The importance of art viewing experiences in early childhood visual arts
The Importance of Art Viewing Experiences in Early Childhood
Visual Arts: The Exploration of a Master Art Teacher’s Strategies
for Meaningful Early Arts Experiences
Published online: 25 October 2007
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract The visual arts can be an important and rich
domain of learning for young children. In PreK education,
The Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth
to Age Eight (Young children and the arts: Making crea-
tive connections, Washington, DC: Arts Education
Partnership, 1998) recommends that art experiences for
young children include activities designed to introduce
children to works of art that are high quality and devel-
opmentally appropriate in both content and presentation.
This paper documents the teaching strategies utilized by a
master art teacher at the Denver Art Museum to engage
preschool-age students in art viewing experiences which
were part of a museum-based art program. This research
provides support for integrating rich, meaningful art
viewing experiences as a regular part of young children’s
arts experiences while offering early childhood educators
teaching strategies for early art viewing experiences.
Keywords Art appreciation Á Early childhood Á
Museum education Á Teaching strategies Á
Visual art education
Through engagement in art viewing and art making expe-
riences, the visual arts1
can be an important and rich
domain of learning for young children. In early childhood
arts education, art viewing or art appreciation experiences
are often non-existent or a minor component of children’s
interactions with the visual arts (Epstein and Trimis 2002;
Colbert and Taunton 1992). However, support for intro-
ducing children to art viewing experiences is evident in the
national education standards and curriculum recommen-
dations for children birth through eight. In K-12 education,
national standards for arts education support activities
associated with art viewing experiences (NAEA 1994).
Similarly, in Pre-K education, the Task Force on Chil-
dren’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight (1998)
recommends that art experiences for young children
include activities designed to introduce children to works
of art that are high quality and developmentally appropriate
in both content and presentation. In spite of these standards
and recommendations, art viewing experiences remain, at
best, a minor component of young children’s visual arts
education. It is likely that there are multiple factors that
contribute to this trend; early educators’ lack of training or
experience with the visual arts is one probable contributing
factor. The research reported in this article provides sup-
port for integrating rich, meaningful art viewing
experiences as a regular part of young children’s arts
experiences while offering early childhood educators
teaching strategies for early art viewing experiences.
The museum-based research examined here explores an
early childhood art program that emphasized both art
viewing and art making experiences for young children. As
such, this research required a theoretical framework that
A. Eckhoff (&)
Eugene T. Moore School of Education, Clemson University,
401 B Tillman Hall, Clemson, SC 29634-0705, USA
In this paper, the visual arts are deﬁned as a broad category of the
arts that includes the ﬁne arts, communication and design arts, and
architecture and environmental arts (NAEA 1994).
Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472
accounted for the rich interplay between students and their
teacher as situated within the museum galleries and studio
classrooms. Current research in the learning sciences sup-
ports a view of learning that emphasizes the role of context
in learning experiences (Bransford et al. 2000), situated
cognition (Roth 1996; Greeno 1989), distributed cognition
(Hewitt and Scardamalia 1998; Cole and Engestrom 1993),
and sociocultural views of learning (Wertsch 1985, 1991)
all emphasize the important role of the learning environ-
ment. Thus, the sociocultural context of the art viewing or
art making experience becomes an inextricable part of
understanding the educational practices occurring within
the museum learning environment.
