In the first part of this module, we looked at how to choose materials to inspire children’s creativity and art-making. But there is more to being intentional than this. In Part 2, we start with a podcast that looks more closely at being intentional in our choice and use of materials. Then you’ll put your learning into practice by planning and implementing another activity in your setting.
We’ll also watch an interview with teacher and researcher, Jen Boyd, who shares her thoughts about the particular relevance of visual arts experiences for infants and toddlers.
In this podcast, we discuss some intentional strategies you can use when preparing and planning art materials for children’s art-making and investigations. These include:
- placing specific materials and tools in relation to each other
- thinking about what children could do with a given material
- creating collections of materials that share a particular property
- using documentation and displays in intentional ways
You may like to have a pen paper handy to take notes as you listen.
There are two activities below: the first is suitable for older children, while the second is designed for infants and toddlers. Complete the one most appropriate for the age range of the children you work with. The infant and toddler activity follows the video interview with Jen Boyd.
Relate your learning to practice (older children)
In this activity you will set up an art experience that helps children explore and develop their thinking on a given topic, in other words, furthering inquiry through the visual arts. There follows a list of options and ideas for you to draw from. This activity should continue on from the topics you explored in the activity in the last module, although note that you don’t need to be working on a project or inquiry in your programme in order to complete this activity – instead, you can relate the activity to children’s interests.
Choose one of the following three options:
- Explore changes in children’s thinking in relation to a shared inquiry.
Here you might use Jacqui’s prompt (from case study one): ‘Yesterday you said… I wonder, do you still think that today? Or has your thinking changed?’ This might involve revisiting children’s previous representations of their understanding and encouraging children to share new or modified ideas through the visual arts. Consider whether to use the same visual language (which might more easily enable comparisons) or to use a new language (which might have different affordances for representing the new ideas, and change children’s perspective further) by offering different materials and resources. You might also have children draw after using another language, as Jacqui and her team do, to see how that creative experience influences their understandings.
2. Encourage children to take a new perspective on the inquiry topic you began in the last module, and encourage them to use the visual arts to explore their ideas about it.
An example from Tots is the projecting of children’s artwork on a wall so that they could add another layer to it. Another example from the inquiry at Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten is related to helping children to understand the shapes on a map in relation to a bird’s-eye view with the question ‘I wonder if you were a bird, what would you see?’ You will then need to offer children appropriate visual arts media to express and explain their ideas and thinking.
3. Provide a new medium to see what additional thinking and theorising is made possible.
Consider what children have been thinking about and representing in their current artwork. What other tools and media can you give them for thinking about this interest or inquiry? You might relaunch an idea or try to spark wonder by creating a provocation to use materials in a particular way (such as the way the teachers at Tots Corner projected the children’s map up on the wall). Children that have been passionate about drawing dogs might like to try to make them out of clay (‘I wonder whether we could make a dog out of clay? What would we need to make first?’) and children that are constantly building small worlds in the sandpit with loose parts might like to try drawing the pretend places they make (‘I wonder how we could show this on paper? What part do you think would be the easiest to draw?’). Remember to ensure that the medium suits the topic (for example, clay isn’t really suitable for making fairies).
- Review some of the videos and readings in the course so far (thinking back particularly to Module 2 on the role of the teacher) and write down some ideas of things you might say and do to support your chosen goal.
- Carry out your plan and reflect on successes, improvements, and next steps.
- Assess what you learned about children. What can you learn about children’s thinking from this activity? Did changing media add anything new to the children’s or your understanding of the topic? What might the next steps be for further extending their thinking?
Watch a video
Listen to Jen Boyd, an early childhood teacher and researcher, talk about the benefits of the intentional use of the visual arts with young children. In her teaching career, Jen has had a great deal of experience working with infants and toddlers, and in helping them in their early exploration of a range of visual languages. Although Jen’s interview focuses on the use of the visual arts with infants and toddlers, teachers of children of all ages will find a wealth of ideas to reflect upon here.
