Art is so much more than paint, markers, or crayons. Creative arts are activities that actively engage children’s imagination through music, visual arts, movement and dance, and drama and storytelling. Creative arts engage children across all domains—cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical. This tool kit will describe four different types of creative arts and will provide ideas for encouraging and supporting young children in creative arts activities at home and in the classroom. This article shows how art activities can support young children’s development.
Creative arts activities are deliberately open-ended, foster divergent thinking, and support the process without particular attention on the product. This article provides an overview of the creative arts as well as information on the theories that help guide the early childhood field and how to apply those theories in the classroom.
The Arts domain within the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards provides reasonable expectations for children’s development in the areas of drama, music, visual arts, and movement and dance.
Movement and Dance
There are many ways to incorporate movement and dance into the lives of young children, whether at home or in a group setting.
- When out and about with young children, there are many opportunities to engage in meaningful activities and conversations. Dancing on the sidewalk—or any flat surface—is a great way to practice coordination and experiment with space, as shown in this tip sheet.
- It is important for young children to be active to build healthy habits early in life. When participating in fitness activities, it is important to stretch, warm up, and cool down. Catching and throwing a ball or jumping with both feet can help build confidence in large motor skills. This tip sheet provides additional ideas.
- As families, we might spend time waiting—in line at the grocery store, in the carpool lane, in traffic, or at the clinic. This tip sheet series includes many ideas to help maximize that time and keep young children active and engaged in movement, language, or learning activities, including talking about math, art, music, science, and motor skills.
- In classrooms, teachers can use songs and stories during large group time to engage in active movement. These videos demonstrate this concept using both a story and a song.
- Active movement can be done anywhere, even without many props or supplies. These two blog posts provide ideas on connecting language with outdoor play and embedding gross motor opportunities throughout the day.
- IELDS benchmarks can be addressed through lesson plans, adapted for children with disabilities. Here is one example: Physical Development and Health Lesson Addressing Benchmark 19.B.ECb
Drama and Storytelling
Drama helps children develop imagination, language skills, confidence, creative expression, and cooperation and other social skills. Storytelling helps preschoolers get ready to become readers and writers. IEL has produced several tip sheets that help families and providers expand upon children’s pretend play and storytelling experiences, including using boxes and blocks for play, helping children dictate stories, and encouraging free time for young children.
- IEL Tip Sheets
- Many early childhood programs and homes include puppets in their dramatic play centers and toy boxes. Puppets can provide an opportunity for a young child to make up a story or reenact experiences they have had. These two blogs describe how puppets can be used in homes and early childhood settings and to address concerns about behavior or social-emotional development.
- Reading together supports the development of children’s language and comprehension skills. This blog describes ideas for how caregivers can build on story time.
- Providing inexpensive props for young children is a good way to support the development of pretend play. As these videos demonstrate, boxes, play food and plates, a teapot, and a toy barn can provide opportunities for young children to engage in dramatic play.
Music can help young children develop motor, language, social-emotional, and cognitive skills. As shown in the tip sheets listed below, there are many opportunities to embed music throughout the daily lives of young children. Adults and young children can sing songs, pretend to be animals, and make musical instruments together.
- IEL Tip Sheets
- Evidence shows that interaction with music positively affects the quality of children’s lives. This resource list offers tip sheets and additional resources to help early childhood providers maximize those musical interactions.
- All children can benefit from interactions with music, including dual language learners and children with disabilities.
- Music can also be incorporated into classrooms using the Project Approach, as demonstrated in this project example.
- IELDS benchmarks can be addressed through lesson plans, adapted for children with disabilities. Here is one example: The Arts Lesson Addressing Benchmark 25.A.ECc
Visual arts are a favorite activity for children and adults alike. Young children explore their world through their senses. Open-ended opportunities such as coloring, painting, and play dough or clay help children solve problems, enhance motor skills, build vocabulary, and more. Many IEL tip sheets describe how adults can support young children in visual art activities and experiences. Children can use chalk on sidewalks or crayons or pencils on paper to draw their pictures.
- IEL Tip Sheets
- STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning activities provide opportunities for young children to develop skills across developmental domains. This resource list provides IEL resources and additional sources of high-quality, interactive activity ideas for young children.
- When planning activities for young children, it is important to consider the process and how young children develop skills. Three-dimensional art can expand upon ideas and skill development by exploring design properties in new ways. Read the three linked blog posts for more details.
- Early childhood classrooms often include children with diverse abilities, experiences, and backgrounds. IEL has developed lesson plans for several IELDS benchmarks that show possible adaptations that can be made to include all children. The adapted lesson plans related to the arts include helping children describe or respond to creative work and using creative arts for self-expression.
- IEL’s benchmark videos demonstrate how various IELDS benchmarks are met. Children can draw a friend, paint a fence, draw a garden, paint with straws, and draw a wheel while gaining important skills and exploring visual arts.
- IELDS benchmarks can be addressed through lesson plans, adapted for children with disabilities. Here are two examples:
Additional Web Resources
The Art of Creating: Why Art Is Important for Early Childhood Development
Source: Michigan State University
This article describes skills that young children learn by exploring art and strategies adults can use to expand children’s knowledge and skills.
Creative Art Helps Children Develop Across Many Domains
Source: Extension Foundation
This article describes ways that art activities can support young children’s development.
Early Childhood Music Education: A position statement of the National Association for Music Education
Source: National Association for Music Education
Music is a natural and important part of young children’s growth and development. The National Association for Music Education explains that early interaction with music positively affects the quality of all children’s lives.
Everyone Can Be a Storyteller
Source: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
This short article gives families quick activities that will help preschoolers learn new words and prepare to read and write.
The Importance of Creative Arts in Early Childhood Classrooms
Source: Texas Child Care Quarterly
This article provides an overview of the creative arts, information on the theories that help guide the early childhood field, and how to apply those theories in the classroom.
Learning with Musical Instruments
Source: Preschool Express
This resource explains what skills children develop when using instruments. It also provides tips for adults to maximize child learning.
The Music Center in Child Care
Source: Extension Alliance for Better Child Care
The Extension website says activities in a music center can support children’s development across several different domains.
The Role of Pretend Play in Children’s Cognitive Development
Source: Early Childhood Research and Practice
This journal defines the cluster of concepts related to pretend play and cognition and briefly synthesizes the latest research on the role of such play in children’s cognitive, social, and academic development.
Storytelling in the First Three Years
Source: Zero to Three
This parenting resource provides information regarding storytelling, how this skill progresses, and tips for promoting storytelling in the first three years.
Understanding STEAM and How Children Use it
Source: Head Start ECLKC
This resource explains each subject of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) and how children engage in each subject as they grow.
The Value of Process Art
This video highlights the value of process-art for young children while also exploring the difference between process-focused art experiences and product-focused experiences.