Piscitelli and Weier (2002) discussed the important role
of the adult or teacher in a museum setting, ‘‘(w)hen adults
scaffold children’s behavior by focusing their attention and
posing questions, they challenge children to a deeper level
of understanding that moves them beyond their current
level of functioning’’ (pp. 126–128). The art objects an
instructor chooses for inclusion for student viewing expe-
riences and how they are introduced have great
implications for children’s developing understandings and
appreciation of the visual arts. Because young children’s
experiences with art are largely shaped by the adults in
their lives, it is important to explore the instructor’s
teaching methods during art viewing and art making
experiences with young children. While Kindler and Darras
(1997) present a map of pictorial development during early
childhood production experiences that supports the theo-
retical foundations outlined above, a focus on early art
viewing experiences in addition to related arts production
necessitates the utilization of an integrated early arts
Eglinton (2003) presents a comprehensive early arts
program model where art making, encounters with art,
and aesthetic experiences are integrated and equally
weighted (see Fig. 1). In this model, all artistic experi-
ences are dynamic; each experience leads to more
experiences; discovery generates further exploration. The
teacher plays an integral, active role in Eglinton’s model
where he/she is responsible for engaging and motivating
children to participate in an arts-based dialog. In addi-
tion, Eglinton’s model also requires teachers to engage in
observation and reﬂective practices (2003). The key to
Eglinton’s model is the active involvement of teachers
and students which can lead to mutual construction of
understandings of fundamental visual and conceptual
relationships. Eglinton’s model provides support for the
research presented here because of the focus on the
integration of art making, art viewing, and aesthetic
experiences as well as the identiﬁcation of the integral
role of the early educator in developing and imple-
menting early arts experiences.
In addition to the role of the teachers outlined in Egl-
inton’s comprehensive model, Kolbe (2005) provides
additional support for the pivotal role that early educators
play in scaffolding young children’s arts-based experiences
through the acknowledgement of the sociocultural nature
of learning in a classroom setting. As Kolbe states, ‘‘Have
faith in children’s abilities to learn through exchanging
ideas and bouncing off each other’s thoughts. Make it
possible for them to learn from each other…’’ (2005,
p. 74). The sociocultural nature of a museum-based edu-
cational setting is undeniable. All components of the
setting—teachers, children, artworks, art materials—come
together to create arts learning experiences.
A museum-based arts education program for young chil-
dren provided a dynamic learning environment in which to
study teaching strategies during art viewing experiences.
Four museum-based art education classes for children ages
4–11 years at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) were studied
to explore young children’s interactions with the visual
arts. This paper reports on the art viewing experiences that
took place in two classes designed for children aged four to
ﬁve in the DAM’s summer program. The student make-up
of the ﬁrst class consisted of 16 children, 11 girls and 5
boys. The second preschool-age class also had 16 children,
9 girls and 7 boys. Four students were enrolled in both
camps. Each camp met for 2.5 h a day for a week in the
summer of 2005.
The DAM’s summer arts classes were designed to meet
the needs and abilities of young children and covered a
wide variety of topics in the arts. DAM’s classes provide an
ideal environment in which to examine teaching practices
Art Making Experiences
Fig. 1 Holistic experiences in art (Eglinton 2003)
464 Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472
involved in introducing young children to a variety of
artworks because the class teachers are considered to be
‘master teachers’. To be considered a master teacher at
the DAM, one must demonstrate mastery of three main
categories of knowledge: art knowledge, pedagogical
knowledge, and knowledge of museum research. The
classes reported on in this paper were taught by Mary,2
master teacher. This was Mary’s ﬁrst time teaching each
preschool class because, prior to the summer 2005 classes,
the DAM had not offered a summer arts class for the
preschool-aged child. Mary had previously taught several
other art classes for older children and had worked in the
education department of the DAM for many years. In
addition to Mary, the preschool classes had two interns
from a nearby university, Susan and Tom. Both interns
were students in the art department of the local university.
The focus of each of the preschool classes was chosen
by the museum’s education department. Mary chose gal-
lery art that was ‘‘related to the topic and was within the
realm of familiarity to the children. I wanted objects that
were interesting and had lots of things happening so that …
they could be taken in lots of directions’’ (Interview, 07/07/
05). Mary stated that her overall goal for each class was for
the children to have a positive experience. She planned to
evaluate the effectiveness of each class activity based on
the level of involvement of the children and the children’s
own perceived level of success. Mary designed art projects
that were open-ended to allow children to participate
without feeling frustrated or hampered by their ability
level. Mary’s teaching philosophy was ‘‘if they are doing
their own thing and they are happy with their progress and
project then I just let them go. I tend to only get involved or
give the children help if they act frustrated or speciﬁcally
ask for help’’ (Interview, 07/07/05). As Mary’s comments
demonstrate, the preschool classes were designed to
introduce young children to visual arts world through
positive and meaningful art viewing activities and art
Description of Study Design
Observational methods of research were employed to
examine this dynamic learning environment and allowed
for the development of an understanding of the teaching
strategies used to encourage young students’ active
involvement in art viewing and art making experiences.
