2019 Research Journal #1

International Art in Early Childhood Research Journal

Professor David Bell
University of Otago College of Education, Dunedin, New Zealand

Dr Lisa Terreni
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Special thanks to:

Professor Margaret Brooks, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia

Mr Stephen Grono, University of New England, NSW, Australia


The articles in this seventh issue of The International Art in Early Childhood Research Journal derive  from presentations, workshops or the ‘Brilliant Burst’ sessions presented at the 8th International Art in Early Childhood conference Art as Dialogue held at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand in January 2019.  The themes for the conference included: how the visual arts can foster young children’s exploration of the people, places, things and experiences that are meaningful to them; how the visual arts contribute to the development of young children’s working theories, stories and understandings about the world; how children’s cultural citizenship can be fostered through their experiences and (re)interpretations of significant rituals, festivals, and ceremonies in their own culture, as well as those of others, through visual art learning experiences; and how young children can access and experience a nation’s art taonga (treasures) that are exhibited in art museums and galleries.

Participant comments during and after the conference acknowledged its diversity, its pragmatic, accessible and informative experiences, a balance between practice and research, and the valuable ways its programme was able to inform practices in early years learning settings. These same qualities emerge through the papers presented in this issue. Not all of the articles are research reports – some draw on literature reviews, practitioner experience, and understandings of visual art and aesthetics education in the countries of origin of each author or author collaborative. All are informative, however, and each brings fresh and provocative perspectives to our early years communities.

Questions around the media, processes, or rationales for embracing art experiences into early years learning are explored thorough five of the investigations included here. Janette Kelly-Ware and Nicola Daly (Using picturebook illustrations to help young children understand diversity) shine new light on the ways the textual and pictorial narratives of picturebooks offer “mirrors and windows on the world” through which young learners can enjoy “learning experiences about diversity and difference”. They argue that the multicultural content or themes of picturebooks can support teachers and children as they “address the social, cultural and critical issues of our times” – that their art dialogue can enhance experiences “in proactive and culturally responsive early education” that can support children in making sense of their own worlds and gaining insights into the lives and worlds of others. They offer practical guidance in the ways these media can support readers’ appreciations of diversities of sexuality and gender, ethnicity, family composition and cultural geographies to acknowledge difference, and enhance empathy and tolerance.

A recurrent theme emerging through the conference was that of children’s rights – and specifically, of children’s rights to learn, and to learn through and about art. Marg Rogers, Jo Bird and Margaret Sims (Using the media arts to digitally support young children’s family and cultural narratives) develop a poignant theme around the rights to enjoy individually meaningful learning in the children of families that experience significant, and recurrent, changes in their family and learning lives. Their case studies of life experiences of young children in defense force families describe the impacts of domestic mobilization, parental absence and uncertain, unstable futures on the emotional, social and learning lives of the children in their research study. Their research suggests that empowering children as digital illustrators and narrators of their own life stories can enhance “their understandings of cultural and family narratives within their cultural groups”. Empowering children as digital learners and communicators can reconfirm the central role of their visual skills and conventions for making sense of complex life situations.

How do children learn art? More specifically – how do they learn to draw? Rosemary Richards (Valuing children’s explorations of their visual worlds – learning from example) explores the principle of learning from example – a time-honoured practice in many cultural traditions. Drawing on examples from two case studies, she examines the ways children can learn by sharing their stocks of pictorial ideas and themes, and the devices and conventions of pictorial representation. These practices of learning from example in art reflect broader principles of collaborating, observing others, and sharing motivations. Their scaffolded pathways and co-constructive relationships are consistent with Vygotskian perspectives on social construction and interactive learning, and also with the customary learning relationships of ako (teach<>learn) and tuakana-teina (older/younger reciprocation). They also reflect the degree to which children’s drawing investigations/explorations are conditioned by the popular culture contexts in which they grow, socialize and learn.

When all is said and done, however, each child’s art experiences belong to them alone. Marta Cabral (But “Did you make it?” Art and ownership in early childhood education) explores questions of agency and ownership in children’s wonderment and art making. Cabral asks “how can the materials and experiences offered by teachers help students gain agency over their roles as art makers and agents of change in the world”? She explores these questions around the theme of encouraging children’s independent explorations and experiments, and investigating their curiosities and “wonderful ideas” and the choices children make as they gain autonomy over their own creative agency and ownership of making and learning. Cabral describes how rethinking concepts of children’s creative agency away from the notion of “thinking outside the box” to that of “thinking inside the toolboxes of [their] expertise” can underpin a significant (and refreshing) shift in agency, from teachers guiding predetermined learning pathways of children’s investigations to children learning “based on what genuinely matters to them”.

