opportunities. She is in constant awe of children’s ability to tap into their creativity, and this has inspired her to enrol in a design, pattern-making and sewing course in her spare time.  

    Listen to Angela, Angela and Marguerite, the teachers of the two groups of older children, and the centre director, Bridgette, discuss how they use art experiences to further children’s inquiries.

    Kids’ Domain Early Childhood Centre, Long Day Centre, Auckland

    Marguerite Evening, Teacher of 3-5 year olds

    Angela Heape, Teacher of 3-5 year olds

    Bridgette Towle, Centre Director

    Angela Hogan, Teacher of 3-5 year olds

    How the visual arts support children’s enquiries

    Tell us about your current inquiry at Kids’ Domain

    Angela Hogan: Currently we are inquiring about life, particularly life at the Domain, and it's something that we tune into all the time and the children are really interested in. Before we embark on a sustained inquiry, we always look back to look forward, and we come together and we talk about previous learning: what we've learned, what the children have learned, what we are still interested in, what the children are really interested in, and life was, is what we really wanted to delve into this time.

    Bridgette Towle: It was the notion of life in so many ways and forms - talking around all the bug and the life cycles and whilst they come up over a period of years and resurface, there was a renewed energy of looking at that at the beginning of the year.

    Angela Heape: It also tied nicely into our professional development because we were looking at the term the ecology of listening, where we listen deeper to the children, the children learn to listen to each other, and we all are in tune and listening to nature. This came from a seminar that we were fortunate to partake of last year from Opal School, and we thought that would be really lovely, and what we needed as our own professional development.

    Bridgette Towle: We tend to integrate professional learning with our inquiries that we do with the children. So, the visual arts for us isn’t just around the children engaging with visual arts, it’s about us engaging with the visual arts with the children as well - it’s a combination of all of those.

    Angela Heape: The visual arts are a very important part of our inquiries - the whole way that children develop their theories through drawing and documentation.

    Marguerite Evening: One thing we noticed on our walks is that our children were gathering a lot of natural resources. We call them Papatūanuku’s tāonga. As a group we collectively came together as kaiako and had a kōrero around what we can do with these natural resources in relation to visual arts and how can we support their learning through them. One thing that we talked about is creating a space that shows mana to these resources but also can inspire our tamariki to create these beautiful images, or pictures, using these materials. An example of what's happening at the moment in the atelier with these resources is as that we're finding that our children are creating these stories with these materials but also enriching their stories or enriching their theory making.

    Angela Hogan: Part of the inquiry is that we go on a sustained route each week. The same group of children, same route, and the children document - they use iPads to document things of interest in and we document too, and then we come back to the centre and we sit with a group of children and we invite them to draw their ideas and their thinking. There are certain areas and certain things in the Domain that they are really drawn to and invite them to draw their thinking and their ideas and their questions. The ephemeral art with the natural resources is just another way children can build on their thinking and their ideas in their theories.

    How do the visual arts support children’s inquiries?

    Marguerite Evening: Their natural instinct is to collect and gather these things, so they already have a connectedness with these materials. So, we thought about how we could turn it into another medium of the visual arts.

    Bridgette Towle: We have a great big portfolio that the children are adding to after each walk and the other part of that portfolio is where the teachers are writing and adding their thinking and their thoughts. So there is a visual aspect to this whole documentation process that's recasting or rebouncing that back into the space. The children are telling stories with each other, and with the wider group of children, and playing with the ideas that are emerging that they're listening to or have been tuning into in the Domain and they're actually rethinking them through those materials they have been collecting.

    Angela Hogan: Before we go on a walk we revisit the documentation - this is what we noticed last time and this is what you've drawn – and it gets children to think about, or perhaps tune into it before the walk and they revisit the area and build on their learning.

    Angela Heape: Drawing is a real go-to. A lot of children have got lots of ideas and that but they can't quite articulate it at certain areas, but drawing is something that they can do, it's another language, another visual language, it can spark through imaginations or work things out, or is a process where the ideas actually come as they are drawing, and also they're looking at each other’s and getting ideas off each other, and it just develops and it becomes more rich.

