Art is an important mode of learning

In recent years, in the education field, a wave of acceptance that art offers important learning tools, has taken hold. As the theories of the Educational Masters of the past –Froebel, Dewey, Montessori to name just a few are being made visible by new research on the brain, the complex way that arts and play activities constitute learning in many different areas of development is being clearly demonstrated and re-valued.

Changes in our lives generally have also made us aware of the need for visual literacy. “Parents need to be aware that children learn a lot more from graphic sources now than in the past,” says Dr. Kerry Freedman, a university lecturer in arts and design education. Learning to create and appreciate visual aesthetics may be more important than ever to the development of the next generation of children. “Children need to know more about the world than just what they can learn through text and numbers. Art education teaches students how to interpret, criticise, and use visual information, and how to make choices based on it.”(Grace Hwang Lynch). Knowledge about the visual arts, such as graphic symbolism, is especially important in helping kids navigate a world bombarding them with images. The ability to manipulate and visualise in 3D is increasingly important for future knowledge building.

Recent studies have also argued convincingly that there is a correlation between art and academic achievement. Understanding of pattern making in art activities has long been known to transfer to math and science related cognitive skills. Over a century ago Bertrand Russell declared that math is an art form.

So what are the benefits of art in terms of learning?

The list is quite long! The essentials include but are not limited to problem solving, memory development and use, organising and re-organising (concrete objects and abstract thought), negotiation, communication, self-management, physical development, distinguishing fantasy from reality, emotional awareness and control.

Fostering relationships built on a deep understanding is also significant for children to grow in skills and knowledge. Many parents already recognise that being involved in school or kinder activities is important for their children to thrive.

Kids are more likely to take on new challenges if they have trust in adults, of whom they can ask questions when they are confused, curious, or puzzled. They will keep on trying if family are involved in their learning. A British study of children from daycare to the end of secondary schooling has also pointed out that interactions with informed, intelligent and interested adults also raises levels of achievement.

When it comes to art, in particular art making, even very well-informed adults still subscribe to the view of art skill as some sort of miracle at birth. However, artists great or insignificant will all attest to the fact that art is learnt and conversely is learning in action. There are many possibilities in a city such as ours for art events and classes for children of all ages and interests, however, for learning to be lasting and to transfer more broadly, there needs to be ongoing interaction with an adult with whom the child has a strong connection.

Regular, routine art making benefits a child’s learning far more than isolated classes. Time to experiment and do over, are important to the development of learning that the child can ‘own’.

Moving beyond art as an ‘activity’, to art as a mode of learning.

Knowing HOW to involve children in their learning through art is not at all scary. It’s as simple as an opportunity for listening and looking, then discussing in a meaningful but non-judgmental way.

That is why our approach to art with children, is different. It begins with teacher and parent workshops designed to open thoughts and expression to the possibilities of art as learning. It familiarises adults with materials and techniques, to dispel any fears or insecurities that they may have related to working creatively and it demonstrates how learning takes place while enjoying a challenge.

Understanding and engaging in art with your child can also provide opportunities to better understand how your child learns. This can benefit all aspects of education.

Written by Dr Jillian Trezise.

Jillian’s passion for and dedication to early childhood education is evident in both her teaching and support. She willingly shares her expertise and knowledge, empowering both students and colleagues in the process.