This paper will focus on the teaching strategies used during
art viewing experiences. I acted as the principal researcher
for this project and, as such, took detailed ﬁeld notes during
the entirety of every camp session throughout the time each
class spent in the galleries and while the students learned
about and made their own works of art in the classroom. I
also documented, through digital photographs and informal
student interviews, each student’s artwork created during
class sessions. The artworks created by the students were a
central component of the camp classes and provided a
valuable source of data for this study. This paper docu-
ments, though observational study, the strategies a master
art teacher employed to introduce and involve young
children in art viewing experiences.
This research draws upon three main sources of data:
Field notes, transcriptions of audio-taped sessions from
each class, and semi-structured interviews with the art class
teachers. While each class was in the museum galleries and
studio classrooms, class discussions were audio-taped and
later transcribed. I began coding the transcriptions of the
audio-data by identifying and labeling instances of the
teachers’ art-related talk. The rules for deciding which talk
to include, and thus classify as art-related, were quite
simple. Only talk that was focused on or mentioned an art
object, an art project, art tools, or art materials was inclu-
ded in the analysis. Off-topic talk was coded as Other but
was not included in the analysis.
Following the identiﬁcation of art-focused talk, came
the important step of identifying thought segments of
individual utterances. I used DeSantis and Housen’s (2001)
conception of a thought segment, an individual, meaningful
unit of speech. In my analyses, a thought segment could be
as long as a paragraph or as short as a few words but the
underlying thought remained the same in each identiﬁed
segment. Throughout the data coding process, coding cat-
egories were developed through constant comparative
analysis (Charmaz 2000; Glasser and Strauss 1967) aimed
at identifying and reﬁning categories of teacher talk. To
ensure the reliability of the student and teacher codes, four
independent raters coded a subset of transcripts. Inter-rater
reliability was r = 0.86 averaged across the subset of
transcripts and raters.
Teaching Strategies During Art Viewing Experiences
During the initial analyses, I compared categories of teacher
talk across observation segments and class sessions. The
aim of these comparisons was to identify particular patterns
of teacher talk in each class. These patterns of talk were
then used to look across classes and teachers in an effort to
identify similar or different patterns that occurred as a result
of class or teacher variables. Data analysis revealed that the
DAM’s master teachers used four main teaching strategies
to introduce and develop class conversations about art-
works: game play, questioning, storytelling, and technically
All teacher and student names throughout this paper have been
changed to maintain the conﬁdentiality of participants.
Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472 465
focused talk. While this paper reports the results of the two
preschool-aged classes, it is important to note that the same
teaching strategies were utilized in all of the DAM classes
studied although the application of the strategies varied as a
function of the class topic and teacher’s goals. Mary most
frequently used Questioning strategies (62%) and also used
Game Play (19%), Storytelling (12%), and Technical (7%),
strategies (see Fig. 2) in the preschool classes during art
These four categories of teacher talk should be consid-
ered as different methods or strategies for introducing
students to the artistic and aesthetic elements of artworks:
Game Play was teacher talk involving planned or
Questioning was teacher talk involving both open-
and close-ended questions initiated by the class
Storytelling included experiences where the teachers
told stories regarding the history or creation of an
artwork and times when the teachers read picture
books to the students.
Technical talk by the teachers focused on speciﬁc
aspects of an artwork for purposes of better under-
standing the way in which the work of art was
designed or created.
