kids looking at ipad with mom

Children’s First Language

This overview of the series introduces the arts as a way young children communicate their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Parents and children sing, move to a beat, and read stories at the Wolf Trap Baby Artsplay class; babies play in paint at the East Tennessee State Child Care Center; Cyndi Young and her daughter Georgia make art together at home; educators from the Daviess County (KY) schools explain why they decided to give all 1st graders keyboarding lessons; and parents and children explore the Art Sparks interactive gallery at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. Harvard researcher Howard Gardner explains his theory of multiple intelligences.

  • Ideas to use
    Parents, babies, and toddlers share books, songs, and movement activities-for fun and as a foundation for learning-in a Baby Artsplay class at Wolf Trap Foundation’s Center for Education in Vienna, VA.
  • Key points
    Teachers and artists offer reasons why the arts are important.
  • About the activity and the center
    Infants “paint” at the East Tennessee University Study Center of Excellence for Early Childhood Learning and Development, and educators at the center explain why this type of activity is developmentally appropriate.
  • Activity suggestions
    Cyndi Young, an art teacher, and her daughter, Georgia, trace each other and do other arts activities at home in Louisville.
  • Daviess County’s research-based approach
    Young students in Daviess County, KY take keyboarding classes. Superintendent Stu Silberman tells why the school system increased arts activities in an effort to enhance learning and raise test scores.
  • Art Sparks and other museum activities for families
    Parents and children have fun together at the kid-friendly Art Sparks gallery at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.
  • The multiple intelligences
    Howard Gardner of Harvard University discusses his theory of multiple intelligences-the idea that there are many types of intelligence, not just the verbal and mathematical intelligences stressed in most schools.
  • Growth and development in the early years of life
  • Museum activities for young children

Children's First Lanuage (Video)

Introduces the arts as a way young children communicate their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Leading researcher Howard Gardner explains his theory of multiple intelligences. Featured locations: the Wolf Trap Foundation Center for Education, a model child care center at East Tennessee State University, the Daviess County schools, the Art Sparks gallery at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, and a home where mother and daughter make art together.

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Ideas to Use

Here are some ideas from the class on engaging ways to share books and music with young children:

  • Pass along familiar stories and songs that you remember from your childhood.
  • Listen for the steady beat, not only in music but also in nursery rhymes and books. Even if you’re not comfortable singing, you can say the nursery rhyme to your child and move to the rhythm (or shake some rhythm eggs to it).
  • It’s very important that young children experience the steady beat through their bodies. An infant who can’t walk can experience it through the movement of the mother’s body. Carry your baby as you sing and move to the beat of “Ring Around the Rosy” or another favorite song.
  • When reading a book, look at the pictures and sing songs associated with the pictures in the book. For example, the book shown in the segment, Goodnight Moon, mentions “three little bears sitting in chairs.” At that point, Carroll might say, “Oh, let’s stop here and sing the ‘Teddy Bear Song.'” She explains that “It’s very active, and the music supports the book, and the book supports the movement, and the movement supports the singing-they’re all linked and all supporting one another in keeping the children engaged and focused.”
  • Don’t feel like you have to read the book all in one gulp. You don’t even have to read the words verbatim from the book. You can just look at the pictures and point and name things for the baby and then pause and sing a song if there’s a song you think of that links to one of the pictures.
  • As a parent, sing and move with your children. You’re their first and primary role model, and your enjoyment and participation will encourage them.

Baby Artsplay

artsplay“Arts engage a child on every level-sensory, verbal, cognitive,” says Valerie Bayne Carroll, teacher of the Baby Artsplay class at the Wolf Trap Institute in Virginia. In the class, infants and toddlers and their parents experience the arts together. At weekly sessions, they sing songs, read stories, play simple rhythm and melodic instruments, move to a beat, and learn chants and games.

For the children, this multisensory experience fosters language skills as well as motor development. “The tools that you need to sing and dance are all tools that are going to help develop language, help develop gross and fine motor skills and coordination. They support all the brain functions that are firing away as you go through infancy and toddlerhood. The arts just sort of light up those neurons and give them a focus, a momentum, an excitement,” Carroll says. “It’s important to begin arts education with very young children because it is a very natural thing for them to sing, to dance and move, and to pretend. And when, as a parent, you place a value on that, you are giving your child permission to pursue those things and to express themselves in ways that come very naturally to them.”

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Engaging ways to share books and music with young children

Here are some ideas from the class on engaging ways to share books and music with young children:

  • Pass along familiar stories and songs that you remember from your childhood.
  • Listen for the steady beat, not only in music but also in nursery rhymes and books. Even if you’re not comfortable singing, you can say the nursery rhyme to your child and move to the rhythm (or shake some rhythm eggs to it).
  • It’s very important that young children experience the steady beat through their bodies. An infant who can’t walk can experience it through the movement of the mother’s body. Carry your baby as you sing and move to the beat of “Ring Around the Rosy” or another favorite song.
  • When reading a book, look at the pictures and sing songs associated with the pictures in the book. For example, the book shown in the segment, Goodnight Moon, mentions “three little bears sitting in chairs.” At that point, Carroll might say, “Oh, let’s stop here and sing the ‘Teddy Bear Song.'” She explains that “It’s very active, and the music supports the book, and the book supports the movement, and the movement supports the singing-they’re all linked and all supporting one another in keeping the children engaged and focused.”
  • Don’t feel like you have to read the book all in one gulp. You don’t even have to read the words verbatim from the book. You can just look at the pictures and point and name things for the baby and then pause and sing a song if there’s a song you think of that links to one of the pictures.
  • As a parent, sing and move with your children. You’re their first and primary role model, and your enjoyment and participation will encourage them.

