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Contemporary Approaches to Quality Child Care through Exploration of the Visual Arts

Contemporary Approaches to Quality Child Care through Exploration of the Visual Arts

Christina Tortorelli, Carolyn Bjartveit

Sophia Hamrell, Michaela Chronik, Sujood Kharfan

“This is perhaps the largest lesson that the arts in education can teach, the lesson that life can be led as a work of art.  In so doing the maker himself or herself is remade.  The remaking, this re-creation is at the heart of the process of education” (Eisner, 1998, p. 56).

Practicum students and professors from the Child Studies and Social Work programs at Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary have advocated for art education in Early Learning through their work with educators and twenty 5-year-old children at the University’s Child Care Centre.


The students wrote a literature review and defined “quality” child care in relation to the inclusion of visual arts in Early Learning programs. Their findings indicate that access to the arts is an integral part of quality care, and greatly benefit children’s learning and development.  Although current research points to the importance of the visual arts, this factor is often overlooked by educators and yet the visual arts invite creativity, engage risk-taking, and sharpen children’s problem solving and critical thinking skills. The arts provide an outlet for emotions and self-expression. Engagement in the arts connect neural pathways as children use their senses to interact with each other and various materials. Skills developed through the arts support learning in multiple disciplines and diverse expressions of language.


Art-based play activities should be ranked high in importance among academic disciplines. The visual arts play a key role in quality Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) and children have the right to develop multimodal literacies as they learn and grow.


Connecting the Dots: From Theory to Practice


In collaboration with the children’s educators, and based on the children’s interests, the students created lesson plans and facilitated artmaking experiences at the Child Care Centre on two different days. After setting out the materials, the students explained the art activities to the children, read stories, and sang songs to engage them and fuel creative thinking. Through photographs and examples of abstract art, the children were introduced to Pointillism, an Impressionist style of painting that involves creating patterns and colourful images with small dots. This sparked the children’s curiosity and interest in exploring art materials and tools. The children tested various ways to apply paint to paper, rolled marbles through paint, and created textures with paint and shaving cream. The children marveled at the abstract patterns that emerged as they mixed, rolled, played, and expressed their ideas through visual, spoken, and embodied languages.


A media crew from MRU’s Academic Development Centre filmed the children’s play experiences. These films will be used to promote the children’s work, emphasize how and why arts-based programming in Early Learning supports “quality” child care and the role of educators in facilitating art education. The children’s art pieces were recently photographed and will be sold online (May 2021) to purchase new bicycles for the Centre. The children understand and are proud of their important part in supporting the fundraiser through donating their art pieces.


Viewing the visual arts through theoretical and practice lenses have increased the project participants’ awareness of the importance of arts-based teaching and learning in ELCC programs.  The success of this practicum project was due in no small part to collaborations between staff at the MRU Child Care Centre, students, and faculty. It is hoped that this experience will be the first of future opportunities to promote the visual arts and support children’s curiosity, creativity, development and learning in playful and joyful ways.






Eisner, E.W. (1998). The kind of schools we need: personal essays. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Video: Child Care Practicum Highlights