Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk

Brown, E. D., Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. (28)2, 337–346.


This study examines the effects of arts integration on preschool students’ emotional expression and emotional regulation. The study compares two preschools, an arts-integrated preschool (Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program) and a traditional preschool. Both preschools are Head Start programs that serve low-income students. The researchers find that students in the Kaleidoscope program were more likely to experience positive emotions during arts based learning than in traditional learning times. The positive emotions occurred more frequently for arts-integrated preschool students than for the students in the traditional preschool. The students in the arts-integrated program also experienced greater growth in emotional regulation over the course of the school year.

Key Findings:

The students at the arts integrated preschool had a higher frequency of positive emotions than students at the traditional preschool, and showed higher regulation of positive and negative emotions and greater growth in emotional regulation over the course of the school year. Students at both schools exhibited similar negative emotional expression.

In the arts integrated pre-school, children showed a higher frequency of positive emotions during arts integrated classes in comparison to regular classes.

Significance of the Findings:

The Kaleidoscope program provides a model for arts integration in early childhood learning, and other studies have shown it to also increase school readiness for low-income students.

Much research has been done showing positive emotions facilitate engagement with learning, therefor the increased frequency of emotions such as happiness, pride, and interest shown in the arts-integrated preschool is significant in the education of populations who are at-risk for educational difficulties. This study suggests that integrating the arts into early childhood education for low-income children may serve to equalize educational opportunity by making the school experience more positive by increasing the frequency of positive emotions and emotional regulation that children experience through the arts. The induction of positive emotions into educational setting through arts programming is an important piece of prevention strategy, and arts-integration may play a significant role in early education programs for low-income students.


Two hundred and five Head Start preschool students and their caregivers in Philadelphia participated in the study. This sample was compromised of 174 students attending Settlement Music School’s Kaleidoscope Program (the treatment group) and 31 students attending a comparison preschool (the control group). Kaleidoscope uses an arts-integrated model that includes standard early learning classes in addition to daily music, creative movement, and visual arts classes, which are taught by credentialed art teachers. The average age for the students was four years, two months. Seventy-five percent of the students were Black, ten percent Latino, ten percent Asian, and five percent White. Ninety percent of the families were low-income and 65 percent considered poor based on national poverty guidelines. The study took place over the course of one academic year and the participation rate in study was close to 85 percent at both sites, as several caregivers did not participate in the interview process despite repeated attempts. The study consisted of four components: 1) an initial demographic data collection interview with caregivers, 2) the measurement of individual children’s verbal ability using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III in the fall (October) and spring (May), 3) the Emotional Regulation Checklist (ERC), a Likert scale indicating frequency of behaviors which was completed independently by the Head Start teachers, and 4) coded observations of the children’s classroom emotions conducted by trained graduate research assistants using an adapted Affex system at one minute intervals with inter-rater reliability scores of .82 according to Cohen’s Kappa.

Limitations of the Research:

It is not possible to know based on the collected data whether these findings would transfer to other students and other schools in different contexts (e.g. different communities, preschools different student demographics). Also, because the study compares two preschool buildings, there may have been school effects (e.g. teacher quality, school climate) that influenced the findings. Additionally, it would have increased the power of the data to see the traditional preschool group be of a similar size as the arts-integrated group.

Questions to Guide New Research:

  • What kinds of arts-integration are most impactful for early childhood education (e.g., dance vs. visual art, theatre vs. music).
  • Is full arts integration (integration of all art forms) more beneficial for student emotional development than the integration of one artistic discipline?
  • What aspects of teacher training are most beneficial for arts integration?
  • Are similar positive results found in full arts integration in other grade levels?