In the following sections, I present excerpts from the
preschool art class transcripts to illustrate each category of
teacher talk. In addition, I will brieﬂy illustrate the rela-
tionship between the art viewing experience highlighted by
the transcript excerpt and the subsequent art making
experience that followed each art viewing activity.
Game Play was a popular mode of introduction to artworks
during class visits to the galleries. The games Mary
introduced included games of Eye Spy, color-match games
using a spinner, and games of ‘‘go ﬁnd’’ where Mary’s
students were charged with the task of ﬁnding a particular
artwork or components of an artwork housed in the gallery.
To illustrate how Mary used Game Play talk to introduce
gallery artworks, the following excerpt comes from a class
of 4- and 5-year olds while they were playing a game of
‘‘go ﬁnd’’ in the DAM’s Objects gallery. The children had
just viewed several family portraits and entered the Objects
gallery charged with the mission of ﬁnding different types
of ‘‘families’’ in the still life paintings housed within the
gallery. As was typical with the Game Play I observed
throughout the summer classes, this game of ‘‘go ﬁnd’’
continued until all students in the class had at least one turn
to name a family they discovered.
Mary: Okay, let’s go around in here.
Student: There’s a family of ﬂowers.
Mary: And what color of family of ﬂowers?
Student: Pink. Orange and red.
Mary: Sort of an orangey-red; yeah; a family of poppies;
very good. Are there any other families in here?
Student: There’s a family of fruit right here.
Mary: All right good; a family of fruit.
Student: A family of grapes.
Student: A family of ﬁsh over there.
Student: I also see a family of ﬁsh.
Mary: That looks like a family of ﬁsh. You know, Tyrie
that’s a very good observation there and that’s good
(Transcript: Telling June 29 Gallery, lines 136–158)
As this excerpt documents, the ‘‘go ﬁnd’’ game was
introduced to the children as a planned gallery activity.
Mary’s use of the game focused the children’s viewing on
the subject matter featured in the still-life artworks. As a
result, the children’s talk was focused on naming objects
and noticing how they were grouped together in the art-
work. However, if Mary had a different goal for game play
she could have structured the game to focus the children’s
attention on other dimensions of the paintings. For exam-
ple, had Mary focused the ‘‘go ﬁnd’’ game on the various
colors evident in the paintings and, as a result, the chil-
dren’s talk would have reﬂected that game’s aim.
Therefore, the aim or goal of the games played in the
classes focused the children’s attention to particular
dimensions of the artworks. In this example, the learning
environment is shaped by not only game play but, the aim
or purpose of the game being played.
Following this day’s gallery viewing experiences, Mary
and the students went to the museum’s studio classroom to
create their own art projects. As with all of the classes’ art
making experiences, the children’s art project for the day
grew from their gallery viewing experience. Mary used the
gallery viewing experience to guide or frame the day’s art
Teaching strategy use in
Preschool classes (combined)
Two Preschool Classes (ages 4-5 years)
Fig. 2 Teaching strategies used during gallery art-viewing
466 Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472
making experience. On this particular day, they created
their own ‘‘family’’ puppets using felt puppets, paint,
string, construction paper, glitter, and a host of other dec-
orative accents (see Figs. 3, 4 for an example of student
work). Mary introduced the project when the students were
in the studio classroom by revisiting the topic of families
and what the ‘‘families’’ they had explored in the gallery
had in common. For example, one still-life had different
ﬂowers grouped together while another featured a variety
of fruit. This discussion helped to frame the children’s
grouping of their chosen subject matter for the puppet
The following except introduces a popular technique used
by the DAM master teachers for involving young children
in art viewing experiences, Questioning. As the excerpt
below documents, Questioning was used by the class
teachers to introduce the children to the technical and
contextual components of the gallery artworks. The
selection begins as Mary and her students are sitting in
front of the Storytelling Cloth About the Hero Pabuji in the
midst of their initial discussion of the artwork.
Mary: Where do you see them? Look at here. Do you see
this blue strip? What do you think that blue strip is?
