4 Ways Art in Storytime Makes Kids Smarter
by Liz Bowie
I’ll admit it: I’m a mom who avoids Play-Doh® at all costs. It’s messy, and it gets in the carpet; I find hard little nuggets of it for days. But even though I might not like the mess, I do want my children squishing, molding, gluing, cutting and otherwise creating art as much as possible. Art activities, especially in the early years, are just as important as math and literacy activities for a child’s development. In fact, art activities help build the foundation for math and literacy learning (as well as science, engineering, and creative thinking skills). In the ever-changing world our children are entering, where innovation is the key to success, library storytimes that connect children’s literature with creative learning are more important than ever.
Benefits of Art in the Early Years
Fine Motor Skills: As soon as an infant can grasp objects, she starts developing the fine muscles in her hands that will enable her to grasp a crayon or pencil. Scribbling, molding clay, painting with fingers and sponges and other art activities help develop the muscle strength and coordination children will need for more advanced skills like writing. The random scribblings of a 2-year-old lead to more controlled scribbling and eventually to identifiable writing.
Vocabulary: There has been plenty of buzz recently about the word gap between low-income children and their middle- to high-income peers. President Obama recently addressed the importance of vocabulary development during the early years as part of his Early Learning Initiative. Art projects, especially those that build on concepts presented through literature, provide a perfect opportunity for authentic vocabulary acquisition.
Research has shown that traditional methods of teaching vocabulary, such as repeating definitions, pale in comparison to offering new words in context, which allows children to form meaningful connections to the words. Storytime venues do just that, as storytellers first present new words by previewing a picture book with children, illustrate and elaborate on those new words while telling the story, and solidify understanding as they lead children and caregivers through a related art project using vocabulary from the story. Parents are also learning how to share vocabulary with their children as they listen to how the storyteller verbalizes directionality (up, down, on top, under, beside), describes techniques and materials (scrape, brush, fold, soft, squishy, scratchy), and models other developmental communication with their children.
Comprehension Skills: Good readers seamlessly use comprehension skills while reading, including visualizing, predicting, sequencing and reflecting. Literature-based art projects with 4- and 5-year-olds can help develop these key skills in children, preparing them to become more successful readers. Storytellers can take a different approach to storytime by reading a descriptive story without showing the pictures and then asking children to draw what they saw in their minds while listening to the story (visualizing). Or storytellers can stop before a pivotal point in the story or before the ending and ask children to draw what they think will happen (predicting). Art projects, such as stick puppets, can also encourage children to retell stories in order (narrating and sequencing).
Visual-Spatial Skills: Both reading and math require children to develop visual discrimination and tracking skills. Through art, children have opportunities to learn about shapes, colors, patterns, balance and proportion. They can hear and practice math terms (e.g., circle, square, small, big, above, under, etc). They can also strengthen their visual memories by listening to descriptions of objects through storytelling and then reproducing those objects through art.
The Very Ready Reading Program author Sue McCleaf Nespeca offers the following tips for librarians and early childhood educators on how to have productive and respectful conversations with children while they are producing art. These tips can be used to guide art experiences in the library and given as a handout for parents to take home.
10 Tips for Talking to Kids About Art
- Ask children to tell you about their work, rather than saying, “What is this supposed to be?” or calling their work scribbles.
- Ask, “What do you like best about your work?”
- Respect their work and ask for permission before adding their names or writing on it.
- Do not set up a competitive atmosphere by praising one child’s art abilities over another child’s.
- Allow children to explore mediums, rather than use an adult’s artwork as a model.
- Notice things about their work, such as, “I see you used blues and greens in your work. Those are two cool colors.”
- Be enthusiastic about the processes they used when creating their work, such as, “Do you see how you made the colors on your paper swirl together?”
- Let children choose the types of materials and tools they will use.
- Turn a child’s question around if she asks you whether you like her work. Ask her how she feels about what she has accomplished. Children should be seeking to please themselves with their work rather than someone else.
- Show examples of fine art in your library or school and share vocabulary specific to the arts.
Art can nurture critical thinking, literacy and math skills, creativity, and self-esteem. When offered opportunities
to express themselves through art, children will develop values and skills that will guide them for a lifetime.
- “Empowering Our Children by Bridging the Word Gap.” Maya Shankar. The White House Blog. June 25, 2014.
- “The President’s Early Learning Initiative: A Birth to Five Continuum of High Quality Early Care and Education.” Office of Child Care.
- The Very Ready Reading Program. Sue McLeaf Nespeca and Pam Schiller. Madison, WI: Upstart. 2013.
- Picture Books Plus: 100 Extension Activities in Art, Drama, Music, Math and Science. Sue McCleaf Nespeca and Joan B. Reeve. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. 2003.