Module Three, Part 2


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    In the second part of this module you will use the ideas you explored in Part 1 to create an activity to implement in your setting. You will also complete some pedagogical documentation based on the activity you chose. There are options for both infants and toddlers and older children so choose the activity that is most appropriate for you and the children with whom you work.

    Relate your learning to practice (older children)

    For this activity you will link an art experience to an inquiry. You may already be working on a specific inquiry or project with a child or group in your centre, but if not, you can use one of the children’s interests as a focus for this activity. The aim of the activity is to support children to engage in thinking through the visual arts. This activity is designed for older children, and there is a separate activity for infants and toddlers below.

    • Think carefully about a problem that can be explored through the visual arts. Select one of the following three goals for your planned visual arts experience: 
    1. Find out children’s ideas and working theories on a topic related to your inquiry or their interests. This needs to be well matched to children’s current interests so that they are motivated to share ideas with you: for example, ‘why did the dinosaurs die out?’ or ‘how will we know that spring is on its way?’ Working theories can best be explored when the question focuses on relationships between things or the processes by which things happen.
    2. Find out children’s opinions or perspectives on an inquiry-related topic: for example, ‘if you were going to a wedding, what would you wear?’ or ‘what kind of playground would you design for the birds in our garden?’
    3. Record children’s experiences related to an excursion or a visitor to the centre. This can be as simple as a walk in the local area. What did children see, what did they hear, what were their favourite parts?
    • Think about how to present the topic for thinking to children. Often this will be in the form of a question, as in the examples above. Have a go at drawing your response to test out your idea, ensuring that there are a range of ways in which children can respond. 
    • Choose a medium that is best going to facilitate children’s representations. The teachers at Kids’ Domain and at Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten say they often start with drawing. Remember how the teachers at Kids’ Domain thought about the quality of the mushrooms when they decided on the art materials to provide. They also ensured that these materials were ‘special’, engendering respect and thoughtful participation. 
    • Talk to your teaching team and gain their support so that you can spend some uninterrupted time exploring this activity with children. Perhaps you might even be able to have a colleague observe while you engage with the children.
    • Gather a small group of children to participate. As we heard in the case study interview, you will want enough children to create a dynamic for rich conversations and perspective-sharing, but not so many children that it gets chaotic to facilitate and observe, or leads to some children dominating and others being marginalised.
    • Observe how children respond, listening both to what they say about their art-making as well as how they tackle creating their response. Take photos and notes (of children’s words in particular) so that you can document this experience later.
    • Reflect on this experience – does the use of visual art contribute anything new to the project or inquiry you have been investigating, or your understanding of children’s interests and thinking about these interests? 

    Relate your learning to practice (infants & toddlers)

    Your activity with infants and toddlers involves you developing your inquiry about what the visual arts might mean to infants and toddlers (in the next module we will look further at supporting infants’ and toddlers’ own inquiries into art materials). As an infant and toddler teacher, it is important to be able to observe children’s tiniest movements and expressions, because this is the way that they communicate their ideas and feelings about the materials they use. 

    • Choose an art medium – it might be the same medium as you used for the activity in Module Two, because infants and toddlers thrive on repetition and a slow pace of change. 
    • This time, as they explore, be a focused observer. You can choose to focus on:

    Children’s emotions

    or children’s physical actions

    or children’s collaboration with others in relation to the materials / media

    • Develop an inquiry question for yourself that focuses on the relationship between the art materials and media you have provided and the children’s responses. For example, what kind of actions and concepts does paper make it possible to explore? How does a large block of clay invite children’s collaboration? 
    • Talk to your teaching team and gain their support so that you can spend some uninterrupted time exploring this activity with children. 
    • As you observe, think about how the material makes the particular actions, emotions and collaborations possible. Take photos so that you can document this experience later.


    Thinking about the activity you have just completed with children, try to make a list of the working theories that children were exploring (for a guide to recognising and identifying working theories, see here). These might be working theories about the topic, or about how to approach the task. Which of these theories most surprised you? Which are you most excited by? 

    Note that even when children share their opinions and perspectives, these are often informed by working theories. For example, in relation to the examples of choosing what to wear to a wedding, children might say or be thinking ‘you must wear your favourite outfit to a wedding’. In relation to designing a playground for birds, they might say ‘birds won’t want monkey bars because they don’t have arms’. Working theories can also be spotted (or at least guessed at) in the actions of infants and toddlers. 

    Relate your learning to practice (all ages)

    Whether you completed the first activity for older children or second activity for infants and toddlers, in this activity you will document some of the visual artwork created and what you observed. Think about the large printed photos and transcribed words of children that were displayed at Kids’ Domain, and how, for the teachers, these displays served as an invitation for further engagement by the children initially involved, but also for others in the community (other children, teachers and families) to engage. Given this purpose, which photos and words are most important to display? Which are most provocative in terms of inviting further thinking, or generating a range of perspectives and opinions? Which would you like to revisit with children?

    Discuss online

    Some questions to discuss in the online forum for this third module are:

    How do you structure the curricular programme in your setting?

    Do you use the concept of inquiry?

    If so, how often do you use the visual arts as part of your inquiry?

    How might you incorporate some of the ideas of this module into your ongoing teaching? 

    Further reading

    Read Margaret Brook’s paper about the importance of drawing for facilitating young children’s thinking and meaning-making, and in particular, how children can use drawing to explore and develop concepts. 

    Take a look at our webinar with Bridgette Towle and Shirlene Murphy from Kids’ Domain, in which they discuss how they have gone about building a culture of inquiry at their centre, or read the short insight article based on the webinar.

    You might be able to access a copy of Bridgette and Angela’s book about one of their inquiries here


    The important points to take away from this module are:

    • The visual arts provide children with a means of expressing ideas so that they can reflect upon them. Producing a visual form of ideas helps children to clarify their concepts and thinking. 
    • The visual arts support children’s inquiries by helping to enrich their theories and narratives. Visual arts experiences and materials should be chosen with intention, based on the way the material will help the children engage with the topic they are exploring. Using a range of modalities (art media) helps children to explore different aspects of a topic, and to develop more complex meaning and understandings. Translating ideas from one medium to another provides a significant cognitive challenge. 
    • The Reggio Emilia approach and its focus on projects, inquiry, a relationship with expressive materials, collaboration, dialogue and documentation may serve as inspiration for an inquiry approach using the visual arts.
    • Children’s inquiry is paralleled by the inquiry of teachers as they explore how children are thinking and what experiences might best support the development of that thinking.