Creative Arts in Quality Early Childhood Education: Vulnerability, Intelligence, Resilience, and Whole-Person Learning and Development

A young artist holding a paintbrush squats on the ground in front of a painting
A young artist holding a paintbrush squats on the ground in front of a painting
Children are born creative artists, and cultivating an imagination is part of optimal brain development

What does a young child’s painting project have to do with helping humans thrive and creating the kind of world we want to see? Everything! All possible and impossible things begin first with imagination.

We believe our world needs creative thinkers, innovative idea-makers, and artistic imaginers! There is a great need for folks to intentionally cultivate an environment for creative, artistic expression where mistakes are welcomed as an expected learning opportunity. This holds true for children, staff, families, and all people. In order to create an environment of creative and receptive openness to learning and growing, we first have to become comfortable being uncomfortable and welcome mistakes as invitations to learn. 

We’re likely already familiar with the wit and wisdom of painter Bob Ross, who eloquently reminds us, 

“Anything we don’t like, we’ll turn it into a happy little tree or something; we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents.”

Artistic, creative expression is a natural and direct way to widen our perspectives, expand our imaginations, and see things in new ways that lead to curiosity, innovation, exploration, and even empathy!  We do this through an emphasis on the learning experience, or process, of creating something, rather than the outcome. 

When children are asked or expected to “color inside the lines,” they learn that they are also expected to stay inside the lines and contain themselves within a box of externally-defined expectations and possibilities. 

In contrast, when children focus on their own participation and engagement with the artistic process, children are in control of the creative process while receiving age-appropriate instruction, guidance, and facilitation of exploring new skills and techniques. Each piece of art becomes a unique creation where children have the freedom to explore without judgment, where the focus is on how children create the art, rather than what the finished process looks like.

A dark haired woman dressed as Frida Khalo poses in front of a brick wall
An engaging art teacher creatively invites children into whole-person learning experiences through art and artistic expression.

An Invitation into Imagination

At Treehouse Learning, we love the playful invitation into whole-person learning experiences through creative arts! Can you imagine the joy and excitement of being invited into artistic exploration by a beloved art teacher who arrives in costume and character, like our Art Specialist, Melissa Lam, (aka Frida Khalo)? This month, preschool children first engaged with stories about the life of Frida Khalo (also in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month). 

After learning that Frida spent long stretches of time immobilized in bed due to illness and injury and practiced painting on a canvas above her while lying on her back, children become open to experimenting with various positions for their own art, literacy, or pre-literacy activities. This includes standing at an easel, laying on the floor to create/, or even taping paper to the underside of a table and drawing upside down! Not only does this demonstrate creative, expansive thinking, but it also integrates children’s entire brains and bodies into the learning process. 

Whole-Brain Learning through Art in a Quality Early Childhood Program

  • Large movements engage their core strength, develop hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills, and encourage midline-crossing, in addition to the fine motor skills necessary for holding the actual mark-making material (pencil, paintbrush, etc). 
  • Children learn about art mediums and techniques, as skill-and-experienced-based techniques that become embedded in a child’s creative toolbox and process
  • Spatial awareness skills develop through transforming a blank canvas into artwork that intentionally divides, plans, and uses the space. This is related to math concepts!
  • Artistic expression invites a wide range of emotional expression through color, pressure, technique, and subject
  • Creating art is meaningful, and children experience meaning and significance through their own creative production, where they are empowered to appropriately “make their mark” on the world (rather than the leather couch).
An art teacher dressed as Frida Khalo demonstrates art technique for a class of preschool children
Children connect to an engaging story about Frida Khalo during an art exploration, where they create from imagination one of Frida’s colorful birds

We are all born artists!

Artistic expression is, at its core, a perspective of seeing and engaging with the world. When it happens through playful learning invitations within the context of relationships, such as within a quality early childhood education program, the whole person is nourished and supported. All humans are born creative artists, and our role is to nourish this part of our whole-person development, regardless of age. Here are some examples of unique process-led art explorations, where creativity and self-expression is the vehicle for self-discovery, creativity, and innovation.

Playful learning experiences invite people of all ages into the full human experience as physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings. Creativity and expansive, imaginative, innovative expressions are integral to the overall well-being of people of all ages. 

Shame and judgment kill creativity

Whether via the judgment (evaluation of an end result as “good” or “bad”) by well-intentioned adults, or a child’s self-criticism around their own creative expression, we learn through experience whether or not it is safe to put ourselves out there, try something new, or take a risk! If we associate shame or judgment with the experience of creative expression, we learn that it is safer to color inside the lines. We then may also grow up measuring ourselves against unattainable standards of perfection. On the other hand, when we are supported and encouraged in the learning process, we become safe to try, fail, make a mistake, and rebound from a place of resilience- “well, THAT didn’t go as planned- what should I try next?!”

For humans who have been on the planet for a few decades, creativity and artistic expression remain an essential part of whole-person development and overall well-being! We encourage our community of co-learners of all ages to consider how shame stifles creativity, and embracing vulnerability opens the door to expansive thinking and imaginative growth for people of all ages. A safe and secure environment that leads to learning looks like a place where people experience the freedom to try, fail, and try again. We highly encourage Brene Brown’s work around vulnerability as the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change!

And finally, in the words of Albert Einstein, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

Related Images: