Museum Field Trips
Taking young children to an art museum can be a challenging experience for any adult. Museums are designed for grown-ups who engage in thoughtful reflection, not for active children who want to point and exclaim. With a little preparation, however, a museum field trip can be an enjoyable experience for all.
Many museums schedule special times for children's tours and family visits. During these times, the museum staff and other patrons expect children to visit, and special tours and support personnel will be available. If the children will not be participating in a tour planned specifically for them, it is important that the teacher select a few key items on which to focus during the visit. Artwork done by artists featured in the classroom or portraying objects related to thematic units will be of interest to the children. They will have a context for thinking about and discussing what they see. Because the attention span of young children is short, museum field trips should not be lengthy. Thirty minutes is probably long enough for children to view the pieces pre-selected by the teacher without getting tired or frustrated in the museum setting. Other exhibits can be saved for future field trips.
Classroom Art Center
The art center should provide opportunities for child-centered activities. Although teachers might suggest themes, too much direction or assistance interferes with the creative process. Adult models for children to follow are also frustrating because most children do not have the fine motor and visual perceptual skills to replicate adult efforts. Instead, teachers can encourage children to design and complete their own projects by recognizing that the same themes may be repeated many times as children explore ideas and practice skills.
Open-ended materials such as paint, crayons, markers, scissors, glue, clay, and assorted paper support child-centered activities. Although having too many choices can be overwhelming for young children, making a selection from two or three options at a time is an excellent way for children to practice decision-making. Lowenfeld and Brittain (1975) also "cautioned" teachers not to change materials or introduce new materials into the center too often. Children need time to practice and develop skills with materials if they are to use them to express their ideas and feelings.
Finally, it should be noted that the creative process takes time. Although some children will complete their artwork within a short time, others will need large blocks of time to design and make their projects. The design of the art center and the class schedule should encourage children to return to a project and work until they decide it is completed (Edwards & Nabors, 1993).
Displaying Children's Art in a Classroom Gallery
A classroom gallery exhibiting children's art highlights the work for the children themselves and for classroom visitors. A large bulletin board or wall space provides a backdrop for the gallery. Children should take the responsibility for mounting their work and selecting its placement in the gallery. Labels, including a title for the work, name of the artist, medium, and year of creation, can be dictated and will provide a meaningful experience with print. Children can also serve as curators and lecturers, giving tours of the gallery to classroom visitors.
Involving Families in the Art Program
Keeping families involved in the life of the classroom is an important responsibility for early childhood teachers. Sharing with families the role of art in the curriculum and the activities in which their children are participating will encourage their support of the program and of their children's learning. Family involvement can be encouraged in several ways. Inviting families to participate in museum field trips and classroom art activities provides the opportunity for shared experiences and discussion between children and their parents.
Teachers may also suggest at-home art projects for children and parents to participate in together. These projects should always be optional and teachers should provide any special materials that might be needed in a packet which includes explanations and directions for the project. Brand (1996) suggested linking art projects with book themes as a way of encouraging parents with differing skill levels to feel comfortable in working with their children at home. For example, after reading Lucy's Picture(1995) by Nicola Moon, children and parents might work together to create a collage depicting activities they would like to participate in together from materials found at home and/or supplied by the teacher.
"Artists' knapsacks" for children's use at home are another way to involve families in classroom art activities. Four to five knapsacks, each featuring one medium such as paint and paper or modeling clay, can be available for children to check out and share with their families. Although the general purpose of the knapsacks should be shared with parents, specific directions for each knapsack need not be provided. The goal of the knapsacks is to encourage the same creative use of materials at home as in the classroom.
Through the art activities described in this article, young children will develop abilities and skills that have application in many other areas of the curriculum. Most importantly, however, children will also develop an appreciation for the art of other people and cultures, and the confidence to express their own thoughts and feelings through art. Far from creating individual prodigies, this integration of making and enjoying art in the early childhood classroom will result in the "all-sided development" of the children participating.