Art in the Early Years: Part 2 - The creative learning environment

Suffolk Early Years and Childcare Service (Suffolk County Council)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The essential provision for a creative art environment takes account of the space and materials made available and the display of children's finished works.

Regardless of the physical space available, an effective creative learning environment is a stimulating and engaging space with lots of opportunities for babies and young children. They can access this environment to explore, experiment and engage creatively in their own learning. The space supports and encourages children's collaborative development of ideas, and the resources and activities allow children to engage with the unfamiliar as well as the familiar.

MAKING USE OF SPACE

'Early years settings need distinctive and attractive spaces that support children's creativity, giving them freedom to make, move, investigate, reflect and play' (Arts Council, England 2005)

Well-organised settings allow good use of space and easy access to resources. Children need to know where and how resources are stored so they can select, use and return as required.

Practitioners and children will work together to organise the learning environment, where ideas are listened to and children's ownership of the space is promoted.

Good use of space includes a wide variety of accessible resources, materials, equipment and objects (natural and made) from a range of sources to engage children and to stimulate imaginative thinking. Space should also include vibrant engaging displays at children's eye level which allow, where possible, interactive and tactile experiences.

Effective use of space also allows for individual children to engage physically, using their whole body and all their senses. For example, some children, rather than sitting at a table, may like to sit or lay down on the floor and draw on a large piece of paper.

Children may find it easier to express themselves creatively outside, where the environment can provide opportunities for work on a larger scale and in groups. Children need to be supported to see and use the outdoor and indoor environments, with free movement between them encouraged.

It is important for practitioners to use a variety of spaces to support creative learning experiences. Think about the types of spaces available in your locality, such as parks, woodlands, galleries and museums, and how these can further support and extend creativity through the exploration of media and materials.

Regardless of the space being used, children will benefit from the creation of a well-organised, accessible creative workshop area where they are free to explore, investigate and learn from first-hand experience. Opportunities to work in a variety of ways should be offered:

  • - On different scales - tiny, small, large and massive
  • - In two dimensions (2D) - flat work such as drawing and painting
  • - In three dimensions (3D) - construction and sculpture
  • - Individually or collaboratively as a group.

DISPLAYS

Displaying children's creations celebrates individual and group achievements and confirms the value placed on their creative ideas and explorations.

Displays of artists' work, books, interesting objects and so on, all form important aspects of the creative learning environment. It is also important for practitioners to take the opportunity to 'talk around' the objects in displays and use the power of words to inspire and ignite the children's imaginations.

Art 4-11: Art in the early years of schooling (Morgan 1988) provides a detailed explanation about how to use words and visual triggers when talking about displays and objects.

Use displays to show the process by which the children have produced artwork. You can do this by taking and displaying a series of photographs. This will encourage the idea that the process, thoughts, feelings and enjoyment are as important as the final piece of artwork.

Encourage children to work collaboratively in creating individual displays. Provide resources such as tape, labels and pens to enable children to display their own creations. As well as drawings, painting and writing, this can include products such as 3D models, large-scale installations and photographs. Children will enjoy taking and displaying their own photos, so provide opportunities for them to use digital cameras.

Displays will enhance the learning environment and provide the children with a visual stimulus, often colourful, bold and informative. Displays also provide an opportunity to reflect the rich diversity of their world, helping children to look both within and beyond their own communities.

Displays can be versatile, depending on the space available. In settings where displays cannot be permanent, a small table or large tray might be used. Partition boards or the back of a bookcase or cupboard can be adapted, possibly by using cork board, for display purposes. Encourage children to be involved in displays, both in setting them up and interacting with them. Remember to talk with children about how (and even if) they would like their work displayed for others to share. A beautiful display that children are not allowed to touch, own or explore is of limited value.

ACCESSIBLE MEDIA AND MATERIALS

It is important to promote children's independent exploration and experimentation of media and materials by encouraging them to make their own choices about where, when and in what medium they wish to be creative. As such, the resources and materials need to be accessible to all children, checked regularly to ensure supplies are maintained, and clearly labelled with pictures as well as text. The use of a variety of storage containers incorporating diverse materials, textures, shapes, sizes and colours further supports the creative learning environment.

In addition, practitioners need to model media and techniques that are associated with art so that children know different ways in which resources can be used. While you are modelling, engage the children in discussion, offer suggestions and questions that extend their thinking and build on their ideas of ways in which the materials can be used.

As well as the media and materials commonly associated with art, children and practitioners can explore and engage with more diverse materials - for example, the use of drain pipes and mirrors in three-dimensional models or painted tyres rolled across large sheets of paper for print-making. Encourage the children to introduce and experiment with items they have found in their local and home environments.

TYPES OF MATERIALS

The following tables suggest possible materials and resources that you could use to support the six key art experiences: drawing, painting, textiles, 3D, collage and print-making. It is important to remember that this is not a prescribed list and your own list will reflect the needs and interests of the particular children at your setting.

