Understanding the developmental process of four- to six-year-old children allows the teacher to create a nurturing learning environment. Creating art at this stage aids in the child’s cognitive (thinking process) development. This paper summarizes current research on art, cognitive development, and early childhood.
Of the four research studies discussed, Matthews (1994) presents the most child-centered study by looking at the process by which children structure knowledge. From his research, it can be concluded that teachers should allow and encourage children to explore their environment, and aid children in their understanding of their own actions. This is another way of saying that art in early childhood is about the process not the end product.
Kalyan-Masih (1976) and Guthrie (1994) are more interested in spatial representation as a sign of cognitive development. The fourth researcher, Golomb (1993), acts as bridge between the lab based Kalyan-Masih and Guthrie, and the child oriented Matthews. Golomb looks at a child’s familiarity with the art materials as the means for producing a more realistic spatial representation.
This paper sets out to address the following questions. What is art education in early childhood? What is the teacher’s role in the development of art? What are teaching strategies that foster the development of art without imposing adult realism on children? And, what is the process by which art is created?
Art in early childhood is about the discovery of the environment. Through art, the understanding of the environment can be see by the emerging development of conservation, perception, attention, procedural knowledge, and exploring the world. The teacher can aid the child in this discovery by having an understanding of early childhood development and art making, using conversations, verbal cueing, and scaffolding.
The paper looks at four main topics and their teaching implications: conservation, perception and attention, procedural knowledge, and deep structures.
Art shows the development of conservation (having an understanding that something remains the same despite the changes in appearances), thus demonstrating the growth in cognitive understanding.
A study conducted by Violet Kalyan-Masih (1976), of the University Nebraska at Lincoln compares drawings done by children, between 39-78 months, on the House-tree task to other cognitive measures. The first purpose of the study was to find if the children’s drawings suggest the Luguet-Piaget sequence: scribbling, fortuitous realism (where meaning is discovered in the act of scribbling), failed realism (when elements of the drawing overlap and are all over the page), intellectual realism (understanding of proximity, separation, enclosure but no perspective and objects are transparent), and visual realism (includes perspective and an understanding of spatial relationships) . The second purpose was to see if there is a relationship between performance on the House-tree task to selected Piagetian and two psychometric measurements . The third purpose was to discover if improvement on the House-tree task is related to development on the cognitive measures.
All ages followed the same research instrumentation. The instrumentation included House-tree task (HT), Stanford Binet (SB), Peabody Picture Vocabulary (PPVT), and selected Piagetian tasks. In procedures for the HT task, children were asked to draw a house in front of a tree using a box of crayons ; the scoring was 1-11 based on the Luguet-Piaget sequence. The selected Piagetian tasks were six seriation tasks (S), three number tasks (N), two classification tasks (C), one left right task (L-R), and one conservation of mass task (M).
Results indicate a relationship among House-tree task, cognitive development, and the Luguet-Piaget sequence . First, the drawings represent the Luguet-Piaget sequence because the mean scores increased in order of age. This means that the children’s’ drawings develop from scribbling to representation without perspective. Second, the younger subjects tended to score lower with comparable advancement from one level of cognitive operation to another — suggesting that the children perform better on cognitive tasks as they get older. Third, there is a relationship between performance on the House-tree task, selected Piagetlan, and two psychometric measurements. This indicates a relationship between cognitive development and its visual representation in the House-tree task. Fourth, on all cognitive measures the four groups mean scores increased in an order of age supporting that Groups I, II, III, are nonconservers, while Group IV had an understanding of conservation and that conservation is what aided in the development of spatial representation.
Kalyan-Masih’s research suggests that there is a relationship between cognitive development, the productions of space in art, and the tie to conservation. However, this study only looks at the end product in terms of cognitive development not the processes that were used to create the art. As a teacher it is important to understand that children must first perceive their environment before they can represent it through art, and gain an understanding of conservation.
Research done by Patricia Guthrie (1994) touches on the development of perception and its effects on verbal cueing. Guthrie examined the effects that development, manipulations of objects, and verbal cues have on the spatial representation in the drawings of children between the ages of four and six. The drawings were classified, Unified, if a transparent wall was superimposed on a house, or Separate, if the house and wall were separate.
The 120 subjects were randomly assigned into one of four. The four groups and their conditions are as follows: Group A, manipulation and minimum verbal cues; Group B, no manipulation and minimum verbal cues; Group C, no manipulation and maximum verbal cues; Group D, manipulation and maximum verbal cues.
Findings show that the four-year-olds produced the majority of drawings that depicted the wait and house separately. Also, findings suggest that object exploration and minimal instruction did not seem to aid in spatial representation because four-year-olds do not comprehend a strategy to interpret the object/array from three- to two-dimensions. But when given a detailed description of spatial features and their spatial order, the four-year-olds gave correct spatial responses.
The five-year-olds did mostly Unified drawings, and performed equally as well when given either minimum verbal cues, or manipulation and maximum verbal cues. This is because, according to Hardiman and Zernich (1988), “that after a certain level of perceptual understanding, the child will be able to comprehend features about spatial relationships without the aid of adults.”
