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Art and the Young Child
Engaging in regular hands on creative exploration is imperative to cognitive, social, and physical development for the young child; this is why the Maplewood Richmond Heights Early Childhood Center’s art studio is a full TAB studio. TAB stands for Teaching for Artistic Behavior. This is a “choice-based” studio art classroom approach. It is aligned with national standards but looks very different than traditional project based curriculums. Work coming home is entirely student driven. Art pieces are not completed via step-by step instruction. Children’s art should not look like adult work. Understanding this shows respect for their individual values and ideas.
In the studio, children are allowed to experiment and explore freely in both material and thought. When a child begins to understand that they can manipulate a medium they begin to make creative choices and foster independent thinking. When they control a pencil or mold a ball of clay they have the ability to tell stories with their hands. They do not necessarily have this ability with language at this stage of their development. As they see their ability to communicate grow, their critical thinking abilities stretch, they gain self-esteem, fine motor skills are developing, they are expressing themselves, all the while complex cognitive maturation is taking place.
Each art class, students choose a “studio” (center) where they will work for that class session. There will be idea starters and materials at each studio. Children will cultivate an idea, select materials, pace themselves while creating their work, overcome obstacles, clean up and return materials, store their work and verbally share their process with the class. Daily “sharing time” builds verbal expression skills as well as training in how to give and take feedback. Because of the open studio format, each student is able to begin their learning journey where they are ready. Within a class period, the art teacher demonstrates new mediums and techniques to small groups, help students generate ideas, monitor studio integration, infuse art history and indulge in teachable moments through responsive teaching. The process of children “acting as an artist” is just as important as the completed piece. Sketchbooks maintained by each child are always available for perusal and are placed in each homeroom during conferences. Sketchbooks are used for assessment, to house direct technical skills, fine-motor work, and to record a child's studio choices.
Artwork will not necessarily come home weekly. Should students choose to work with digital cameras, rehearse in dramatic play, create on iPads or in the architecture studio, those mediums are clearly non-transferable. “Play” is well documented to be just as important to creative discovery as making art itself. Make-believe and pretend build social-emotional skills and facilitate abstract thought. Through both studio and “play,” students learn social skills. They learn the art of conversation, give and take, and how to express how they are feeling.
Students at MRHECC are comfortable with ambiguity of art and welcome free choices when they reach the kindergarten studio. TAB is the perfect pairing to the buildings metaphor, School as Studio, and our Reggio inspired approach. Children are viewed as capable artists the first day they reach the atelier.
Please talk to your student about what they are creating during their time in the art studio. Really engaging a child in a conversation about their work is one of the most powerful things you can do as a parent to foster creative skills and expressive thought. Helping foster your child's aesthetic awareness strengthens their connection to the outside world and other cultures as they grow.
Author of this article and ECC Art Teacher, Kari Schepker-Mueller has attended the TAB Institute in Boston, Massachusetts and has hosted numerous conferences for other St. Louis art teachers on the pedagogy. She has also spoken at the National Art Educators Association Conference in Chicago on the topic. Please contact her if you have any questions about your students studio experiences.
For more information, contact MRH School District at (314) 644-4400.