    Bridgette Towle: You had a wonderful story, Marguerite, where there were children of something that they had noticed in the Domain where there were differing theories and you were using different art mediums for the children to actually start exploring.

    Marguerite Evening: Yes, we did – on our walks there is this broken pipe and the children started to theorise or make meaning as to how the pipe broke. The first medium or visual art experience we offered was of course drawing, and there was a little girl drawing her broken pipe. There was a group of three of them, and the child next to her was watching her draw her pipe, and when she had finished her drawing she said, “I’m finished with my broken pipe”. And then this little girl said, “The broken pipe has a little bit of blue on it”. So, she grabbed a pencil and leant over and coloured in a bit, and I thought - Oh what's going to happen here? But she said, “Oh yes, it did” and she happily accepted her idea, and then that broken pipe had a little blue on it. Then from that experience we led into our natural resource creations and the first little girl that was drawing, as she was making it and talking about her theory, she added “and the pipe was a little blue.” Two different children's perspectives or views on things have merged together and enriched and added.

    How do different tools and materials support children to express their ideas?

    Marguerite Evening: Definitely, offering them an iPad to take photos really gave them the idea to look a little closer at things. Even coming back here, sitting at our hui after our walks and reflecting their pictures back at them and actually being able to zoom in a bit closer to things as well. Angela and I were noticing that the children were really developing their observational skills through the photo that they were taking.

    Angela Hogan: Then printing the images off and having them around while we're doing our documentation is really helping to feed back into what they are noticing and what they are learning.

    Bridgette Towle: It's always an eye opener to see what the children are focusing in on. It's not necessarily what we would expect as adults that their perspective would be quite different - it's always intriguing.

    Marguerite Evening: I find right now there's a lot of fact and fiction - there's a lot of children who are really imaginative with their theory-making and their drawings, and some are quite logical. When you put them together and they are sitting drawing their different pictures but having totally different perspectives. I love listening to the conversations coming out!

    Angela Heape: We're doing exactly the same walks, but you guys have gone one kind of direction and we're branching off in another, and we're looking at something very closely, something that captured the children's interest straight away. So, we’ve really just honed down onto mushrooms and toadstools. We knew as teachers, that they only had a very limited kind of life, that they weren’t going to be around for very long. So, we thought, well, let's just hone in on this until they disappear completely. That’s been part of the children's captivation as well. “They’re gone! Where have they gone?” So, we decided to bring some back just to see how they do change, and decay and disappear.

    We have been using drawing again, and its always quite nice to offer a point of difference with your drawing materials like lovely soft pencils and really beautiful fine tipped pens. And so, it's a special kind of experience for them and they really want to do it. Because we were looking at fly agaric toadstools, which were really bright red and quite amazing, they immediately want to colour them, so we went into watercolour quite quickly and the way it goes on and flows, it’s quite different to painting with normal acrylics.

    Also offering them really good brushes - very fine brushes so they can do all the little details and that’s actually really important. It's also things that they come back to - they have to wait for layers to dry and they can't take it home straight away. They had to come back the next day and do another layer or later on add some pen. That’s a really lovely experience for children to realise that art is sometimes something that you continue with and revisit - it's not a one-off experience and go and stick it in your bag.

    Bridgette Towle: It's like the mushroom where you if suggest what the media should be that should be used because of colour – it emerges.

    Angela Heape: Now I’ve got questions about, we’ve got these big brown mushrooms – is this going to be the same experience for them? How are we going to approach this? Drawing them? It's more of a textural thing rather than a colour thing. We are asking these questions of ourselves all the time - how can the children best experience this?

    Tell us about how art experiences can extend children’s thinking.

    Angela Heape: It's quite interesting that we now are looking at these toadstools in a very close way because a few years ago we did something similar. Our professional learning that year was dialogues of difference, so we always looked at the Domain on a macro level. We decided to look at a very kind of micro way, and also we had wanted to complete a masterpiece - we wanted to do a mosaic.

    So, we were looking for some sort of motif that would go in with that. A motif that is very dear to our hearts at Kids’ Domain is the koru. So, we did a lot of investigation of koru in the Domain with clipboards and drawing, but we actually thought the best way to do it was to bring a specimen back to the centre and actually see what happened. The children did beautiful, detailed drawings of that and then we went again into colour. We used watercolor and gouache so the children could really look at it very closely and they started to really look with incredible detail.

