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Running head: ART IN THE K-8 CURRICULUM

Art in the K-8 Curriculum:

An examination of the objectives of art in the classroom

Mariah Brashar

University of Alaska Southeast


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Abstract

This paper examines the role of art in the K-8 curriculum and answers the following questions:

What is art? Why is it important? What is normal development in children’s art ability and

processes? What is important for young people to learn in the K-8 art curriculum? What has the

author learned about how to best teach art to children in a school setting? The author examines

these questions as they pertain to both the assigned text and the curricula of the Fairbanks North

Star Borough. In addition to these topics, this paper discusses the impact that art can have on the

lives of students, how to instill a love of art, how to foster a learning environment in which art is

valued, and how to sensitively critique students’ work.

What is art? Why is it important?

Art is many things to many people. Music, dance, painting: all these things and thousands

more are art. Art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual

form; works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power (Merriam-Webster).

Art is a cultural mainstay, and to that extent, culture defines what is considered art. Cave

paintings are art. Navajo weavings are art. Renaissance paintings are art. Inuit dances are art.

Messy, developing creations of children are art. Art can be about the process of creation. It can

be about the beauty of a result. Ultimately, no matter the conflicting definitions, art is creation.

The importance of art, not only in the classroom, but in the world, is multifaceted. Art is

“an international language,” accessible even to those with little or no education or means of

understanding (Clements, p 3). Art transcends language and can transcend culture. As such, it

can be a means of communication across these barriers. Art can serve to enhance cultural pride,

but it can also serve to help communicate cultural values beyond the strictures of a given culture.

An outsider can understand the fierce beauty of a Haka (the traditional war dance of the Mauri
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people of New Zealand) and can, through appreciation of this art form, come to better understand

the culture as a whole. In this way, art can be a vessel that transports the viewer and helps him

appreciate, understand, and value cultures and perspectives different from his own.

Art education is also vital: “the growth and development of each individual is enriched

through art education since it celebrates uniqueness, self-expression, and diversity. Art

appreciation and production activities encourage critical thinking and creative problem solving-

skills. It provides a means for appreciating and respecting ourselves and others” (Hughes p. 9).

Those who are educated, even in a small measure, about how to appreciate and create art can

better make use of the art in the world around them. These other uses include making the

ordinary objects and events special, personal communication and expression through creation,

increased ability to conceptualize and consider multiple perspectives, engaging in fields of work

that include artistic elements, increasing appreciation for the beauty of the world, and an

increased understanding of visual phenomenon, among other benefits (Clements, p. 3-6).

What is normal development in children’s art ability and processes?

As an educator, one of the most crucial pieces of knowledge one can possess is a basic

understanding of the developmental levels of children. This is as true in art as it is in any subject.

Most children display an interest in art early and can be expected to begin coloring between the

ages of two and four years old.

Elementary school students are at an important age for art instruction, as indicated by the

following developmental theory. Between the ages of five and thirteen, children can be expected

to participate actively in art. They should “produce, perceive, and reflect” on art (Hughes p. 10).

Older children, such as secondary school students, are developmentally ready for a more

concrete approach to art, “including art history, art criticism, and aesthetics” (Hughes p. 10). The
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following developmental stages are most useful when used as a guide and are not a linear

progression for all students.

According to Viktor Lowenfield’s Stages of Child Art Development (1947), the first

stage in a child’s artistic development is referred to as the Scribbling or Mark-making Stage. It is

characterized by disorganized marks. The child may name the marks, verbally explaining what

the marks represent. Next, a child is expected to develop into the Pre-schematic or Early

Symbol-making Stage. In this stage, children use rudimentary designs, such as circles, to depict

objects representationally. Figures drawn by children between the ages of four and seven are

generally not detailed. The Schematic or Symbol-making Stage follows, wherein children

display an aptitude for using shapes and lines to achieve a firm concept of form. The Schematic

Stage is expected around the ages of nine to eleven (Clements p. 180).