Jen’s video helps us to understand a bit more about the potential of visual arts experiences for younger children, and especially the way that the visual arts are used in a very holistic way – rather than a focus on children’s cognition processes, Jen talks about children’s bodily and emotive experiences with visual arts. Note also what Jen says about the experiential aspect of visual arts with infants and toddlers. Jen’s interview might help you think a bit more about the purpose of the visual arts for this age group.
Relate your learning to practice (infants & toddlers)
While many of the inquiries described in the case studies of this course are focused on the use of the visual arts with older children, infants and toddlers can also be encouraged to use the visual arts to inquire and develop working theories. Instead of using the visual arts to think about something else, however, they are more likely to be developing working theories about the visual arts media and materials themselves, such as how they work and what they can do with them. Remember, as the teachers at Tots Corner emphasised, children need to be quite familiar with materials before they can use them as a language to express ideas. One of the most powerful things about visual art materials for this age group is their capacity to be moulded and transformed by children, and children’s growing awareness of that. This is what is so exciting for the infant/toddler explorer, and what enhances their sense of competence and confidence.
In this activity, aim to build on what you learnt about children in the activity from the last module. For example, you might pick up on particular actions that children seemed to be excited by in that activity, and plan this one to extend on and provide more opportunities for them to explore those actions. If you focused on children’s emotions in that experience, you might be able to draw on that learning about children to plan an activity that will enable them to experience those emotions again, or alternatively, use what you learnt about the way children collaborated to plan for further collaboration.
You will need to be a sensitive observer and work hard to try to make sense of what children are thinking about as they explore materials. You will be amazed at the aesthetic compositions that infants and toddlers can create when materials are carefully chosen.
- Choose one of the following three options:
- Encourage infants and toddlers to explore a medium such as clay, mud, or pencil. Think about how children will be empowered to transform things using the medium – for example, how easily can they transform paper or a cardboard box with the pencils, or transform a plastic toy by covering it in mud? Also think about ways to enrich the sensory qualities of the medium – for example, might you add things to mud to increase texture, or add water to clay, or provide corrugated card for children to draw on. This activity helps infants and toddlers to see their powers of expression in terms of creating or transforming something.
- Encourage infants and toddlers to construct 3D layouts and constructions. What materials can you offer that children can stack, combine, and put into different relationships? For example, you might use biscuit tins of different shapes as well as smaller materials to fill them. Other shapes might be stackable. Think about how infants and toddlers might be able to explore an aesthetic with the materials you provide (with biscuit tins this might be shininess, or reflection) or concepts to do with shape and space such as height, length, enclosure, and enveloping.
- Encourage infants and toddlers to explore a colour. Consider providing a provocation of materials and media that are only in one colour. Think red pencils and pastels, red paper, red fabrics, red ribbons, red plastic cups, red jar lids, or white lace, white doilies, white crayons, white pegs and a large white sheet across the floor. You might provide one or two things in an entirely different colour (such as a couple of black things in amongst the white) for contrast. Make sure things are accessible for the children at their stage of locomotive development. Think about the different ways that children might compose with materials, and consider providing a space or frame for them to move the objects to (toddlers will enjoy this).
- Review the videos and readings in the course so far (thinking back particularly to Module 2 on the role of the teacher) and write down some ideas of things you might say and do while children are exploring.
- Carry out your plan and reflect on successes, improvements, and next steps.
- Assess what you learned about children. What can you learn about children’s thinking from this activity? Did you see the children creating and developing working theories about what the media and materials can do? What might the next steps be for further extending their thinking?
Where do you (or might you) collect loose parts for your setting’s art provision? Share your ideas in the online forum for this module, and perhaps pick up some ideas from others.
Read the full resource on loose parts as materials for play, which includes some further information on the role of the teacher.
The important points to take away from this module are:
- Diverse collections of objects and materials can support children’s sensory perception, creativity and imagination within visual arts experiences.
- Open-ended materials and free access to a range of media encourage children to explore possibilities, create multiple meanings, and develop critical thinking skills. They enable children to follow their own ideas and inquiries.
- Children need time to come to know a visual language before they can use it to express feelings and communicate ideas.
- Planning for an art experience involves thinking about materials, concepts, questions, and techniques to teach, as well as being on hand while children explore and develop their ideas.