    They could see the tiny little koru curled up inside it, they commented on the fur a bit, but then something happened - it started to unravel and unfold which was quite unexpected – and we were like “Oh my goodness, what have we done?” but the children were absolutely fascinated with it and what was marvelous about it was that they actually started to personify the koru. So, it became Mr Koru who was very lonely and lost and was away from his family and needed to go back to the Domain.

    So, all these stories started to emerge which were absolutely amazing. So, we really honed in on that and we got them to write stories which they illustrated. Then we went into dramatisations of them, and it culminated in about three children doing a stop-motion animation of their stories. They did the whole art direction of it: they drew all the characters, they did the backgrounds, they made the movies, they did the narrations, and of course at the very end of the whole inquiry, we ended up making a mosaic too, which was quite unique in its way as well, because the children all did their own separate components of koru, and then they all made different combinations of possible mosaic, and then they all voted on them. So, we had about six different examples and they did a vote, and so the winner became the winning design and then the children made the mosaic, made the masterpiece.

    How do teachers decide which provocations to take further into an inquiry?

    Angela Hogan: A huge interest that we talked about right at the beginning was the Māori myths and legends - the creation story of life. It's a big thing that was integrated throughout the years and the children are really connecting to those stories. Out in the Domain they are sensing Tāwhirimātea in the trees and really connecting to those stories.

    Another way that we are honoring that is to read the stories live and get the children to draw and put these drawings up on the wall for other children to be inspired by.

    Angela Heape: We also took advantage of the Māori Contemporary Artists’ exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery at the beginning of this year and took quite a few groups of children to see that.

    We have images from that exhibition up in both of our rooms at the moment so that connects to the atua as well. Lisa Reihana's film and images are very strong, and the children really love them.

    Marguerite Evening: We have two mannequin - child size dolls we have out, that our children are at the moment creating their own atua. A lot of the things that they're doing at the moment is creating Tāwhirimātea and Mahuika which is the god of wind, and the god and fire. So, we were seeing they are actually looking at these pictures that they saw at the Art Gallery of these gods and then recreating them using the materials and that we have out with the mannequins.

    Angela Heape: Some of our children were very interested in the first few rooms at the Auckland Art Gallery which were very dark with incredible light sculptures which showed Te Pō - the darkness and the night before there was life. So, we have created a light studio in our little studio space where the children can go in. They go in in complete darkness and the story of Te Pō is read to them and then they are free then to engage in materials and with lights to create their own sculptures and their own stories about light and darkness and life and energy and the beginnings of all that.

    Bridgette Towle: So, there’s this element of going out into the Domain and connecting to the Domain and enriching theories through visual arts experiences back here. But also, that’s been intertwined with the experience that we had at the Art Gallery and lots of connections and aesthetics coming through and space, across time with theories and story making.

    Angela Heape: We do make an effort that every year we do look at the Art Gallery and just see what is on and how we could possibly make use of that, because it's quite easy for us to get to and we just like making those kinds of connections into the community.

    Is there an ideal group size for using the visual arts to explore ideas?

    Angela Hogan: This is something that we've experimented with - we're not all artists. We're learning alongside the children - that concept of ako. So, it's trial and error. Initially when we came back from our walks and did the documentation, we got the whole group - there were ten of them - and it was a little bit chaotic. So, you fine-tune it and work it out as you go. From previous experiences you know what will work and other times you just go with the flow and see what happens.

    Bridgette Towle: You need enough children there to get a dynamic so that you've got conversation and you've got different perspectives and but not too many that someone is a dominant voice, and the others get drowned out and all sorts of other aspects.

    One thing that we do is that we support each other to be able to really delve and to give as much time to these processes as we possibly can which is a very important practical factor.

    Angela Heape: I think it kind of depends what it is too – if it’s documentation coming back from the walks it's nice to have a bigger group because there is that dynamic in conversations. If you have got a very focused activity, if you're building in the light studio you would probably not have more than two children because it's quite small – they are in the dark – there becomes dynamics between the children and it gives them that nice space, and if a child says to me “I just want to do it on my own” I would allow them that time and in that space to do that.