Drawing

  • - chalks
  • - oil pastels
  • - brick crayons
  • - pencils
  • - wax crayons
  • - pencil crayons
  • - pens
  • - charcoal
  • - graphite sticks
  • - ready-mix paint
  • - Brusho (water-based colour)
  • - brushes
  • - rollers
  • - masking tape
  • - ropes and strings
  • - sand
  • - mud
  • - clay
  • - dough
  • - flour
  • - water
  • - watering can
  • - plastic bottles with nozzles
  • - hose
  • - torches
  • - OHP (overhead projector)
  • - paper in different sizes, textures, shapes, colours
  • - acetate
  • - tissue
  • - cellophane


Painting

  • - ready-mix paint
  • - sand
  • - flour
  • - icing sugar
  • - brushes
  • - toothbrushes
  • - nail brushes
  • - scrubbing brushes
  • - brooms
  • - sweeping brushes
  • - Brusho (water-based colour)
  • - rollers
  • - cotton buds
  • - sticks
  • - buckets
  • - palettes
  • - sponges
  • - spatulas
  • - glue sticks
  • - variety of surfaces - card, wood, hardboard
  • - different sizes, textures, shapes and colours of paper


Textiles

  • - range of fabrics including different weights, textures and colours
  • (sheer and translucent)
  • - white sheets or printing fabric (washed before use)
  • - range of threads
  • - PVA glue
  • - scissors
  • - fabric with loose weave (holey)
  • - plastic mats or clematis frame
  • - oil pastels
  • - wax crayons
  • - brick crayons
  • - Brusho (water-based colour)
  • - ready-mix paint
  • - graphic materials
  • - natural, found and made materials
  • - magnifying glass
  • - pieces of wood for frames
  • - large pieces of fabric and sticks for tents and dens


3D

  • - clay
  • - cardboard
  • - tubes
  • - boxes
  • - pots and trays
  • - mud
  • - sand
  • - dough
  • - builder's trays or similar
  • - buckets
  • - drainpipes and guttering
  • - tyres and wheels
  • - containers of different shapes and sizes
  • - OHP and screen, sheet or large white paper
  • - mirrors
  • - poles and sticks
  • - large fabric or plastic sheets
  • - natural, found and made materials

Collage

  • - PVA glue
  • - natural materials (leaves, soil, shells, twigs, gravel, wood shavings,
  • flower petals)
  • - reclaimed materials (plastics, cork, wrappers, packaging, papers,
  • cardboard)
  • - made materials (rubber)
  • - fabrics
  • - threads
  • - Brusho (water-based colour)
  • - magazines and other printed materials
  • - graphic materials
  • - variety of papers
  • - acetate
  • - plastic
  • - tissues

Printmaking

  • - brushes
  • - rollers
  • - trays
  • - slabs
  • - clay
  • - dough
  • - ready-mix paint
  • - newspaper
  • - sand
  • - mud
  • - sponges
  • - wooden blocks
  • - vegetables, other natural and made materials
  • - Plasticine
  • - sticks
  • - string
  • - corks, cotton reels
  • - flour
  • - masking tape

WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR CREATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

  • - Look at the space that the children are working in. Have they enough room to move around and can they see their work from different angles?
  • - Check if the environment is stimulating to all the senses.
  • - Ask the children what they think.
  • - Create a variety of treasure baskets containing natural and everyday objects that can be explored safely.
  • - Consider setting up a creative workshop area that can be accessible to the children for long periods each day.
  • - Look at your resources with the children. Think about how you can vary them to stimulate creativity.
  • - Think about ways that you could produce interesting displays at child height, with examples of varied work that relate to the six areas of experience (drawing, painting, printmaking, collage, textiles, and 3D).
  • - Provide pictures and examples of resources to choose from if they do need to be stored elsewhere.
  • - Ask the children for their ideas for displays. Ask them what they can do to create a display and what they could bring from home or elsewhere.
  • - Find ways of enabling the children to engage with the work of other artists. This may be achieved through displays, or encouraging visitors and peers to share their creativity.

AN INCLUSIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

All children in your setting should be provided with a stimulating and appropriate learning environment suited to their individual needs. All children should feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings, and happy to try new processes and use unfamiliar materials.

Consideration should be given to inclusive provision - for example:

  • - providing activities on different levels and surfaces, both vertical and horizontal (walls, playground, floor, a variety of table heights)
  • - arranging supported seating (beanbags, soft play equipment, foam, support from other people)
  • - providing opportunities for children to work lying down
  • - allowing sufficient time for the activity.

CONCLUSION

The inclusion of art media and materials within a creative learning environment provides young children with a wide range of opportunities to explore and develop their own creativity.

Engaging the children in dialogue where their ideas, thoughts and feelings are valued and listened to will keep experiences meaningful to them. Observations help practitioners build on individual children's interests.

For children to really engage in the creative environment you have provided, you need to have 'tuned in' to their individual needs. Find out from parents and carers what they enjoy doing, what kind of creative opportunities they have at home. It is important to know about their dislikes as well and to remember that some children are afraid of messy play.

Your skill as a practitioner will be required to make sure the environment is right for every child in your setting. The key person needs to ensure parents are involved and aware of what is happening in the setting. Sharing pictures and observations of their child's involvement on a daily basis will allow the experience to continue in the home.

Part 3, published on 24 March, will look in detail at drawing as an area of experience. This will include early mark-making and how this links to early writing, as well as various opportunities practitioners can provide for children both inside and outdoors

 

FURTHER READING

'Reflect and review: The arts and creativity in early years', Arts Council England, London (2005)

Morgan, M, Art 4-11: Art in the Early Years of Schooling (1988, last reprinted 1995), available from: www.nsead.org

'Art in the Early Years: A Resource to Support Creativity' (Suffolk County Council (2006), available from: www.suffolk.gov.uk/childcare

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