Mary: You’re right. It is paint. You’re absolutely right,
but it’s supposed to look like,
Student: A river.
Mary: A river, and what do you think these look like?
Mary: Like turtles, ﬁsh or something that lives in the
water, so look at this; this is Section 1, and then you can
look over here, and then,
Student: Big people.
Mary: What kind of big people? What do you think
they—Who’s the most important person you see?
(Transcript: Telling June 28 Gallery 2, lines 15–33)
In this excerpt, Mary’s questions were designed to get
her students involved in the viewing and discussion of the
artwork. The ﬁrst question the students respond to, ‘‘What
do you think that blue strip is?’’, garnered a technical
response, ‘‘Paint.’’ Mary extended that response with a
contextual question, ‘‘You’re absolutely right, but it’s
supposed to look like…’’, aimed toward directing the stu-
dents to attend to the symbolism of the colored strip.
Mary’s questions initiated the art viewing experience and
provided the students an entry point into a discussion about
the art piece. Following the initial period of questioning
featured here; the students and Mary continued their
exploration of the artwork through storytelling.
The following excerpt highlights a storytelling experience
that followed the introduction to Storytelling Cloth About
the Hero Pabuji featured above in the discussion of
Questioning strategies. In the above discussion, Mary used
Questioning strategies to engage students in the artwork.
Mary followed the Questioning strategies with a storytell-
ing experience designed to further engage her students in
the viewing experience.
Fig. 3 Flower family: Student puppet
Fig. 4 Penguin family: Student puppet
Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472 467
Mary: Okay now, listen carefully. If I were to make you
little teeny tiny, okay, little teeny tiny, and you could
jump into this painting, I want you to think about where
you would be and what you would be doing, but don’t
tell; keep it a secret for right now. Just look at it
carefully, and then I’m going to ring the chimes, and
when I ring the chimes, you pretend you’re teeny tiny,
okay, and that you’ve gone into the picture, and you’re
sitting someplace doing something, okay? All right.
Pretend like you’re getting smaller; pretend like you’re
getting smaller; you’re hearing the chimes; [Ringing
Chimes] There you go. Where are you going to ﬁnd
yourself? Okay, ____, where are you? Where did you
Tamara: The queen.
Mary: Tamara’s going to be the queen. You know what I
think I might like to be? The ﬂower that the queen is
smelling, and you know what? What do you think it
would smell like?
Mary: Maybe like strawberries.
Jackson: I gonna be…
Mary: Where would you go, Jackson?
(Transcript: Telling June 28 Gallery, lines 59–82)
As shown in this excerpt, Mary initiates a storytelling
adventure by asking the children to pretend and place
themselves in the artwork. Mary encourages the children to
share their pretend locations and respond to follow-up
questions about their imaginative experiences. This type of
Storytelling experience took place frequently in the DAM’s
classes. Mary, like all of the DAM’s teachers, reported that
she used storytelling to engage the students, to extend the
time length of art viewing experiences, and as a way to
discuss both the technical and historical components of the
Following their story-telling adventure, Mary and the
students went to the studio classroom to create their own
art projects using reprints of the paintings that had been a
part of the day’s gallery viewing experiences. Mary
introduced the art project by presenting the children with
several postcard-sized reproductions of gallery artworks
and instructing them to choose a postcard of a painting
they’d seen in the gallery because they were going to tell
its ‘‘story’’. After each child chose one reproduction, Mary
and the teaching assistants helped the children mount each
postcard onto a larger piece of paper. Mary revisited the
idea that artworks can tell stories by reminding the children
of their storytelling adventure in the gallery and asking,
‘‘What story does your postcard tell?’’. For this experience,
Mary set out glue, paint, glitter, markers, and crayons for
the children to use in the creation of their artwork (see
Fig. 5 for an example of student artwork). Following the
creation of their storytelling artworks, Mary invited all of
her students to tell the class the story behind the pieces they
Identifying and attending to the technical components of
visual artworks is an important part of both art viewing and
art making experiences. In the galleries, Mary drew stu-
dents’ attention to the design or creation features of
artworks on display through a focus on materials that were
used in the artworks’ creation and the time period or his-
tory of the artwork. In the following excerpt, we join Mary
and her class as they explore Rawhide Box (Lakota, 1930s)
housed in the Native American exhibit. On this particular
day, Mary and her students toured three of the DAM’s
galleries in search of special, ‘‘treasure’’ boxes from vari-
ous cultures. The class’s ﬁnal stop was in the Native
American gallery to explore Rawhide Box.
