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Encouraging ‘Expressive Arts & Design’ development in the early years

Expressive arts and design is a crucial part of a child’s development which encompasses both their abilities, in using media and materials, and their creativity. Use of imagination and exploration which encourages their curiosity are key to encouraging children to express this creativity in a variety of ways. Music, dancing, arts, and opportunities to create using various media – from traditional art materials to anything found in nature and even more mundane objects – are what makes this area of the Early Years Foundation Stage such a job to promote with young minds. 

Children need to feel emotionally secure and have confidence to take risks in their learning environment which leads to creativity and exploration. It is vital that they are given the chance to experiment and explore without outside judgement or input in their child-led activities in Expressive Arts and Design. Open prompts such as “Can you tell me about this?” will encourage them to freely talk about how they see their activity and helps to build their confidence in their own thinking and activity. Feeling they are listened to and understood (even if sometimes their imagination is going to places in far-flung universes!) helps children to feel more free to explore further next time and they will seek approval from adults which makes it even more vital that adults approach joining in from a point of view of being led by the child in the activity, rather than seeking to take over or direct the play or activity. 

Different colours, materials, resources, media, music, stories, technology and design should be available, both indoor and outdoor, as part of independent learning areas to give children free reign with their ideas and may lead to experiments and outcomes you could never have expected! We are all limited only by our imaginations, and it is wonderful to watch a child grow and develop when they are given the freedom to express their imagination and follow the many paths of their curious mind. 

As well as regular opportunities for exploration in your setting, special events such as Christmas, Mothers/Fathers Day, Valentine Day and Easter are all fantastic chances to incorporate Expressive Arts and Design into your planning to help children to create an output which expresses their creativity and imagination. These can then be taken home or put on display to show them that you value their outcomes in many areas. You may also make time for sharing other expressions such as songs, dances, or ‘shows’ with a small audience of other children, where the output is not a physical drawing or piece of craft, to show that you value all areas of expressive art and design, and this will encourage others to create their own masterpieces too!

In your setting you can:

Respect and value children’s;

  • Interests, thoughts and feelings – Provide activities that look at different emotions and hobbies.
  • Different ways of doing things and new ideas –  The classic is children playing with the packing and wrapping. Try not to always set toys and activities out in a certain way, that then steers children into a direction of structured play.
  • Processes – How do children learn and create the links, allowing them to make connections? How do they experiment and problem solve?

Provide children with;

  • Opportunities to make choices.
  • Space to create individually and collaboratively.
  • Opportunities to talk about and evaluate their own achievements.
  • Opportunities for taking work home and places for display/labelling
  • Support to develop mastery in a range of skills, techniques and safety rules
  • Freedom to make a mess and mix materials.
  • The opportunities to take part in activities and the vocabulary of feelings that allow them to express their own feelings and emotions.
  • The correct help at the right time; ensure children are given sensitive and appropriate help when they ask or are struggling.
  • Continuous opportunities to experiment with inspiring and accessible media and tools
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