Meiners, J. (2005). In the beginning: Young children and arts education. International Journal of Early Childhood, 37(2), 37-44.
This report describes an arts education partnership between Windmill Performing Arts, an Australian national performing arts company for children and families, and the University of South Australia. The ongoing partnership involves artists and early childhood education (ECE) students working with young children in their practicum in three early childhood sites. ECE students participated as assistant teacher-researchers engaging in action research and data gathering as part of their university coursework. The artists created work in their respective art forms—music, dance, and visual arts—and the ECE students observed and recorded children’s spontaneous responses.
Four themes for arts learning were observed: play and exploration, relationships and safety, motivation and ownership, and gender.
Play and Exploration Children were encouraged to explore the sensory qualities of art forms and mediums, as they played with movement, sound, texture, color, line, and shape. The researcher noticed that the presence of the local artists often fostered creativity and spontaneity in the children.
Relationships and Safety The researcher found that allowing young children the space to observe from a distance before participating in creative activities was vital in establishing safety.
Motivation and Ownership Children in this study were excited to share their ideas with the local artists and have them included in the creative process. After the artists left, the children were motivated to re-create the experiences.
Gender The researcher noticed a significant difference between girls’ and boys’ participation in dance. Most boys often sat and watched the girls dance, often commenting that dance was a female activity.
In addition, early childhood education students reported that participating in the project deepened their understanding of the arts and improved their confidence in teaching. They highly valued the experience of learning how curriculum can be co-created with artists and children.
Significance of the Findings:
The research supports a body of research that shows the arts provide a way for children to use the body as a sensory base for meaning-making. This study provides an example of how to partner a university with an arts organization for mutual post-secondary educational and research benefit.
Three local artists were assigned to different early childhood centers and included children in creative processes in dance, music, and visual arts. The artists visited two mornings a week for three weeks and worked with themes provided by the director of Windmill Performing Arts, an Australian company that presents performances for children and families.
Final year university students in early childhood education observed the children’s responses to the artists and recorded their observations. They worked with communication university students who videotaped the artist-child interactions. In addition to using the video material as data, communication students edited the footage to be used by the Windmill Performing Arts organization. The students then assembled their observations and identified significant themes.
Limitations of the Research:
This research was designed as a university course for pre-service early childhood education students and emphasized observing young children engaged in the arts and documenting resulting findings. There was little focus on how the project affected the participating artists, or current early childhood teachers.
Questions to Guide New Research:
How does the involvement of local artists in early childhood education centers affect child development? How can artists and teachers collaborate effectively in teaching young children? How does the artist-child partnership affect early childhood educators?