What does developmentally appropriate early childhood art education look like in the TAB art room? And how is it best supported by the TAB pedagogy? TAB is, at its heart, about building student agency through choice. Allowing simple choices for our youngest students has many benefits. It fosters independence, capability, creativity, and self-worth. It also mitigates many behavioral problems in the classroom.
Left: Leo, kindergarten, created a mixed-media sculpture based on a favorite theme: chickens! Right: A student uses tempera cake paints.Left: Avin, kindergarten, builds with wooden blocks in the Architecture Center. Right: Ruth, kindergarten, works with stencils and markers in the Drawing Center.
Humans have been making art for a very long time. Why? Nathan H. Lents in Psychology Today writes, “Art reflects culture, transmits culture, shapes culture, and comments on culture” (see Resources). And, for as long as human beings have made art, they have involved their children in those creative experiences.
Researchers have found caves in France with evidence of “finger flutings” drawn by adults—and by children as young as two. In fact, there were “children’s flutings in nearly every chamber of the complex, including its most remote reaches…” (see Resources). From our earliest days of art-making, we have valued it enough to include our very young children.
The Importance of Play
The great defender of childhood, Mr. Rogers, famously said “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”
In the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) pedagogy, play is also serious art instruction. But how is it best done? To better serve the youngest students in our art rooms, we first need an understanding of child development in order to have appropriate expectations for them.
Children who are four years old are just making their first forays into the world. They need lots of physical activity. They learn best through play. They have limited attention spans, especially for seated paper-and-pencil tasks. They are just beginning to develop fine motor skills and are still forming hand bones.
Kindergartners may still be new to school. They also need frequent physical activity. While their attention span and ability to stay seated are continuing to grow, they still benefit from freedom of movement. They may still be awkward with fine motor activities.
The First Grader
First graders are growing rapidly. They are energetic, enthusiastic, and active. They may tire easily. They are more interested in process than product and in quantity of work over quality. They are entering a particularly exciting period of growth.
In the fourth edition of Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4–14, Chip Wood writes:
Artistic explosion—clay, paints, dancing, coloring, bookmaking, weaving…tried out seriously for the first time; children need to feel their attempts are valued, that there is no right or wrong way to approach an art medium; risk-taking now enhances later artistic expression and competence.
TAB in the Art Room
So, what does developmentally appropriate early childhood art education look like in the TAB art room? And how is it best supported by the TAB pedagogy? TAB is, at its heart, about building student agency through choice. Allowing simple choices for our youngest students has many benefits. It fosters independence, capability, creativity, and self-worth. It also mitigates many behavioral problems in the classroom.
Here’s an example of a day in a kindergarten art room: Students are taught a quick lesson that involves looking at art and using art supplies. Next, they are given clear, consistent choices and allowed to move about the room at will. They are asked to clean up and put materials away before changing activities.
What should we remember about these children? Art is an innate and vital part of child development. They do not think, feel, or act like adults; each age has its own developmental markers and quirks. Like adult artists, children make art about things they care about: families, food, icons, pop culture, and their own rich inner lives. And like adult artists, they deserve creative freedom and ownership of their ideas, their process, and their artwork.
The Best Method
Making art is hardwired into our youngest students. Despite their age, they come to us brimming with ideas. They need space, time, and materials—not step-by-step directions. TAB provides the most developmentally appropriate method of art instruction for our tiny humans. They are so much more complex, creative, and capable than we think.
Lori Wallace is an art teacher at Spring Hill Elementary School in Pflugerville, Texas. Lori.Wallace@PFISD.net
Art teachers share lessons that focus on student choice and Teaching for Artistic Behavior. Students use an everyday material to express their ideas in 2D and 3D form, experiment with digital drawing apps to alter self-portrait images through collage, engage in discussions about race and identity during a color-mixing exploration, participate in hands-on learning stations to investigate symmetry, and more.