Cabral’s curiosities and “wonderful ideas” can be provoked by children’s exploration, play, contemplation, or reflection, or by their sensory discoveries within aesthetically stimulating environments. In Stimulating the senses: Aesthetic learning environments for babies, Kathy Danko-McGhee examines the virtues of establishing “aesthetic multi-modal learning environment[s]” to foster interactive aesthetic learning experiences with babies. Danko-McGhee acknowledges the ways tactile, olfactory, auditory or visual sensory experiences stimulate neural activity and impact capacities for emotion, perception, memory and language during early brain development. She finds that these multi-modal sensory experiences can inform babies explorations of their worlds, interacting through touching, looking, tasting, listening, and feeling. Her argument suggests that teachers can enhance these experiences by fostering sensory explorations, and focusing them on sensory experiences of art media, art works, reproductions, with visiting artists, gallery visits, and in environments enhanced with transparent or reflective surfaces, tactile objects, or projected phenomena. Building on these sensory experiences, babies are able to notice and perceive, distinguish, discriminate, enjoy, prefer alternatives, of both casual sensory phenomena (warm sunshine, light reflecting surfaces) and in preferences for particular art works.

Unsurprisingly, given the arts learning theme of the conference, the theme of cultural knowledge emerged through a number of its own learning experiences. Namita Bhatt (Rethinking indigenous arts in early childhood curriculum) also examines the fundamental importance of culturally significant knowledge for arts learning in the early years. Her research seeks to reclaim and reposition customary indigenous pedagogies and the practices and methods of indigenous art forms of India in the inclusive and co-constructive frameworks of early learning settings. She finds that reclaiming culturally significant indigenous arts practices and epistemologies depends on teachers’ commitment to professional research, and the reclamation and reconstruction of both pedagogies and art forms. Interestingly, the collaborative frameworks of guru-shishya parampara (teacher/disciple traditions) of her Indian traditions seem closely compatible with the social constructivist paradigms of so many other settings – in New Zealand, for example, to ako and tuakana-teina philosophies and practices. Her work has practical implications for both ITE programmes and professional development models for teachers everywhere.

In other settings, learning about culturally specific notions of value and identity, reconstructing customary practices and narratives, and expressing feelings of identity and belonging can draw on rich resources in picturebooks, in popular media, or in the familiar presence of culturally significant practices or objects – art works themselves. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Yo Heta-Larsen and Helen Wrightson (Toi tū te whenua: A study of Māori visual arts as dialogue with Papatūānuku) describe the outcomes of teaching and learning with culturally informed teachers to demonstrate how ngā toi ataata – visual arts – can engage with “Māori histories, values, and locations”. They explain how, for early learners and for pre-service teaching students exploring the stories of Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (Earth Mother), their worlds could be enriched through engagements in the visual arts enriched with appreciations of cultural context and culturally significant themes, motifs and narratives. Their research exploring the ways ngā toi ataata can serve as media for learners’ engagements with cultural practice (tikanga), identity (through whakapapa) and Māori knowledge (mā Tauranga Māori) both as ways of understanding and as media of meaning-making and expression.

As in the previous conference in Bhutan, the potentials for learning outside the classroom, in parks and gardens, city walks or cultural institutions (art galleries, museums, libraries or theatres) was a pervasive theme in the 2019 conference, and this is reflected in several of the papers presented here. Museums in particular offer accessible, often well supported, learning experiences for children.

For Maisie Chilton-Tressler and Lisa Terreni (Working with young children in museum spaces to develop cultural knowledge and understanding) one such institution is the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and its Tai Tamariki Kindergarten. This article explains how museum encounters can enhance experiences in diverse learning areas – “art, history, and science” – in ways that can enrich intercultural learning and appreciations of cultural heritage. Chilton-Tressler and Terreni explore the ways art-rich inquiries can provide opportunities for exploring, discovering, and making sense of new discoveries and new cultural worlds through museum settings through enhanced cultural experiences that inform children’s developing world views. The authors find that regular revisitation of museums enhances in-depth inquiry learning, making imaginative translations between museum displays and their own stories, explorations, documentation, representation, and making meaning from their experiences with museum displays back at the early childhood centre setting. Their research highlights the role of well-researched, culturally rich contextualising resources and conversations, and celebrates the richness of heritage learning and the ways children’s own museum visiting invited interactions with people and resources from other institutions.

