Draw Me A Story, Dance Me A Poem: Integrating Expressive Arts Fosters Emergent Literacy

by Judy Potter

The connections between expressive arts experiences and emergent literacy are important and powerful for all young children. This connection can be seen in early childhood classrooms as children draw or act out their stories and dance or move with simple props to rhyming chants and music.

Benefits. Expressive arts (art, music, dance and dramatics) provide content for literacy development. The arts not only provide important content but serve as a vehicle for developmental learning for children of all ages and abilities. The expressive arts offer important opportunities for expression, problem-solving, and social development. Through participation in expressive arts, children of all abilities can make great strides in the processes of understanding and creating symbols and developing their own personal iconography, both of which are critical to communication and literacy development. Adults can help all children find ways to express their knowledge, feelings, and ideas through visual symbols, dramatic gestures, and musical sounds.

Children who are involved in expressive arts are participating in their own learning. When given choices and ample time to create, they will construct their own realities, communicate their feelings and ideas and make sense of and give meaning to their world. While this freedom of expression is important to all children, it is especially valuable to children with disabilities who might not be able to express themselves in other ways and who often do not feel in control of their environment due to their disabling conditions.

A rich expressive environment. Classroom environments rich in language experiences and the arts, foster literacy development. Ways to support a rich expressive environment include reading and reenacting stories and poems, singing songs, listening to music, creating and looking at artworks displayed, and labeling objects in the classroom.

"Reading" environmental print is an important step in understanding that words have meaning. Children proudly recognize familiar icons or symbols in their environment, such as a red hexagon "STOP" sign or the "Golden Arches" of McDonalds. Children "read" the symbol (shape) before they read the words. Label familiar objects in the child's environment to help them begin to make connections between the symbol shape and the word.

Printed letters are also symbols, symbols of sounds and spoken words. Combinations of symbols form words. Print begins to have meaning. Wesley recognizes the letter "W," which is the first letter of his name. Each time he sees a word that begins with "W," Wesley announces, "That's my name!" This announcement clearly represents the extent of Wesley's current knowledge about print and demonstrates how "meaning-making" works and happens one step at a time.

Expressive vocabulary. To express their knowledge and understanding children draw, speak, and write progressing through a complex development of graphic, oral, and written language. Children communicate ideas and feelings through drawings, words, gestures, body movements, and music. An expressive art vocabulary should be used when helping children talk about their art work and the art work of adults and peers.This will help the children to gain new words to express how they perceive their marks, shapes, forms, or images and how they feel about their work. Lines can be described as straight, crooked, curved, slanting, thick, thin, edge, smooth, jagged, long,or short.They can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Lines can be single or multiple. Lines can be wavy or zig-zaggy. They can make shapes or forms.

A child's body can create a line as it moves during dramatic play and responds to music. Sound and movement have direction. They can be fast or slow, high or low, loud or soft, beside, above, or under. Form and shape can be precise or amorphous (irregularly formed), positive or negative, many or single. Forms and shapes can be large or small and flat, bumpy, or round. They can have names like square, rectangle, triangle, andcircle.

Space is the area around or enclosed by forms. It can be positive, negative or over-lapping. Space can be far, near, high, wide, deep, close, beside, inside, front, back, and middle.

Colors have value, intensity, tint, and shade. Colors have names. They can be warm or cool, light or dark. There are primary colors, secondary colors, complementary colors and contrasting colors.

Texture can be soft, fuzzy, rough, smooth, bumpy, hard, or slick. Texture can be achieved through simple or complex patterns and by varying or mixing the tools and materials used.

Developmental stages. Children's drawing and emergent writing both follow developmental stages, universal patterns, and symbols when they are given time, space, and materials. Both mark making and writing begin with random scribbling, advance to controlled scribbles and marks, and then procede to mock letters and basic shapes and forms. Next children begin to combine shapes as they draw to represent something or someone. They explore combinations of mock and real letters. Finally recognizable or representational drawing and conventional letters appear. Remember that children spend a long time exploring, investigating, and playing with shapes, forms, and combinations of diagrams before they are interested in creating recognizable symbols to communicate an idea or feeling. Given their own writing materials and encouragement from adults, young children convey their curiosity and new ideas through drawing and through writing.