Mary: Hey guys, look at this box right here. This box
right here would be a box that would keep very
important things in it. And how did they decorate this
box? What do you see on it?
Mary: Decorations. And how did they get there?
Student: Made them.
Mary: How did they make them, do you think?
Student: With sticks.
Mary: Maybe with sticks. What made the color?
Student: Or hay? Or hay?
Mary: Do you think hay? How did they make the color
on there, do you think?
Fig. 5 Summer: Student use of reproduction
468 Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472
Mary: Maybe it was painted. Yeah. Maybe it was
Student: I know what they used for a paintbrush.
Mary: What did they use?
Student: For paint brushes? They used sticks for paint
Mary: You know what? They did use some sticks that
were made of yucca.
Mary: And yucca, I’ll show you a picture of yucca on
our way out. And the yucca branches were used to paint
with. And you know why they were used to paint with?
Mary: Because, inside each piece of yucca are some
little hairs, some little ﬁbers. And so, whenever
anybody wanted to use a paintbrush, they’d take that
yucca and they’d pull it through their teeth. And
they’d scrape all the green stuff off of it and inside
were little bristles, just like you use on your
brushes. And I’ll show you a picture of yucca on
our way out.
(Transcript: Thinking July 1 Gallery 3, lines 1–48)
Mary begins the discussion by asking the students to
look at the artwork’s design and question the means by
which the designs were applied. She allows the students
to brainstorm until she was able to build onto a student’s
response. She then proceeds to describe how yucca was
used in the art making process. As demonstrated in the
excerpt, Mary’s technical comments are presented to the
children in language they can understand. In addition,
Mary has visual aids ready in order to show the children
a picture of yucca because she anticipated that they
would not be familiar with the plant or plant name.
These practices helped to support Mary’s students by
encouraging their participation and developing under-
standings of the technical components of the visual
Following the art viewing experiences on this partic-
ular day, Mary’s students created their own treasure
boxes. Mary introduced this project, as she did with all
projects, by revisiting the discussions held in the muse-
um’s galleries. On this day, the discussion centered on
design for three-dimensional artworks such as those
viewed in the gallery. Mary’s inclusion of the idea of
designing a box to hold a ‘‘treasure’’ helped to shape the
children’s design plan for their treasure boxes. To
complete the treasure box design project, Mary provided
each student with a small, cardboard jewelry box and a
variety of decorative paints and objects to construct their
personal treasure box (see Fig. 6 for an example of
Connections Between Gallery and Studio Classroom
As noted in the prior discussion, each of the preschool art
classes in the DAM program included experiences in the
museum galleries and the studio classroom. The rich
environments of the museum galleries and studio class-
rooms extended data collection opportunities and included
not only audio data but also the children’s own artworks.
The following vignette is drawn from gallery and studio
classroom experiences and is intended to demonstrate how
the children engaged in art making experiences that were
directly related to their experiences in the museum gal-
leries. This vignette features a preschool student, Zach,
from one of Mary’s classes. In the vignette, Zach draws
upon his personal knowledge and experiences with a car-
toon series to create a connection with an art object in the
Asian Art gallery.
Storytelling with Scooby Doo
On this particular day, Mary and her students were
exploring objects in the DAM’s galleries that held a story
about another place or time. To begin the viewing expe-
rience, Mary has gathered her group of preschoolers in the
Everyday Traditions gallery around the Storyteller’s Box
Illustrating the Life of Krishna (India, Rajasthan @1900).