The most Unified drawings were done by the six-year-olds. They produced more Unified Drawings when there was minimum verbal cueing. Results suggest that the six-year-olds have the ability to understand an opaque object behind a transparent object, and that there is a rapid growth in spatial representation drawing skills during the age of four and six.
Guthrie’s research implies that teachers need to be aware of the level of perception and attention that preschoolers have, and the strategies to help direct their attention to the appropriate stimuli. Perception is the information received through the senses. Attention, the ability to focus on a stimulus, is needed for information to be perceived. During the preschool years, children have a hard time (1) selecting information to pay attention to, (2) staying focused, and (3) ignoring irrelevant stimuli (Strofe, 1996).
As seen in Guthrie’s study, the four-year-olds only did well with verbal cueing, five-year did well with minimum verbal cueing, or maximum verbal cueing and manipulation, and the six-year-olds did well when there was minimum verbal cueing. This suggests that cueing acted as a scaffold (Define) for the information that was relevant to draw Unified drawings. As the children got older, and were able to focus attention better, the scaffold that directed their attention to space was no longer needed. Teachers need to be aware that as children age their needs for direction change.
But is there more to the development of art in early childhood education than conservation and perception?
Research done by Claire Golomb (1993) mentions attention and perception, but she is interested i n the role that familiarity, exposure, and practice with the art medium plays in producing a more realistic spatial representation.
Golomb’s 3-D study states that most theories focus on cognitive immaturity but ignore the medium. One aspect that is often over looked is the difficulty a child has in representing a three-dimensional object in a two-dimensional art form. For example, drawing a house, a three-dimensional object, on a piece of paper, a two dimensional surface. So, Golomb decided to look for complexity, symmetry, balance, and familiarity, and order in which the image was formed in the clay, a three dimensional art form.
The findings suggest that dimension scores, how three-dimensional the clay figure was, decreased with age, but leveled off around age eight or nine. This insinuates that creating an upright standing figure is not related to age. Preschoolers made upright humans. Then the dimensional representation deceased until adulthood. Golomb relates the possibility that constructing a more complete figure created more technical problems.
The findings do not support the theory that early representations are a sign of cognitive immaturity. Rather, that all subjects were struggling with how to create a satisfactory representation, and how to deal with a medium that demands balance, uprightness, and modeling multiple sides.
Evidence was found that attitude, attention, and self-monitoring increased with age. Also, investment of time and energy, motivation to met adult expectations, and self doubt increased with age.
Golomb stresses that is important to take into account medium and practice because “cognitive maturity by itself does not automatically lead to competence in a specific domain, and consistent practice and motivation to master a task in a specific medium are crucial for bring to fruition the growing potential of children and adolescents.”
This study shows preschoolers’ ability to try different solutions, to problem solve. Because a child does not posses a “skill or [has not had the] practice, is indifferent to the demands of realism in art, and to the cultural expectations of making accurate copies of reality need not by themselves, indicate that the artist’s conception of the object is limited or distorted, or that she is locked in a primitive stage of conceptual development.” It is important for adults to understand that education is a long process and development, and that the expectations of an adult can distort a child’s vision.
Golomb’s study is important because it shows two ideas working together procedural knowledge and teacher expectations.
Procedural knowledge is knowledge about how to perform a task, such as how to use a pencil. Certain skills can become automatic procedures. When procedures are done unconsciously they are called automated basic skills (Woolfolk, 1998).
An example of this is holding a pencil. The first stage is called the cognitive stage. This is when every step is thought about — from how to hold the pencil to how to make marks. The next stage is called the associative stage, and is when the steps are grouped together. Last, the autonomous stage, is when the procedure is done automatically — when you do not have to think about holding a pencil,or what the letters look like, you just write.
Understanding automated basic skills is valuable in early childhood art education. Like Golomb stated, exposure to the medium is very important. As a child gets older and has more exposure to the medium, the medium itself will not be as much of a problem because certain aspects have become automated basic skills.
Golomb’s research helps to show the development of procedural knowledge, while the two previous studies showed conservation and perception. But none of the research has focused on how the child creates art.
John Matthews (1994), of Nanyang Technological University, wants to discover a relationship between development and diversity in children’s art, and the implications for development and diversity in art education.
He does this by asking three basic questions. First, is the child’s development in art culturally derived or is it universal? Second, how do children cultivate representational skills, and are children doing more than just copying and imitating? Third, is there a relationship between early childhood art, and later art making?
Matthews’ research was a longitudinal study of three separate groups: (1) the researcher’s children, (2) a London nursery school, and (3) a nursery school and kindergarten in Singapore.
From the data, Matthews coined the term Deep Structures. The research defines Deep Structures as the beginning of representational thought, that may or may not imitate the environment, and as the way children use and organize different types of media in 2-D (drawing, painting), 3-D (sculpture) and 4-D (symbolic play). Deep Structures follows a developmental sequence where each succeeding structure builds on the pervious and gains in complexity.
