The Arts

The domain of the Arts includes Preschool Benchmarks in: Exploring the Arts and Using the Arts to Communicate Ideas and Emotions


The creative arts allow young children to explore and express their individuality, imaginations, and ideas through music, movement and dance, drama, and the visual arts. Through artistic experiences, children are motivated to engage in problem solving as they experiment with combinations of media and creative expression. Opportunities to regularly recognize and discuss beauty in their environment, their work, and in the work of others support young children as they begin to develop their appreciation of the arts.

Preschool teachers can learn as much about children by observing them in the act of creating as they can by examining the products of these acts. The topic of children’s work may reflect their individual interests, while the way they depict the topic may reflect their feelings about that topic, their fine- or gross-motor skills, and their developing perceptual abilities. Teachers can support their creative efforts by observing and talking with them about their work and providing them with strategies that will help them accomplish their artistic goals.

When first introduced to a new element of the arts (a musical instrument, an art medium, or a movement), young children are typically focused on the process of manipulating that element rather than on producing an end product. However, as they are given opportunities to become more familiar with the element, they begin to use it with increasing intent and skill.

It is important to give young children extensive opportunities and encouragement to explore new media so they can begin to use them for expression. Preschool teachers need to provide a rich variety of visual art materials, musical instruments, recordings and experiences, props and materials for dramatizing, and opportunities for movement and dance so the arts are integrated into learning experiences across the curriculum. Accepting the way each child expresses his or her creativity and encouraging experimentation, exploration, and risk-taking as he or she engages in creative work will support a child’s development in the arts.

Jenna teaches at her community church preschool program and emphasizes creativity and the arts with the children throughout the day. She loves to see how they express themselves, whether it is through music, movement and dance, visual arts, or drama. Each child is so unique and interesting! José sings as he builds with blocks, sometimes under his breath and sometimes loudly, almost in triumph, as his block creation is finished. “Ta-daa!!!” Like many of the children, he sings the favorite class songs as well as songs he hears on the Spanish radio station that his family listens to. Marianna always moves with grace and requests scarves and favorite recordings for dancing. She takes dance lessons and shows other children how to hold their arms and point their toes. Lila and Anthony are the drama queen and king. They can act out any scene, whether using puppets to act out a story the group has read or playing at being Mom and Dad in the dramatic play area. While they may argue some over their roles, they successfully negotiate and keep scripts going, sometimes into the next day or week. Jenna has written down some of their scenes and read them back to the group, much to the delight of Lila and Anthony. Painting is Teena’s specialty, both at the easel and at a table with finger paints. The messier the better for Teena. She uses many colors and comments as she mixes them. Her paintings are full of energy and motion. Jenna makes sure to communicate with all of the children’s families about the ways they express their creativity and the importance of the arts in their young lives.


Goal 25
Gain exposure to and explore the arts.

Learning Standard 25.A
Investigate, begin to appreciate, and participate in the arts.

  • The Arts
    25.A.ECa: Movement and Dance: Build awareness of, explore, and participate in dance and creative movement activities.
  • The Arts
    25.A.ECb: Drama: Begin to appreciate and participate in dramatic activities.
  • The Arts
    25.A.ECc: Music: Begin to appreciate and participate in music activities.
  • The Arts
    25.A.ECd: Visual Arts: Investigate and participate in activities using visual arts materials.