From eleven to thirteen, a child might be expected to enter into the “Gang Stage,” also

known as “Dawning Realism,” or the Emerging Expertise Stage. This stage is considered by

some to be the height of child art. During this stage, children begin to see realistic aspects in the

works they produce. Their skills increase, but they have not yet developed the critical view of

their own work that may later discourage them from creative endeavors. After “Dawning

Realism,” children generally enter the Pseudorealistic stage followed by a Period of Decision,

according to Lowenfield. During these later stages (from about ages eleven to sixteen), children

often experience a decline either in artistic ability or in enthusiasm for their own creations and

creative processes.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, who is widely lauded as one of the most influential artists

of the Twentieth Century, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when

one grows up” (Clements p. 180). It is crucial that children be encouraged to continue to create
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art. One way educators can do this is to emphasize the importance of the creative process rather

than the importance of the product. Art should allow children to explore and take creative risks.

What is important for young people to learn in the K-8 art curriculum?

Students in elementary and middle school should learn about the principle elements of

art: line, shape, color, space, texture, and pattern. Students should also learn about balance,

symmetry, asymmetry, variety, and domination-subordination. These design fundamentals help

students better understand choices they make in their own art and the result of those choices

(Clements, p. 12). Of course, as with all things art, distinctions between these elements can be

muddy. One work of art may (and in fact is likely) to contain all these elements. These elements

of art can be best used as a guide for creative impulses and a way of communicating critique in a

language that is understood by the student.

The elements of art are the “building blocks of visual art,” and the principles of art

(balance, contrast, emphasis, proportion, movement, and unity) are the “use or arrangement of

the building blocks” (Hughes, p. 11-12). Students should learn these elements and principles in

the K-8 curriculum to increase their artistic awareness and to prepare them for a more rigorous

approach both to the creation and the critique of art that they will face in secondary school and

beyond.

Students should also “participate in dance, drama, music, visual arts, and creative writing;

refine artistic skills and develop self-discipline through rehearsal, practice, and revision;

appropriately use new and traditional materials, tools, techniques, and processes in the arts;

demonstrate the creativity and imagination necessary for innovative thinking and problem

solving; collaborate with others to create and perform works of art; integrate two or more art
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forms to create a work of art; and investigate careers in arts production” in the K-8 curriculum

(Hughes, p. 14).

What has the author learned about how to best teach art to children in a school setting?

Over the five weeks of this course, the author gained perspective into the minds of

children and how they perceive art. Through practice, observation, and critique in class, she has

learned how to give feedback, how to identify when a project met its stated objectives, and how

to design and teach an art lesson plan.

The author has gained information about the expected developmental stages of children’s

artistic abilities and has learned to use this knowledge to design age-appropriate material. The

author has also learned several art techniques including mask-making, frottage, collage, contour

drawing, and sculpture. These techniques are useful and appropriate for teaching elementary

school children and have added to the author’s arsenal of artistic experiences.

One of the most critical and useful elements of art instruction can be the critique portion

of an art assignment. The author was given, in this class, the opportunity to receive feedback and

(more importantly) practice giving feedback to her classmates. This practice of constructive,

objective feedback about creative activities has greatly influenced her understanding of how to

actively teach art. The author has also learned a deeper appreciation for the importance of art in

the K-8 curriculum and the positive influence that art can have in students’ lives.

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much

performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

― Vincent Van Gogh


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References:

Clements, R., Wachowaik, F., (2010). Emphasis Art: A Qualitative Art Program for Elementary

and Middle Schools. Ninth Edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Hughes, K., Short, B., Carlson, P., Bennett, J., & Edgerton, C. (2008). K-12 Art Curriculum,

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Retrieved from

http://www.k12northstart.org/cms/lib010/AK01901510/Centricity/Domain?1088/Art%20

Curriculum.pdf