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Art and Aesthetics for the Young Child

Updated: May 16, 2022

Art and creative play has always been a mainstay of early childhood education, however the extension of guiding a child towards understanding and appreciating Art is not commonplace.

The environment that we wrap our children in, especially in early education, should seek to not only be safe and practical, but also inspiring and a joy to be in - for children and adults. This has always been a focus for Eduplay. To me this means seeking out ways to create a space filled with colour, texture and Art that can be appreciated by all. Every wall is an opportunity - whether that’s hallways, toilets, or the classroom. Windows provide the possibility to engage with light and shadow. Small sections of wall can be used for installations that connect with a favourite book or area of interest.

The impact of an aesthetic environment should never be underestimated. We may not be able to put our finger on why we feel engaged, comfortable, or happy when we enter a space – but the aesthetic definitely contributes.

For a young child to have meaningful engagement with art and aesthetics, her educators must be intentional about taking art appreciation to the next level.

The three elements that form the basis of an early arts education are:

  • Art Viewing

  • Art making

  • Art Appreciation

Using observation, discussion, storytelling and exploration the young child can begin to develop an early appreciation for Art.

Providing the opportunity for children to view and be inspired by art from multiple cultures forms meaning of the world around them. Observational skills can be developed when children are encouraged to look for the message in an Artwork.

For a child to develop an appreciation of art they need the opportunity to engage with multiple sources and be free to decide what they like and be guided to explain why they feel the way they do.

The Denver Art Museum has a programme for children aged 3 and up. They follow a simple process to guide the children through an exhibition. This process can easily be translated for use in the ECE sector.


Children are guided to make their own observations through discussion and exploration. The Museum also provides foundational shape cards where each child is given a different shape and encouraged to find that shape within the artworks. The children are directed to various works and encouraged to identify and name the various shapes and icons used (birds, circles, rectangles, trees etc). The children should be asked whether there is more than one of these shapes, and if so, how many? The teacher draws the child’s attention to the many different medium that make up the work: paint, wood, sand, flax, (indigenous works are awesome for this). Children are asked to consider brushstrokes that are thin or thick, rough or smooth, and all the various colours.

Discussion & Storytelling

Children are encouraged to work out what the artwork means, and what the artist was trying to say, sparking lots of imaginative responses. This might be the perfect time to engage in storytelling if the work has a particular story behind it or if there is a connection to a myth or legend.

Exploration & Artmaking

Back in the classroom is the perfect chance for children to take what they have learned to make their own creations. Perhaps the kaiako will choose to use reference images, collage, colour or shape to begin the experience. Maybe there is a musical element you can add as well. Or a particular method that can be recreated in the classroom.

If you choose to create a gallery space in your centre outside of the licensed space (hallways and entry areas etc) you can escort the children to make their own observations of these work. Multiple spaces that you can change a few times a year are a wonderful opportunity to create an in-house gallery visit.

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston post videos every few weeks where a museum educator takes you through a step by step art making playdate. These are aimed at children under the age of four and full of inspiration.

Some ideas that I have used to create inspiring displays on our walls without breaking the bank are:

Buying dated pictorial calendars and framing the images. These are usually easily fitted to a standard frame (tip: choose images that you can crop without losing the impact of the image. In a group these look fantastic on a wall and as they are all from one source they will work well together.

Coasters and tablemats and plates are fantastic as they come in lots of different shapes. There are some beautiful ones available with native birds. These are easy to tack to the wall using a pin nail.

Vintage toys make great installations and can be picked up on trade me for good prices. We have used everything from old tins (Edmonds and Weetbix etc) to cars and even cooking utensils (egg beaters are amazing to look and watch work).

Remember that framing and installing your art really matters. Taking care and considering the best way to display art impacts the viewer. It is obvious when someone just throws work on a wall with tape and blue tack, compared to when someone uniformly frames the work and displays it with intention.

We would love to hear your ideas and see your walls!

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