Early childhood educators have long recognised the importance of creative activities and are passionate about promoting children's creativity. Most early childhood curricula have a strong focus on creative experiences – especially in music, movement and visual arts, because of their acknowledged role in enhancing children's intellectual, social and emotional development.
Recently, the longstanding focus on creative activities has received a resounding endorsement from neuroscientists working in the â€˜brain research' area who say that neural pathways in the brain are formed and shaped by early experiences. In the first three to four years in particular, rich experiences are necessary to build the brain's neuro-circuitry. This then influences development and general wellbeing, and later academic performance in school.The growing knowledge of how children's brains develop has helped refocus and energise community and government interest in strengthening and expanding early childhood programs. Current initiatives, such as the Australian Government's Stronger Families, Stronger Communities program, build on compelling evidence that early developmental outcomes are linked to later wellbeing.
In the light of evidence about the importance of early experience, children's active engagement in singing, music and movement, storytelling, and art and craft activities, is especially significant. All new and sustained experiences help create unique brain connections that have short and long term impacts on developmental pathways. Importantly, as the current National Enquiry into Literacy draws to a close, attention is focused on the best ways to develop literacy and ensure that every child is a reader. Undoubtedly, this report will highlight the key role of rich, early language and literacy experiences for young children. In preschool and child care, the core of these experiences is frequently arts-based with children's painting, drawing, singing, dance, and storytelling at the heart of good early literacy programs. Ensuring these traditional early childhood activities, complemented by newer digital experiences, translate into strong early literacy skills requires thoughtful planning and pedagogies that grow out of targeted initial training and professional development.
More than at any time in the past, the social and economic benefits of integrated, seamless programs of early childhood development, care and education are being discussed and promoted here and internationally. It is increasingly recognised that â€˜care' and â€˜education' cannot be separated if child development is to be optimised. Many early childhood educators would argue that experiences in the arts are at the core of this integration. They underpin much of the developmental programming within services, and draw together the key components of various social and cognitive dimensions of learning.Today, investments in the early years are viewed as sound strategies to achieve social inclusion and academic success. But, if early childhood services are to meet the needs of families, communities and children through the next decade or so, then the visions, initiatives and strategies must be carefully planned and implemented. There must also be renewed rigour in defining and monitoring outcomes for children.
In this issue of Every Child, we continue to inform the debate on strengthening early childhood services by looking at developments and issues in the broad area of â€˜the arts'. We focus on the critical role of the visual arts, music, and movement in preschool and child care programs and especially in developing social and cognitive competencies and preparedness for school.
Jackie French's Guest Statement, with the provocative title How to make kids hate reading, proposes that reading must be promoted as fun, worthwhile and important â€˜secret adult's business' if it is to be considered as â€˜highly desirable'. Other articles focus on creating rich dramatic play environments, transforming an early childhood setting into â€˜a creative sanctuary' and using nature, art and play to draw out and value children's unique views of the world.The range of arts-focused early childhood initiatives in centres, schools and the wider community around Australia is impressive. But embracing arts activities and understanding their value in early childhood contexts – especially as a basis for later learning – can be the biggest challenge. Ensuring early childhood professionals are able to plan and implement appropriate visual and performing arts activities for young children requires a special focus in early childhood education training programs and in professional learning programs.
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