Quality children's literature. Many wonderful children's books are available about art and adult artists; many others exist that are illustrated by well known artists. Choosing quality children's literature becomes a crucial part of fostering emergent literacy. By selecting quality children's literature, you enable children to be actively involved in stories. When books are used in combination with visual arts, drama, expressive movement and sound making, they can provide additional motivation to become literate and a reason to communicate visually. The expressive arts provide opportunities to reenact favorite books or stories internalizing and interpreting actions of characters in a story. See a selection of children's literature listed at the end of this article.

Children develop skills. Symbol making and symbol recognition are major building blocks in early childhood. The expressive arts provide numerous opportunities for young children with disabilities to make marks, use gestures, and use spoken and written words, thereby becoming more fluent in their communication skills. A repeated symbol drawn may represent the child's initial self-portrait. Over time, the same symbol may begin to take on more detail and other symbols may begin to represent key features in the child's life, such as family members, a pet, or their name.

Creativity, emergent literacy, problem solving, predicting, and sequencing are just a few of the skills developed when children reenact a story, create a graphic image with Kid Pix,or compose a song with creative movements.

Children socially interact and expand their vocabulary as they negotiate for art materials, share props and tools, and collaborate in movement and dramatic play activities. Expressive movement further adds to the child's range of motion and control of actions. They will experience, with the assistance of props, such as scarves, the ability to make small and large movements.

Technology. Children with disabilities can develop skills when technology is incorporated in the classroom setting. Technology in some settings is "just another center;" however, technology and adaptative peripherals are essential so children with disabilities can access the same or similar activities as their less disabled peers.

Today's technology can grow right along with the child. Simple icons can be attached to switches so the child begins to develop an awareness of cause and effect. Depending on the developmental level of the child, additional choices may be added. For example: the audio CD, The Three Little Pigsby Greg & Steve, can be recorded onto the switches of a TalkPad. A small graphic of the wolf can be printed, laminated, and taped to the button. When pressed, the wolf will say, "Little Pig, Little Pig, let me come in." As the child becomes capable of making more choices, different phrases can be added using different icons for recognition. Words can be added to the icon to support the development of emergent literacy skills. Teachers can add technology to any classroom open house, family night, or parent-teacher conference. Early childhood teachers, participating in the Expressive Arts Outreach Project, have created individual child portfolios and classroom slide shows using various children's software including: Kid Pix, Disney's Magic Artist, Crayola's Make a Masterpiece,and HyperStudio.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?(Martin & Carle, 1995) became the model for one classroom's expressive arts activity using Kid Pix Studio(Br¯derbund). Children used the rhyming patterns in the book and created a Kid Pix Studioslide show about their study of "brown" things. After hearing the story, children discussed objects that were brown and then drew pictures of their favorite brown things (e.g., chocolate, brown squirrel, monkey, chocolate Labrador) using the Kid Pixdrawing tools. Then, with teacher help, each child created his/her own page or "slide" and added sounds. The resulting slide show contained the children's drawings and their voices as each child narrated his/her section of the story. Using the slide show option from Kid Pix Studio,the pages ran automatically, resulting in an original classroom version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?Two copies of the slide show were printed out, laminated, and bound. One was placed in the classroom library and the other by the computer, where small groups of children enjoyed viewing their slide show and following along in the printed book.

HyperStudio(Knowledge Adventure), an authoring program that contains drawing tools, can be used to produce 'stacks' (sequential computer screens) based on authentic experiences and interests of young children. Stacks can be used to relive classroom events, to retell familiar stories, to author new stories, and to facilitate experiences at home and school (Bell, Clark, & Johanson, 1998). Children can extend their expressiveness by being involved in initial planning, gathering materials, making decisions, implementing ideas, and producing stacks with varying amounts of adult assistance. Children create and plan sounds, images, text, video, links, animation, buttons, and transition effects. They can organize cards, evaluate aesthetic qualities of the stack, and suggest revisions.