Example Performance Descriptors

Movement and Dance
Participate in movement games and activities (e.g., imitate animal movements in a group activity, dance with classmates, play “Simon Says”, freeze when music stops). Combine music and movement (e.g., move to the beat of a drum). Change movement in response to tempo (e.g., moving more slowly when music slows down and more quickly when music speeds up).
Begin to purposely use simple movement patterns as they move to music (e.g., intentionally using dance movements they have learned or made up, dancing to a familiar tune). Portray emotions through movement (e.g., hanging head and drooping shoulders to portray feeling sad; swinging arms, smiling, and taking big steps to portray feeling happy). Move in coordination with a partner (e.g., mirroring the movements of a partner, holding hands and moving to rhythmic dance music, swinging partner by linking elbows).
Perform imaginative and unstructured movement activities, such as galloping, twirling in response to music, or dancing with scarves. Begin to coordinate rhythm and timing in movement activities (e.g., swinging on swings or sharing a teeter-totter). Move to the beat of music.
Participate in or dramatize familiar songs (e.g., imitate teacher in moving like various animals during a song about farm animals). Act out roles in the dramatic play area (e.g., pretend to be a doctor, mother, cashier, or police officer). Use a pretend play to represent known or anticipated situations (e.g., reenact a visit to the dentist).
Begin to dramatize character by changing speech, facial expression, gestures, and body movement (e.g., “washing animals” like Mrs. Wishy Washy with a teacher during a read-aloud). Begin to coordinate roles in dramatic play with others who take on roles (e.g., enters dramatic play about the grocery store and agrees with other children regarding who will play which role). Proactively organize dramatic play with others (e.g., assigning roles, props, and laying out rules for the play).
View the dramatic performances of the teacher retelling a story or acting out a puppet play. View the dramatic performances of other children attentively (e.g., watches other children reenact a familiar story). Appreciate the dramatic performances of others (e.g., may clap, laugh at, or verbally praise the comedic performance of others).
Listen to music representing a variety of rhythms, styles, and cultures. Play various musical instruments to explore the type of sound each makes. Identify differences in styles of music or sounds of musical instruments (e.g., “That music is slower.” “The flute sounds high.”)
Show appreciation for music through body language and facial expressions (e.g., clap when a favorite song is played). Request favorite songs to sing, dance with, or listen to. Request favorite songs to sing, dance with, or listen to and describe favorite features of the song.
Visual Arts
Explore various ways to use visual arts such as painting materials (e.g., combine paint colors, paint with large brushes as well as with cotton swabs). Manipulate play dough or clay in different ways, such as rolling, pinching, or squeezing. Create two- and three-dimensional works of art while experimenting with color, line, shape, form, texture, and space (e.g., use paint, markers, crayon, clay, pipe cleaners, found art materials).
Use a variety of visual art materials independently (e.g., get out paper, glue, and scissors to create a collage; get clay, water bowl, and clay tools from shelves and bring to table to work; use digital camera to capture images). Use a wide variety of tools and techniques to create art (e.g., use fine-bristled brush to paint fine lines and dots). Begin to revise and expand on ideas by revisiting art projects (e.g., add more detail to a drawing, use another media to elaborate on the original over several days in the art area).
Use the visual arts to represent (not necessarily with appropriate details) a person, place, thing, or event (e.g., draw a picture of Mommy or form a three-dimensional figure using clay). Begin to coordinate the features of objects and their spatial relationship to one another (e.g., eyes are enclosed in circle that represents head, arms are connected to the body). Use details to accurately represent some details of objects, people, places, or things (e.g., pictures of person include clothing, hair, and the correct number of fingers).

Learning Standard 25.B
Display an awareness of some distinct characteristics of the arts.

  • The Arts
    25.B.ECa: Describe or respond to their creative work or the creative work of others.

Example Performance Descriptors

Describe something in their own creative work (e.g., “I made two pancakes with play dough.”) Describe feelings in response to music or art of self or others (e.g., comment that an upbeat song makes him/her feel happy or that he likes the blue paint his friend used). Show appreciation for the creative work of others (e.g., watch attentively as classmates put on a puppet show or perform with instruments).
Paint a picture and discuss it with a classmate. Comment on another child’s art and ask questions about it, independently or in response to teacher prompts. Comment on the art of professional artists.

Goal 26
Understand that the arts can be used to communicate ideas and emotions.

Learning Standard 26.A
Understand processes, traditional tools, and modern technologies used in the arts.

Learning Standard 26.B
Understand ways to express meaning through the arts.

  • The Arts
    26.B.ECa: Use creative arts as an avenue for self-expression.

Example Performance Descriptors

Create movement to intentionally represent something or portray phenomena (e.g., move like a falling leaf, a bird flying, or a ball bouncing). Create music to accompany activities (e.g., sing and dance during play activities). Create a puppet or mask to portray a character in a story.
Establish a play space for dramatization (e.g., set up chairs for a pretend bus ride). Dramatize an event (e.g., act out going on a field trip to the zoo). Use the visual arts to depict an event (e.g., draw a picture about something that happened on the playground).

Goal 27
Understand the role of the arts in civilizations, past and present.

Learning Standard 27.A
Analyze how the arts function in history, society, and everyday life.

Learning Standard 27.B
Understand how the arts shape and reflect history, society, and everyday life.


  • Goal 25: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Goal 25 reads, “Know the language of the arts.”
  • Standard 25.A: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 25.A reads, “Understand the sensory elements, organizational principles and expressive qualities of the arts.”
  • Standard 25.B: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 25.B reads, “Understand the similarities, distinctions and connections in and among the arts.”
  • Goal 26: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Goal 26 reads, “Through creating and performing, understand how works of art are produced.”
  • Standard 26.A: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 26.A reads, “Understand processes, traditional tools and modern technologies used in the arts.”
  • Standard 26.B: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 26.B reads, “Apply skills and knowledge necessary to create and perform in one or more of the arts.”