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Teaching With the Masters

by Shauna Smith Duty


Two-year-old Junie sticks both fingers in her ears and closes her eyes. Then she makes noises with her tongue. Devon, a three-year-old, steps into a puddle and watches mud ooze over his white tennis shoes. Then he jumps. Mud splashes onto his clothes and face. Immature? Yes. However, as these children explore their world they soak up information at an unbelievable rate. Did you know that a child's brain has two times the neural circuits of an adult's brain? Junie discovers new sounds with her experiment, and Devon learns how mud feels, moves, and changes the color of surfaces. This is exploration. This is creative learning.

“No longer do we consider the first five years of life to be a vast cognitive wasteland, during which [the] brain undergoes an arrested development. The neural networks by which all future complex learning will be based are forged during this crucial early period and by a specific series of vitally important brain processes.” This excerpt, taken from the article “Early Brain Development and Learning” by Kenneth A. Wesson, Education Consultant, Neuroscience, explains that toddlers and preschoolers are capable of learning more than parents sometimes think possible.

The Masters, all those famous artists whose works deck the walls of prestigious museums, and the composers whose music graces the air in theatres around the globe, have much to share with youngsters. If we limit children to modern art depicted in cartoons and picture books, or expose them only to early childhood music with easily memorized lyrics, we withhold the greatest works of all time during the years when their brains are most active. The art of Monet, Van Gough, da Vinci, and the music of Beethoven, Tchaikovsy, and Mozart are not too complex for youngsters.

“They [toddlers] are new to the planet,” says Bette Setter, founder of the mobile art education program, Young Rembrandts. “They have a big responsibility in decoding everything. Art and art images help children develop in their natural quest for knowledge.”

In her students as well as in her own children, Bette has seen that exposure to the arts at a young age makes children more aware of details. “They become whole thinkers,” she explains. “And they keep the art images for life.”

Sarah Herbert, early childhood teacher at The Center of Creative Arts in Missourri, explains that teaching children art and music through the works of the Masters encourages development of many skills. “When they are painting, they’re becoming more autonomous.” Sarah recognizes fine motor skill development from working with paints and other media. The scribble scrabble of a two year old is actually pre-reading and writing development because of the symbolism created. Sara suggests questioning what the child wants to say with his creation instead of what the creation is. By asking a child what they want to tell you about their artwork, you present the concept that what they created stands for an idea.

Children who are encouraged to play rhythm instruments to music begin to understand rhythm, which is a precursor to language development. Free movement to music encourages individuality and self-confidence. “You don’t ever have to teach a child to dance,” says Sarah. “They have a need to wiggle their bodies.” The syntax of music also promotes logical thinking, which helps with math and reading. “People with a proclivity for math are often drawn to music.”

How can parents apply works of the Masters to early childhood education?

--Hang prints on the wall at eye level so children can study famous paintings up close. Prints can be purchased in art stores, online, or checked out from the library. You can also find magnets, coffee mugs, and calendars that feature artwork by the Masters.

--Discuss colors and shapes in the art. Can your child name the color or shape? Can he or find another object of the same color or shape?

--Talk about the distance of items in the print. Close up items are larger than ones far away. Look out the window to see how this same concept is true in reality.

--Identify items in the print. For instance, in Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, a child can identify the stars, houses, trees, darkness, and even the wind.

--Use descriptive words to discuss the prints. Help your child learn how to describe items with words.

--Link art and life through literature. For example, read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Discuss the emotion on Max’s face when he is angry. Present at some of Rembrandt’s sketches. What emotions do the subjects express? How do you express emotion?

--For an easy to clean finger painting center, tape newspaper over a low windowsill, lay a drop cloth on the floor, and tape a piece of white paper to the window. A child can paint on the paper and the window. The natural backdrop, as seen through the window, may provide inspiration for your budding artist.

--Dance to classical music with your child. Let him explore whole body movement in any way he chooses. Encourage with applause and supportive words.

--Provide instruments for your child to mimic the syntax of the music. Instruments can be as simple as a coffee can filled with dry beans or a wooden spoon and a pan to drum.

“The way a child thinks about her art is more important than the way you think about it,” says Sara. “Never impose limitations, and never say, ‘I’m not good at this’. It introduces fear. Never evaluate a preschooler’s music, art, or dance. Make observations from fact. Say, ‘there is a red circle,’ or ‘see these three red lines’. Evaluating may inhibit creativity or discourage a child.”
The concept of children understanding art in their own way is not new. Charlotte Mason, a liberal thinking educator in the late 1800’s, wrote in her book Home Education, “We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the children’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at a single picture.”

Parents cannot travel inside their child’s brain and ensure that all the educational efforts they make are learned, stored, and applied appropriately. They can be certain, though, that introducing art and music that has struck emotional cords in humans, worldwide, for centuries will enrich an education. The developing mind of a child will soak up whatever it is surrounded with, so why not provide the best history and culture have to offer?

Shauna Smith Duty is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother of two in Roanoke, Texas. Visit to read more of Shauna’s articles and find out about her latest projects.



Mon, Jun 18, 2007 6:37am

We play classical music and nature sounds to Erika and she loves it. She sits in her chair and listens so intently. Being only about 2 1/2 months it's still early to tell if it is really doing anything, but I can say for sure that it's soothing for her and she likes it.

Mon, May 07, 2007 10:58am

I agree that Classical Music does have an impact on babies & stimulates their senses & imaginations -But I dont think its right to limit them to just classical all the time or everyday - Just my opinion -It's very important to me to expose Shonara to all kinds of music including classical - Especially World Beats - music from other countries & in all different languages & styles & time eras- she gets to hear what the world has to offer in music & expression - And she has really gained from it all - She shows appreciation & love for music already - Since the age of 5 months she's been Bopping to the music & clapping her hands now she is almost 16 mos & can dance quite skillfully - she moves like an adult almost -LOL - She even dances whenever my cell phone rings - it plays Bibbity Bobbity Boo from Cinderella -LOL I also expose her to art & bright colors everyday I'm an artist (self-proclaimed-LOL) so she gets to see that side of me & tries to mimic me - Its wonderful to watch She is pretty advanced in alot of ways -she has always been about 3 to 4 months ahead of developement & she has become very sociable & outgoing -even with strangers she's very loving & expressive

Mon, Feb 26, 2007 5:29pm

We play Classical music in Caitlyn's room everyday. She is only 8 months old, but I am sure she will be familiar with those songs. No results yet, but we will continue our own experimenting!!

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