Several interrelated relationships can be based on the idea of Deep Structures. First, children’s play seems random, but if observed closely there are patterns of behavior. These patterns are the Deep Structures that organize behavior. Secondly, children use familiar objects in unfamiliar ways – ways that are not tied to “real life.” Thirdly, toys and objects are used as pivotal objects- meaning that a child uses objects to “separate words from objects and actions form meaning” (Vygotsky, 1966; Matthews, 1994)). When children use toys in unfamiliar ways, they are using the objects as a pivotal object. Then, this pivotal object is used in an organized way to make sense of the environment. Fourth, Deep Structures are not tied to a specific culture – all children create and use Deep Structures. Finally, representational play does not just reproduce, it “constructs our vision of the world,” thus through the use of Deep Structures children are able to explore and make sense of their environment.
The two basic types of Deep Structures are structure-of-objects and spatial layout, and those that deal with movement. Under both types of Deep Structures are the three basic arm movements that are first seen during infancy: horizontal arc, vertical arc, and push pull. From those basic movements, the child then develops a complex set of movements in space and time. Next, the child develops structures, which are more complex, that deal with position and location. Building on the pervious structures, the child then begins to deal with structures of spatial relationships. Finally, the child develops a combination of structures dealing with spatial relationship.
This research is closely linked to Piaget’s thoughts. First, children actively make their own knowledge. Second, children build on schemes, or Deep Structures, to organize and acquire knowledge. Thirdly, the structures of spatial relationships are closely linked to Piaget’s idea of conservation. Through this structures the child is discovering, covering, on-top-of, underneath, going through, going around, enclosures, and inside and outside. During this stage in development, the child is discovering the elements in the world. This is when a child is able to see the relationships but does not draw those relationships in a representative manner (not striving for realism).
The research is also related to Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning. Matthews states that children may need an adult to help guild them in seeing and developing those schemes because “not only objects, but also adults’ remarks, act as a loci around which pattern of behavior emerge.” The implications are that even though children are actively trying to make sense of the world the teacher can help them to see the meaning in their actions.
Based on Matthews’ study, teachers should allow children to explore their environment, and help children to deepen their understanding of their actions. How can teachers do this? By establishing an open dialogue, using verbal cueing, and scaffolding.
Because teaching occurs in a social context, the teacher plays an important role in guiding children in their art making. First, talking to children engages them in “experiences and conversations which will provide development and help children transfer understandings from one context to another. By helping children gain control of their representational modes one helps them gain control over their lives” (Matthews, 1994). Second, the teacher does not tell a child what to do, but sets up an open dialogue to encourage making choices (Burton, 1980). Two types of dialogues that can be used are about the stories depicted, and materials and elements of design used.
Verbal cueing and scaffolding are teaching strategies that can be used to help children become more aware of their actions and the environment (Matthews, 1994). First, verbal cueing can be a scaffold that aides in the ability to see spatial relationships, and to organize impressions and comparisons of space on paper (Guthrie, 1994) . Second, even though children are actively trying to make sense of the world the teacher can help them to see the meaning in their actions by scaffolding (Matthews, 1994).
Research has heavily focused on the aspect of two-dimensional spatial representation in terms of cognitive development. The flaw in this narrow assumption of cognitive development is that the end result shows the thought process used to derive the product. Most of the research assumes that the material used to produce the product does not pose an additional problem to solve, and that experience with the material does not yield a better product. Also, most of the research overlooks the notion that early art is not about the adult’s answer, but children searching for their own answers (Lowenfeld, 1975).
To solve this problem more research needs to focus on the process of creating art. Some ideas for future study might be: (1) problem solving, (2) memory and visual attention,(3) how allowing children to explore like using deep structure would benefit the child, (4) the development of a graphic language,(5) what are the long term effects of an adult imposed view of art making on children as they become adults should be pursued, and (6) the role of art in emotional and expressive development.
The following will summarize questions that the paper set out to answer.
What is art education in early childhood? Lowenfeld (1975) says there are three important points about the role of art in education. First, he says that “in art education the final product is subordinated to the creative process. It is the child’s process- his thinking, his feeling, his perceiving, in fact, his reactions to his environment- that is important.” Second, art education is different from the fine arts, which are more concerned with the final product than the process by which the product was derived. Third, art education allows “basic abilities that should be taught in the public schools” to emerge such as “the ability to discover and to search for answers, instead of passively waiting for answers and directions from the teacher.”
What is the teacher’s role in the development of art and what are teaching strategies that foster the development of art without imposing adult realism on children? The teacher’s role in early childhood development is to act as a guide who helps to deepen children’s understanding of their own actions. The teacher can help children become more aware of their actions by using verbal cues, scaffolding, and conversations. Also, the teacher can aid in the development of art without imposing adult realism if the teacher has a strong understanding of children’s cognitive and physical development, and the process that art is created.
And, what is the process by which art is created? Art is created through the development of schemes, which allows children to form an understanding of their environment. It is important that teachers realize that during the early childhood years exploration is vital and that the process of exploring alone is important for learning and the end product is not as important.
In conclusion,art in early childhood is a vital place to see the child’s cognitive development, and an important place for children to develop a greater understanding of their environment.