Implementing an arts-based curriculum at an early age has been proven to enhance students’ confidence, creativity, and academic performance. It is no question, at this point, that the arts are integral to a well-rounded education.
However, there is a lack of robust arts programming within pre-K environments.
Too often, these classrooms are structured to deliver pre-literacy skills in reading and math without considering the fact that children at this age learn best through “play.” The creative environment fostered by the arts and art-making provides children with rich experiences through which they can develop these pre-literacy skills. This leaves educators with a major challenge: How do we promote arts integration in pre-schools that will take advantage of how children learn best at this age.
The ABCs of Pre-Literacy
Pre-literacy skills cover much more than a child’s ability to identify letters, numbers, or shapes. Important skills like oral language awareness, as well as knowledge of the alphabet, and an understanding of common print concepts such as the fact that print moves from left to right and from up to down on a page, compose the foundation for becoming successful readers.
While knowing letters and sounds are important, a child’s oral language skills are the most significant factors in reading success. The foundation for reading development is language; it is strongly tied to a child’s growth in reading and writing. By about age 5, research shows that most children have learned approximately 5,000 words. Furthermore, those words aren’t acquired through passive listening alone. Instead, verbal interactions and multiple experiences support the growth of language. Many at-risk children lack the necessary interventions at home that promote the acquisition of a rich and varied vocabulary.
Children entering kindergarten are expected to have some pre-literacy skills — especially the ability to carry a brief conversation. A teacher would also want students to pay attention and react to stories; have knowledge of some alphabet letters as well as the sounds these letters make, and some basic print concepts, such as knowing that printed words convey meaning.
All of these skills are important because we live in a language-and print-rich environment.
Create Rich Play Environments for Learning
At Emlen School, a PAEP artist read the book I Need My Monster by Amanda Knoll to a group of four-year-olds. Each child was given a sheet of white paper with a black shape glued onto it. Children then created their own monsters, incorporating the shapes and embellishing them using colored markers. The artist then asked each child to tell a story about their own monster.
This project encouraged oral language development and built an understanding that a story has a beginning, middle and end. The addition of the art-making activity tapped into children’s needs for visual, tactile, and aural-rich stimuli, providing a structure for acquiring pre-literacy skills through creative play.
This is just one example of integrating a visual arts experience in support of pre-literacy learning. Music, drama, and dance also provide robust experiences for children to explore learning through play.
For more pre-K arts resources, visit our website.