To introduce descriptive language, dance experiences, and drama activities to enable her children to express thoughts and feelings, to expand their understandings, and to extend their knowledge levels through creative self expression, one early childhood teacher developed an activity that led to a variety of expressive arts experiences for the children in her classroom. She collected several translucent scarves in many colors, brought them to the classroom, and invited each child to choose a scarf and move it through the air. Then she read the book Color Dance(Jonas, 1989). When she finished reading, she invited the children to stand and move their scarves again as she played classical music. She told the children to think of the dancers in the book and asked open ended questions including, "Tell me all the ways dancers with scarves can move." Matt said his scarf swirled. Others used descriptive words like swaying, swinging, hopping, flipping, flapping,and wrapping.Next, the teacher invited the children to draw their own color dance story. Some used crayons or markers and drew on paper. Others used graphics capabilities of HyperStudio.Then the teacher scanned photos taken of the experience and the children's drawings. These were used to create a HyperStudiostack about the children's color dance. The stack was then printed, pages were laminated and bound, and the resulting book was placed in the classroom book center. Using HyperStudioresulted in software that related an experience unique to this class. The children could see pictures of themselves involved in the activities, could hear their words, and could view their drawings. They could also revisit their "color dance" experience at the computer and at the classroom book center, where their printed version was shelved beside the original book by Ann Jonas.

Summary. If children are given time, materials, and in some cases a few adaptations, children can "draw their stories and dance their poems." The experiences will help children communicate and make connections with emergent literacy. The expressive arts offer all young children important vehicles for learning: creating symbols, expressing feelings, and communicating ideas. The expressive arts fosters learning across many domains, including emergent literacy. Images, sound, and movement produced by children are symbols, just as words are abstract representations of events, people, animals, objects, and the environment.

Bell, C., Clark, L., & Johanson, J. (1998). HyperStudio: A literacy tool.Closing the Gap, 17(3), 6.
Jonas, A. (1989). Color dance.New York: Trumpet.
Martin, B., & Carle, E. (1995). Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?New York: Henry Holt.

The following list contains children's books that focus on art in general, aesthetic elements like color, form, and line, artists, and books that support children's dramatic play.
Baker, A. (1994). White Rabbit's color book.New York: Kingfisher Books.
Bj–rk, C., & Anderson, L. (1985). Linnea in Monet's garden.Stockholm: RabÈn & Sj–gren Publishers.
Blizzard, G. (1992). Come look with me: Animals in art.Charlottesville, VA: Thomasson- Grant, Inc.
Carle, E. (1995). I see a song.NY: Scholastic.
Cohen, C. (1988). The mud pony.
dePaola, T. (1989). The art lesson.New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Florian, D. (1991). A potter.New York: Greenwillow Books.
Gauch, P. (1980). Christina Katerina & the box.New York: Coward-McCann, Inc.
Hubbard, P. (1996). My crayons talk. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
Hull, J. (1989). Clay.New York: Franklin Watts.
Hutinger, P., et. al. (2001). ArtExpress.Macomb, IL : Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood, Western Illinois University.
Johnson, C. (1955). Harold and the purple crayon.New York: Harper & Row.
Lester, A. (1989). Imagine.New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Le Tord, B. (1995). A blue butterfly: A story about Claude Monet.New York: Doubleday.
Lionni, L. (1975). A color of his own.New York: Scholastic.
Lionni, L. (1995). Little blue and little yellow.New York: Mulberry Books.
Micklethwait. L. (1993). A child's book of art.New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Micklethwait, L. (1994). I spy a lion: Animals in art.New York: Greenwillow Books.
Moss, S. (1995). Peter's painting.New York: Mondo Publishing.
Pacovsk·, K. (1995). Flying.New York: North South Books.
Seymour, R. (1994). The National Gallery abc.New York: Universe Publishing.
Shaw, C. (1989). It looked like spilt milk. New York: Scholastic.
Waters, E., & Harris, A. (1993). Painting, a young artist's guide.New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Wolf, A. (1984). Mommy, it's a Renoir!Altoona, PA: Parent-child Press.
Yenawin, P. (1991). Lines.

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