Structuring the Art Environment for Learning

Open-ended and child-centered environments invite children to explore and experiment with materials, stretch their creative imaginations,and practice developmental skills. A child-centered expressive arts environment encourages children to learn without the pressure of producing a predetermined product or action.

Art activities are an important aspect of young children's educational development. Adults can provide a wide variety of activities in the arts to help young children develop cognitive skills, motor skills, social skills, and both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Teachers can help develop children's artistic ability by encouraging children to talk about their art work, displaying examples of adult art work throughout the classroom for the children to view (Dyson, 1990), and incorporating strategies to integrate a variety of curriculum areas into arts activities including language arts, science, and other content areas (Schirrmacher, 1993).

Structuring the environment in early childhood programs includes four dimensions:

  • Time
  • Space
  • Materials
  • Activities

A wide range of teacher strategies can be used in the art environment depending on the child, the disability, and the learning situation. These strategies include direct exploration, observational learning or modeling (learning by observing another child or an adult engaged in the activity), peer tutoring, teacher tutoring, and teacher direction.

This chapter describes in detail how to structure time, space, materials, and activities. It also examines Learning through Observation, Incorporating Play Strategies, Displaying Children's Art Work, and Creating Changeable Books.

Updated 9/16/02.