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Art is a broad curriculum

August 27, 2010

I’ve mentioned before that all you need to provide a fabulous art education is supplies and freedom.  And I think art is important.  Far from being an occasional diversion or extra-curricular activity, in our home art is a central piece of our homeschool.  Art itself is a broad curriculum.

An open-ended art project is a great experience in multi-sensory exploration and observation, which means it is a science project as well.  A child who is allowed to explore with interesting materials will set up and test hypotheses.   What will I happen if I mix these things?  Can I throw this in too?  What will happen to the color and the texture?  Will they mix or separate?  Will it sink or float?  All the senses are involved, as children are innately driven to answer the question:  What does it feel, look, smell, sound, and (in some cases) taste like?

Setting up and cleaning up a project are learning opportunities too.  Planning evolves as a child starts to think, “I need these materials to make this happen.”   At our house, art play often ends in water play as the brushes and containers must be washed and the table wiped, or perhaps we are outside so everything including the children just gets hosed down–fun!  In the process we learn about taking care of our home and our tools, about taking the time to do something completely and well, and about taking a moment to breathe in between activities.

Eventually, as they get experience in working with a broad range of materials and building confidence in the ability to make something, art projects can become a vehicle for play.  Imaginative play is a foundational human experience, crucial for learning and brain development.  Children process all the new information (social, emotional, sensory, factual, etc.) they are receiving each day by playing (and sleeping), so of course they weave their play into all their activities, art included.  A new creation or sensory experience can be the impetus for a new story line, a play plan requires a prop that we can make, and a book we read inspires a new interpretation of a repeated painting game.    This is all rich pre-literacy experience.  Fine-motor control is involved in pouring, squirting, mixing, pushing, pulling, kneading, and painting, and this sets a foundation for working with the hands and writing.

But perhaps fearless creativity is the most important outcome of open-ended art experiences.  I can make something.  I can solve problems.  I can have an idea and turn it into a reality.  I can plan for what I need, use what I have, and clean up when I’m done.  I can be happy with an unexpected outcome.  I can make my own fun.

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