This is the class’s second time in this gallery but it is the
ﬁrst time the class is focusing on this object. Mary begins
with a description of this box and how it was used a long
time ago to tell stories to people in different towns in India.
All right. These are the three characters in this story. I
need for you guys to take one step back, thank you.
Fig. 6 Design box: Student treasure box
Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472 469
Now, in this story, this is telling all the tales of
Buddha, and the storyteller comes to the village and
the box is all closed up. See those doors? They’re
completely closed over in front, sort of like this idea.
Like this. And then when the storyteller wants to tell
you the story, he has you all sit down and he starts to
tell you about the different things that are in there.
Now, [I] went to look for stories about this so that I
could tell you one. And you know what? I couldn’t
ﬁnd any stories. So apparently, it’s only something
that the storyteller himself knows. But what I did ﬁnd
out is, that one Buddha is always shown in the color
blue. So, in the three guys, is Buddha one of them?
Mary’s question to the preschoolers brings several
children to respond, ‘‘The blue one’’ and ‘‘The blue guy.’’
Mary and the students go on to talk about the scenes
involving Buddha portrayed on the box. To close the les-
son, Mary tells the students that they are going to go down
to the studio classroom and make their own Storytelling
box. As the class is leaving the Asian art ﬂoor of the DAM,
Zach (age 4) shouts, ‘‘Hey, I saw him in Scooby–Doo,’’ as
the class walks past the display of Suit of Armor and
Helmet (by Haruta Katsumitsu and Juryo Misumasa,
1700’). During the brief elevator ride down to the class-
room, Zach animatedly retells the plot of an episode of the
cartoon Scooby-Doo involving a monster dressed like the
samurai suit he’d just seen. Once in the classroom, Zach
began quickly working on his Storytelling box while still
discussing Scooby-Doo with his tablemates. After 15 min
of work Zach announced that he was ﬁnished with his box
(see Fig. 7). I, as the researcher, asked Zach if he wanted to
tell me about his work. He responded, ‘‘It’s about Shaggy
and Scooby and then a monster comes and then the
phantom cowboy comes and then Scooby is laying on the
ground and then Scooby sees a little globe and then it turns
out to be an angler guy and then Shaggy starts to say
‘Zoinks!’ And the blue lines here are the wind. Whoo!!!’’
This vignette illustrates how important personal interests
and experiences can be in imaginative thought. Zach’s
artwork was clearly inﬂuenced by a chance encounter with
an object in the gallery that sparked his interest in Scooby-
Doo as well as his storytelling-based experience with the
Storyteller’s Box Illustrating the Life of Krishna (India,
Rajasthan @1900). Without the encounter with the samurai
suit or the storyteller’s box, it is doubtful that Zach would
have brought his own personal interests into his artwork to
the same extent or covering the same topic that he did. This
is a clear example of how the power of personal experi-
ences in the visual arts can combine with personal interest
resulting in the development of a unique artwork. In
addition, the classroom environment and teaching practices
used by Mary supported Zach’s exploration of his own
personal interests which Schiller (1995) suggests to be an
important practice when discussing art with young
The Scooby-Doo vignette illustrates the relationship
between the gallery and studio classroom experiences. In
each preschool class, Mary drew attention to the idea that
the gallery viewing experiences would be related to the
children’s own art making experiences. In doing so, Mary
underscored the important relationship between art viewing
and art making experiences for her students on a daily
basis. Each art making experience in Mary’s classes fol-
lowed a visit to one or more of the DAM’s galleries where
the students engaged in a visual exploration of the art-
works. In addition, Mary always grounded her
introductions to each new art making experience to the
students in a discussion of what the children had viewed
and experienced in the galleries on that day. Through the
use of the teaching strategies presented above, Mary was
able to engage her students in meaningful interactions
during art viewing experiences and, in turn, those art
viewing experiences helped to provide meaning and con-
text to related art making experiences. As presented in the
theoretical framework discussion, Mary’s role in her stu-
dents’ arts experience is evident throughout both art
viewing and art making experiences: As guide, fellow
explorer, materials supplier, and supporter.
