Art is an integral part of an early childhood classroom. For children, it is a tool that encourages them to express themselves graphically, emotionally, and verbally. For family members, it provides concrete evidence of their child's work, in addition to increasing their understanding of their child's development. For teachers, it is an observation tool, an assessment support, and a means of sharing with children as well as their families.

The Reggio Emilia approach offers a host of ideas that will help you and the children in your program make the most of art activities. They include:

  • Listening to children's ideas and respecting their thoughts by taking them seriously
  • Observing children's work with various media and supporting them with gentle questions and positive comments
  • Allowing children to think about projects over a long period and work on them for as long as they are interested
  • Providing unhurried and unstructured time for children to work with art materials
  • Enlarging the art area to include more materials and providing places for "works in progress" to be stored overnight or between work sessions
  • Adding new and different media and recycled materials to your room often
  • Sharing the talents of a staff person who is creative and loves art with other classes. Reggio calls this person an Atelierista.

You can be sure your artwork displays interest and engage children by:

  • Creating displays with simple, one-color back-grounds to allow children's artwork to stand out
  • Consistently using the pattern and color combination you selected on all display areas throughout the school
  • Displaying the materials in a way that is attractive and draws children's attention to them
  • Creating a special place in the room to support easy access and storage of multi-media materials. Display them openly so children can see and select them without disrupting the organization system.

Caution: Keep It Simple!

A classroom that has artwork displayed like busy wallpaper from floor to ceiling and comer to corner is overwhelming for children. Research in rooms such as these usually document behavior problems as well. Here are suggestions to keep classrooms interesting and aesthetically pleasing:

  • Keep displays neat and contained in their own designated spaces.
  • Include a simple label, title, or headline to explain the focus of the display.
  • Display work by every child, but not every child's work in every display.
  • Send artwork home or place it in portfolios periodically to decrease clutter.
  • Ask children what they want displayed-allow them to choose.
  • Encourage children to help you create and change displays during the day. They'll take pride in seeing their work go up on the wall.

Communicating With Parents

Sharing children's artwork with parents is a vital part of communication, families often feel that these projects are the only evidence they have that children are "learning" and value each product the child brings home. Whether you are sharing children's work in the classroom or sending it home, you can:

  • Include samples of children's artwork that show the progression of growing skills.
  • Write brief notes that explain to parents what children were trying to communicate with their art-work (where applicable).
  • Share children's work through videos and recordings. Take standard or digital pictures and record conversations while children work with finger paints or create a classroom mural.
  • Encourage parents to place sticky notes with positive comments on children's work during a classroom art show.
  • Keep a daily journal to share with families that includes a diagram depicting areas of the classroom where children spent most of their time, children's drawings, and some text reflecting what children said they were thinking about specific topics.

Showcase It!

Other than classroom walls, shelves, and bulletin boards, where can you showcase children's artwork? Here are some ideas:

  • Hall displays throughout the school
  • Office or front-area bulletin board where one "artist of the week" from each class can be highlighted
  • Mall displays during the week of the young child or other education-focused events and celebrations
  • Pediatrician's or dentist's offices
  • Local stores-especially during festivals, special holidays, or community celebrations

Create a Classroom Art Gallery

What better way to increase self-esteem, highlight hard work, and respect children's accomplishments than arranging an art show or a new gallery! This can be done with some planning and only a few dollars. Even programs with limited budgets can do this. Consider the following:

  • Involve children in planning these kinds of events. They will have great ideas and can do most of the preparations as part of the classroom routines.
  • Plan ahead to connect this event with another that attracts school- or community-wide attention.
  • Create display panels with borrowed trifold screens or buy wooden lattice panels from your local garden, hardware or lumber store.Secure them on wooden stands and use to attach artwork. Place heavier sculptures on tables or in safe places on the floor under one of these panels.
  • Work with children to create invitations to send to family members and their guests inviting them to the art gallery or show.
  • Offer refreshments made by the children. Document the preparations with a display board of pictures showing children preparing the treats.
  • Ask children if they would like to demonstrate the various kinds of media or processes used to create the artwork on display. For example, children might demonstrate how to do string art or screen painting in the same area where these projects are displayed.
  • Divide the display into categories such as by media-water colors,easel paints, table top painting, mixed media (collage, sand painting), or by type such as paints, sculptures, or construction projects.
  • Be certain to display at least one example of EVERY child's work.

Art is a glorious process that engenders creativity, emotional development, problem-solving skills, thinking skills, and pride in every child. Use it to communicate with families, document children's growth and development, and as an effective tool for increasing self-esteem through exhibits, art shows, or an ongoing art gallery.