In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Arts in Early Childhood Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Research Journals
  • Scholarly Journals
  • The Question of Transfer
  • Integrative Practice
  • Creativity
  • Language and Nonverbal Forms of Communication
  • The Development and/or Learning of Art Skills
  • Free Expression and Impression versus Tool Contingency
  • Repertoire and the Place and Role of Popular Culture
  • Museums and Cultural Centers
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Early Childhood Teacher Education and Teacher Competence

Education The Arts in Early Childhood Education
Niklas Pramling, Susanne Garvis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0097


The arts in early childhood education is an expanding field of research with many debated issues. Early childhood is defined in international literature from birth to eight years. The arts have traditionally been integral and important parts of early childhood education and care programs and arrangements throughout the world. Still, with the current emphasis in educational policy on mathematics, science, and language, the arts are under pressure. In response to such pressure, there is a substantial literature on how the arts could be motivated and considered important to children’s development and therefore important to early childhood education. Another line of argumentation revolves around trying to report how the arts can be integrative in a holistic approach to the child’s development. Another line of research investigates art activities in terms of creativity. Traditionally, creativity has here been considered a general skill or ability. More recently, what is alternatively referred to as “mundane” or “everyday” creativity has gained more attention. This shift in how to perceive creativity is related to the major influence of Vygotskian theory—alternatively referred to as sociocultural or cultural-historical theory—in research on the arts in early childhood (as in educational research in general). Playing with conventions and thus the relationship between the collective (social, cultural) and the individual is foregrounded, rather than an individualized conception. Another lively debate in the literature concerns how children’s art expressions and impressions are to be conceptualized—in terms of development or in terms of learning. Consequently, some literature tries to untangle the question of what is alternatively labeled “talent” and “learning.” This research has been investigated in the form of meta-analyses looking at the available evidence. The issue of development and learning is intimately part of a complex that includes the role—if any—of teachers (e.g., early childhood professionals) to children’s evolving skills in the arts, as well as what importance—if any—that verbal language fills in the learning of so-called nonverbal skills such as musical, dancing, or visual art abilities. Another issue closely related to the previously mentioned issues concerns how to conceive of—and, if possible, develop—children’s “free expressions” (and impressions, if less emphasized in the literature). These issues are all intimately related to different theoretical perspectives on children’s learning and development more generally. There are also disciplinary differences in research on the arts in early childhood between psychological, sociological, and educational research. Particularly in sociologically informed research, the issue of repertoire of early childhood arts education and the role—if any—of popular culture in such education is often raised.

General Overviews

There are quite a few useful overviews of arts in early childhood education. These range from handbook chapters (on early childhood in a volume on a particular art form, e.g., music development, or education; see Bamberger 2005; Barrett 2005; Miell, et al. 2005; Young 2005), to articles, to handbooks with a wide span on arts education (Bamford 2006, Bresler 2007) where chapters on early childhood arts education with an emphasis on various aspects such as creativity (Faulkner and Coates 2011) or domains such as dance (Pramling Samuelsson, et al. 2009) or visual arts can be found.

  • Bamberger, J. 2005. How the conventions of music notation shape musical perception and performance. In Musical communication. Edited by D. Miell, R. MacDonald, and D. J. Hargreaves, 143–170. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198529361.001.0001

    The chapter presents three case studies, showing the influence of conventional notation on perception and performance. Each study suggests that an early emphasis on teaching notation may discourage children’s intuitive responsiveness to the changing meaning of notationally same pitch/time events when they become embedded in new tonal and/or rhythmic contexts.

  • Bamford, A. 2006. The wow factor: Global research compendium on the impact of the arts in education. Münster, Germany: Waxmann.

    This book analyzes research that clearly documents the impacts of the arts within general education. It is the first comprehensive analysis of research-based case studies from around the world, containing responses from more than forty countries and organizations. The arts appeared in the educational policies of almost every country in the world, yet there was a gulf between policy and the provision for arts education within schools.

  • Barrett, M. S. 2005. Representation, cognition, and musical communication: Invented notation in children’s musical communication. In Musical communication. Edited by D. Miell, R. MacDonald, and D. J. Hargreaves, 117–142. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198529361.001.0001

    This chapter provides an overview of research in the realm of children’s thinking as users of invented notion. It explores the potential relationship of invented notation to other forms of sign-making activity (drawing, writing, and using mathematical symbols).

  • Bresler, L., ed. 2007. International handbook of research in arts education. Springer International Handbooks of Education 16. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-3052-9

    This handbook contains a wide scope of texts on arts education, including chapters related to early childhood arts education.

  • Faulkner, D., and E. Coates, eds. 2011. Exploring children’s creative narratives. London: Routledge.

    A collection of international research offering contemporary perspectives on children’s creative processes and the expression of their creative imagination through drama, play, stories, artwork, dance, music, and conversations.

  • Miell, D., R. MacDonald, and D. J. Hargreaves, eds. 2005. Musical communication. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198529361.001.0001

    This book on musical communication (that is, studies of communication with, through, and about music) is not focused on early childhood education. However, it contains some chapters of importance to this field of study.

  • Pramling Samuelsson, I., M. Asplund Carlsson, B. Olsson, N. Pramling, and C. Wallerstedt. 2009. The art of teaching children the arts: Music, dance and poetry with children aged 2–8 years old. International Journal of Early Years Education 17.2: 119–135.

    DOI: 10.1080/09669760902982323

    This article overviews a large research project into children’s learning in the arts in early childhood education. It presents a developmental pedagogy perspective where knowledge of the arts is made into goals of development rather than considered—as is often the case—only as means for developing other skills, such as mathematical or social ones.

  • Young, S. 2005. Pedagogical communication in the music classroom. In Musical communication. Edited by D. Miell, R. MacDonald, and D. J. Hargreaves, 301–320. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198529361.001.0001

    This chapter explores musical interaction between adults and three- to five-year-old children who attended preschool. It discusses pedagogical strategies for young children and the role of the adult as a mediator between musical knowledge and experience and the child’s emerging musical competencies in ways that foster creative transformation.

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