In Early years, art learning, and museums, a panel of teachers and researchers, museum educators and a public experiences leader (in the cultural institution learning field) share their experiences and insights into the rich potentials for early years art learning in museums and art galleries. Drawing on their own differing, but complementary learning worlds, Clare Britt, Martin Langdon, Amanda Palmer, Sarah Rusholme and David Bell explore themes of inclusion, value, relationships, agency and community. Each participant accentuates the ideals, practicalities and potentials of education experiences outside the classroom, for young learners, and for their broader communities and whanau (families). The central theme here is of the complementary and transformative capacities of both arts and museum/gallery learning experiences. While acknowledging the challenges of museum settings for early years visitors (and adults), they commend the ways museum settings can enhance learner agency, accommodate collaborative and intergenerational learning, encourage independent learning, and, perhaps most importantly of all, how children and their responsible adults can discover, and capitalize on, the capacities of cultural institutions for informing their own expanding worlds and world views.

The cultural diversities represented in these papers also inform Lisa Terreni’s research in early childhood settings in Vietnam, China, Australia and New Zealand (The art of successfully designing a quality early childhood learning environment). Developing her investigations from Loris Malaguzzi’s early concept of the environment as the ‘third teacher’, Lisa explores diverse manifestations of this premise within these diverse learning settings. Her studies explore the different ways the early years learning environment can empower and condition children’s somatic and spatial learning, influence the social interactions and emotional climate for children’s learning, and inform culturally and aesthetically rich learning in their daily experiences in centres. Terreni’s findings expand on Shelly’s (2017) acknowledgement of the ways aesthetically rich potentials of spaces, resources and objects encourage children’s judgements, attitudes (or dispositions), experiences or values. She argues that safe, stimulating, attractive environments provoke rich sensory learning engagements and accommodate and encourage children’s appreciation of aesthetically charged objects or experiences in diverse cultural settings.

In closing, we would like to acknowledge the warm spirit of inclusion, the personal and professional generosities, and the luminous insights into the multiple worlds of early years learning we have enjoyed during the past 18 months – it has been a special privilege. We thank all those who have supported the publication of this issue of the The International Art in Early Childhood Journal: our generous contributors, our supportive review panel, and our accommodating colleagues at the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia.

Kia ora rawa atu
David Bell and Lisa Terreni

David Bell, University of Otago College of Education, New Zealamnd

Clare Britt, Macquarie University, Australia

Margaret Brooks, University of New England, Australia

Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips, Waikato University, New Zealand

Carman Dalli, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Kathy Danko-McGhee, University of Saint Francis, Indiana, USA

Rachel Denee, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Ali Glasgow, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Maggie Haggerty, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Janette Kelly, University of Waikato, New ZealandGai Lindsay, University of Wollongong, Australia

Judith Loveridge, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Anne Pairman, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Rosemary Richards, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, New Zealand

Jenny Ritchie, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Mary-Jane Shuker, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Lisa Terreni, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Helen Wrightson, UNITEC Institute of Technology, New Zealand

Disclaimer: The views in this journal do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors

Article 1 Janette Kelly-Ware & Nicola Daly
Using Picturebook Illustrations to Help Young Children Understand Diversity
Article 2 Kathy Danko-McGhee Stimulating The Senses: Aesthetic Learning Environments for Babies
Article 3 Marg Rogers, Jo Bird & Margaret Sims Using the Media Arts to Digitally Support Young Children’s Family and Cultural Narratives
Article 4 Namita Bhatt Rethinking Indigenous Arts in Early Childhood Curriculum
Article 5 Maisie Chilton Tressler & Lisa Terreni Working With Young Children in Museum Spaces to Develop Cultural Knowledge and Understanding
Article 6 Rosemary D Richards Valuing Children’s Explorations of their Visual Worlds – Learning from Example
Article 7 David Bell, Clare Britt, Martin Langdon, Amanda Palmer, and Sarah Rusholme Early Years, Art Learning, and Museums: Principles and Practices
Article 8 Yo Heta-Lensen & Helen Wrightson Toi Tū Te Whenua: A Study of Māori Visual Arts as Dialogue with Papatūānuku
Article 9 Marta Cabral But “did you make it?” Art and Ownership in Early Childhood Education
Article 10 Lisa Terreni The Art of Successfully Designing a Quality Early Childhood Learning Environment

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