Implications and Extensions for Early Arts Education
Epstein and Trimis (2002) discussed the importance of
providing early childhood teachers with the vocabulary and
strategies for implementing art appreciation activities as a
necessary ﬁrst step toward expanding art appreciation
experiences during the preschool years. Thus, this research
has implications for everyday practice in the earlyFig. 7 Scooby-Doo and the samurai
470 Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:463–472
childhood classroom. During data collection and analysis, I
uncovered the procedures and strategies used by experi-
enced art educators when introducing young children to art
viewing experiences. These teaching strategies can be
especially useful when considering the preparation of early
childhood educators. This population of teachers is
expected to teach children in all major subject disciplines,
including music and art. Given that fact, it is conceivable
that early childhood educators may have received minimal
academic instruction related to visual arts education. As
such, many early childhood educators themselves may not
have had experiences looking at and talking about art. The
teaching strategies employed by the DAM’s master
teachers can provide an initial groundwork for beginning to
engage early educators in the process of including art
viewing activities in their classrooms. The early childhood
literature base in this area is small but growing as
researchers seek to expand our understandings of the role
of the teacher in early arts experiences (Danko-McGhee
and Slutsky 2003; Korn-Bursztyn 2002, Taunton and
Colbert 2000; Taunton 1983). In addition to the growing
early childhood literature base, research exploring teaching
strategies involved in engaging students in art viewing and
discussion activities have been explored extensively at the
middle and high school populations (Barrett 1994, 1997,
2004; Wilson and Clark 2000; Mittler 1980, 1985). In spite
of the different focus on age groups, the middle and high-
school research literature provides an important framework
for developing strategies for art viewing with young
For example, Barrett (2004) offers several prerequisites
for improving student dialog about art that are applicable to
work with younger populations. Barrett recommends pro-
viding a suitable physical environment, selecting
appropriate artworks, encouraging multiplicity of voices
during discussions, and providing closure during discus-
sions. Barrett’s prerequisites provide a framework for
developing the educational environment and with the
addition of DAM’s teaching strategies, early educators are
provided with a powerful methodology for structuring the
discussion for an art viewing experience. Used in combi-
nation, early childhood educators could develop
meaningful classroom-based art viewing experiences to
enhance and extend current art making practices.
In the DAM study, the art making experiences were
always guided by the gallery viewing experiences. By
making this connection explicit to the children, Mary
ensured that the art viewing experiences remained con-
nected and purposeful to her students. While there is no
real substitution for the experience of viewing an original
work of art, high-quality reproductions can assist early
childhood teachers in creating regular art viewing experi-
ences in their classrooms to enable the development of
children’s observational skills. Field trips to visit art
museums and galleries are not an everyday possibility for
early educators. However, the use high-quality reproduc-
tions can be a regular part of everyday classroom
experiences and, thus can provide young students a way to
enter into art viewing experiences. Having reproductions of
a variety of artworks available to young students in the
classroom can create the opportunity for art-based dialog
that may not be present in a production-focused classroom.
Future research exploring the application of the teaching
strategies presented here is needed to explore both effec-
tiveness and practicality for the early childhood classroom.
In the interim, art appreciation and art viewing experiences
continue to be an overlooked component of early arts
experiences. It is important for those responsible for the
development and education of pre-service and in-service
teachers to emphasize the importance of a holistic, bal-
anced visual arts curriculum (Eglinton 2003) that
acknowledges the important role of the teacher in early arts
experiences (Kolbe 2005; Bae 2004; Kindler and Darras
1997). Ensuring the inclusion of art appreciation experi-
ences is important in early childhood education. As
teachers and children communicate with each other
through an art-focused dialog, they negotiate the meanings
of the artwork and of art itself. It is precisely this process of
meaning making that will support children’s views of the
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