As explained in our previous posts , in this series of our blogs, we will be taking an in depth look into each area of the seven areas of learning and development and talking about and demonstrating how we support the children’s learning and development in each area and the benefits this has. We will look at each area from a home-based childcare perspective, an early years setting as a whole and talk about how these activities or ones similar can be adapted and used at home to develop continuity across the child’s experiences and environments.
This week, for the final blog in this series we will be looking at the Expressive Arts and Design (EAD) aspect of learning. Expressive Arts and Design refers to children’s creativity and expression; whether this be through art, media, dance, song or imaginative play, this aspect covers the countless ways children can be expressive in their play.
From as early as 8-20 months, babies and young children begin to express themselves, whether that be through “improvising and imitating actions they have observed” or “moving their whole body to sounds they enjoy.” (Development Matters, 2012.)
Children have an innate tendency to express themselves in a variety of ways as they grow and experience new opportunities and gain understanding and control of not only their bodies but their own representations of the world around them. Children may begin to notice marks they make and how marks are made in materials as they play and explore new textures, as well as beginning to show an interest in the way musical instruments sound – and most of this learning will occur before the child is three years old.
As with any aspect of children’s learning and development, in order to be in control of how they express themselves and do so in varying creative ways, children must be exposed to a range of opportunities that enable them to explore, learn and then in turn express themselves accordingly. As a result, providing opportunities for many different types of expression is essential.
Art and creative opportunities, like painting and drawing etc allow children to not only mark-make and express themselves through media and materials, but also allows them an opportunity to explore colour, problem solve and make predictions as they mix colours and talk about shades, as well as representing themselves and their experiences through the marks and pictures they create.
Providing children with simple objects such as ribbons, instruments (it does not have to be shop bought instruments – home-made are just as good), opportunities for children to explore sound (pots, pans and spoons are great for this!), different textures (so many household objects and materials are fabulous – shaving foam, sand, flour, cornflour, water and bubbles allow children to explore different textures safely, whilst their brain makes the connection and distinction between the varying textures, children are not only developing early mark-making skills (links to PD and Literacy) but also that the movements they make can affect the sensory experience as they use their whole body to explore and engage with the sensory materials.
Similarly, children expressing themselves through music and sound need not be expensive, again utilising the objects you have around the home; pots, pans, jars of sprinkles, rice in bottles – anything that allows children to explore with sound at various pitches/volumes/tempos provides them with the opportunities to develop the early skills and curiosity that enables them to express themselves through music.
Loose parts come into their own again within this area of learning as objects and materials without ‘pre-defined uses’ enables children to think critically and creatively with these resources on offer and therefore create constructions, role-play, props, instruments and a range of other child-led arrangements that not only challenge their thinking and inspire learning, but allow them to be independently creative with no limits. This is creativity.
The second aspect to this area of learning is ‘Being Imaginative’ and as the name suggests, looks at children’s imagination and their developing role play. At around 16 months old, we would expect to see children beginning to demonstrate early imagination skills as they begin to “pretend objects represent one another, particularly when objects have characteristics in common.” (Development Matters, 2012)
Around 22-36 months, children will begin to display some early imagination as they start to make-believe by pretending, they may first begin to initiate simple make-believe play; for example making a ‘Woof’ sound and saying ‘I’m a dog’. This will soon develop into more complex role-play as the child gets older and you may even notice them acting out events from their own experience; ‘Mummy and Daddy’ role play is common as children’s imaginative skills begin to develop and they will often act out experiences from their own life before taking on a more complex role and introducing a narrative into their play.
Similarly, as with ‘Exploring and Using Media and Materials’ the experiences children have will contribute to their role play skills and imaginative play – if children have rich experiences (visiting the post office, going to a museum and digging for fossils, meeting new babies, baking and cooking at home) the richer and more complex their imaginative skills will become as they begin to process the world around them through their imaginative play.
Imaginative play is vital for children to be able to engage with and explore independently and creatively as role play and make-believe allow children to not only act out experiences from their own lives and the lives of those around them, but role play and imaginative play provides children with the opportunity to work through and process experiences and feelings constructively. Through replicating the experience in their role play and taking a different perspective on the situation allows children to simplify the experience and thus understand and process it more simply.
Once again, children do not need reams of expensive and excessive role play costumes, materials and props – the wonderful thing about this area of learning is that it allows and encourages children to be creative in not only their thinking but their play too, and so this type of play is much more about the children’s interpretations, creations and how they organise and arrange their own play experiences, role play and props. Just simply providing children with a range of rich experiences and activities will spark enough curiosity for them to feel inspired to act out themselves either independently or with a group of children engaged in the same theme in order to cement their learning. Similarly, children will use their critical and creative thinking in order to create their own props to support their role-play, dependent on the narrative/theme they choose – as parents and practitioners it is our responsibility to provide children with the space and time to explore deep imaginative experiences freely without interruption or guidance, as this allows children to use their own skills and challenge their own thinking more so than if we were to interrupt or attempt to facilitate their play.
Ultimately, this particular area of learning highlights the importance of child-led play and exploration. Children who have the time, space and freedom to explore concepts and experiences curiously and creatively, will develop their own critical thinking and expressive play opportunities than adult-led play activities and experiences can offer them.