    How do children share their ideas and art-making with others?

    Angela Hogan: With the sustained walks that we go on, it’s with one group of children, so we want to connect with the whole group of children. We want to find ways to share what we're learning and to inspire and provoke curiosity with every child in the centre. So, one way that we've done that is to have images up of the beautiful things that have captured the children’s attention. So, it’s up on the wall as a provocation, we've got a little provocation for parents and teachers and children to jot down what they see, think, and wonder about these images. We're really trying to involve everybody in our inquiries and that's one way that we're doing it.

    Bridgette Towle: You can see around our spaces that the documentation is not on display to speak to adults to explain what's going on. It's actually a living membrane of the space, it's actually part of the inquiry - it's there to provoke, it's there to enrich, enliven, mirror back, recast - all of those things. It's there to invite engagement, that’s a really important factor of thinking when we go to put anything up around the space.

    Angela Hogan: We love to share with whanau. We have a weekly page that goes out to parent, and we will always just take a moment to talk to what's happening in the room. We love for parents to participate, so we will ask them a provocation question or invite them to come and write their thinking and pop it on the board. We always trying to connect and share what we are learning.

    An important figure in the Māori creation story 

    Treasure or something of value

    A Māori word for teacher

    Conversation or discussion

    The supernatural force in every person, place or object which should be respected and upheld 


    The spiral shape of an unfurling fern frond


    The Māori god of the wind

    Māori god of fire

    The reciprocity of teaching and learning 

    Delve deeper

    Exploring Kids’ Domain’s approach to inquiry and the visual arts

    One of the first things to note about the teaching practices at Kids’ Domain is the way that the teachers use art experiences and art materials to support children to think through ideas. They say that they do this is because interactions with materials help enrich children’s narratives and theories. The teachers always offer drawing first, and they notice that for many children, ideas come as they are drawing and reflecting on what they are drawing. Children also get ideas from each other when they draw in a social context – the teachers’ example here is the way the children worked together to remember that ‘the pipe was a little bit blue’. Some children have very logical theories and other more imaginative theories, so the teachers find that having children working alongside one another enables many enriching connections to be made. 

    The teachers at Kids’ Domain make careful, intentional choices about the visual arts experiences they present to children based on the way that they think the material will help the children dialogue with a concept they are exploring. For example, Angela says that they thought carefully about the art materials and media to provide for the children to explore their interest in mushrooms, deciding on pens and watercolour paints so that children could express colour easily in relation to the vibrant red of the mushrooms. When the children were interested in representing brown mushrooms, the teachers thought again about which art materials to provide, realising that children would need a different art medium to be able to represent some of the texture of these particular mushrooms. 

    Did you also notice how teachers let an inquiry unfold, taking their lead from the children’s interest? When they observed that children began personifying the koru and telling stories about it, they moved into creating stop motion videos for children to combine drawing, photography and technology in their creative arts work. They picked up on children’s interest in the dark of te pō (the night) and the way in which they imagine seeing ngā atua (Māori gods) in the trees on walks. They support children’s inquiries by offering a range of art experiences, media and materials such as ephemeral art, light, photography, journalling, and textiles and design (dressing the mannequins).

    Finally, it is important to note that, as the teachers plan for and facilitate children’s inquiry, there is a parallel process of inquiry going on for teachers. Teachers wonder about what to do with the materials children bring back from the park, they consider what kind of materials would be best for children to use, and they constantly ask questions about what children are thinking and where this might take the inquiry next. As we talk about using the visual arts to facilitate inquiry in the rest of this module, remember that there are two intertwined parts to this inquiry – the children’s inquiry and knowledge building about a topic using the visual arts as a tool, and your inquiry (as the teacher) into the ways in which children are thinking and inquiring, and how the visual arts might support that.


    In the case study video, the teachers talk about taking the same small group of children on a walk in the Auckland Domain, but also about producing a stop motion video with just three children. In other words, their inquiries are not necessarily carried out by the whole group. What do you think of the idea of carrying out an inquiry using the visual arts only with small groups of children? Do you agree with this approach? Why might teachers make this choice? What might be the advantages and disadvantages?