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Key Points

Why Are the Arts Important?


From the academic benefits of early exposure to the arts to the importance of visual art, dance, drama, and music in human history and culture, there are many reasons to make sure young children have opportunities to experience the arts. Here are a few ideas from educators, researchers, and parents seen in Art to Heart.

“I believe that the arts are the basis for a lot of future learning for children-it’s a firm foundation. Everything we want children to do can be found in the four art forms.”

Miriam Flaherty, senior director of education, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

“Education is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket-and the arts light the fire. They light the fire of enthusiasm, of involvement, of engagement. They engage the child on every level-sensory, verbal, cognitive. It’s all happening right before your eyes when they’re engaged in a performing arts activity.”

Valerie Bayne Carroll, master teaching artist, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

“It really is a fundamental part of our existence, and we don’t realize how much else radiates from it. Anybody I had that was taking an instrument, I could see that their attention span was better, their comprehension was better, they were better critical thinkers.”

Keith Cook, ArtsReach violin instructor, Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts

“If you cut kids away from the arts, you’re really giving them a half-brained education. You’re not developing all of their potentials. You’re also not giving them access to the greatest things human beings have done. The things societies are remembered for are the works of the Shakespeares, the Beethovens, the Leonardos, Virginia Woolf, Martha Graham, Ray Charles …”

Howard Gardner, Hobbs professor of cognition and education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“The arts reflect society-our triumphs and struggles-and they teach us about who went before us and who we are today.”

Miriam Flaherty, senior director of education, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

“Kids need the art experience because what separates us from any other animal is our desire to create, and it is uniquely human.”

Cyndi Young, art teacher and parent, Louisville

“I believe that for young children, the arts are [an] essential ingredient. Young children learn holistically, so we need to have the arts included in every day of a young child’s life.”

Rebecca Isbell, director, East Tennessee State University Center of Excellence in Early Childhood

“Music helps students academically. It helps with math, it helps with reading; they can excel further when they’ve had that music background. So much of this is important to our culture-knowing about the composers and where the piano came from, just being music and art literate.”

Kara Westerfield, music teacher, Utica Elementary School, Daviess County, KY

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About the Activity and the Center

Playing in Paint


At the Child Study Center at East Tennessee State University in Jonesboro, infants begin painting when they are capable of lying on their tummies and holding their heads up with support of their elbows. Some parents at the center are surprised “that we will paint with the children as early as we do,” notes Tina Lunsford, master teacher in the center’s infant program.

But this activity is well suited for what’s going on developmentally with infants, explains Beverly Wiginton, center director. “Babies learn about their world through their senses. And so playing in paint and experiencing the different textures and how cold it is or how warm it might be, they learn about their world and how to develop different concepts,” she explains.

Developmentally Appropriate Practices

What early childhood educators call “developmentally appropriate” practices-activities based on what is known about how young children learn and how their brains develop-are central to the philosophy of the center, a child care facility for ages 3 months to 5 years as well as a university laboratory environment in which students fulfill class, practicum, and observation requirements. The environment is set up to give children choices about what they want to do, and hands-on, active involvement is stressed. “We want the children to approach whatever activity or experience they are involved in with open-endedness. We want them to be as creative as possible. We want them to be able to express themselves in a way that they are comfortable with and that works for them,” Wiginton explains.

Guided Learning


Children learn through experience and exploration. For example, areas are set up on the floor for infants who are not yet able to stand, so that they can paint with their hands, as well as on low tables for those who are mobile and can stand. In the segment seen in Art to Heart, the tables were covered with bubble wrap and heavy-duty aluminum foil, so that the children could also explore textures like bumpy and smooth. The tinfoil also makes a sound. Sometimes a scent other than paint scent is added to the paint. And as the infants explore, “Teachers are talking to them, and the teachers are describing what they’re seeing or what they’re experiencing,” explains teacher Darrellen E. Lodien. The teacher might say, “Oooh, that feels cold ands sticky,” “What does it feel like when you make a circle with your hand?,” or “Look, it’s on your hands. It was on the paper and now it’s on your hand,” so that “the describing is a big part of the activity.”

Describing and asking open-ended questions are important, Lodien says. “Whether the child can respond or not, the brain is going through the process of figuring it out. It provides the children opportunities to gain vocabulary, build on that vocabulary, to hear new words and ideas.”

As They Grow


The emphasis on developmentally appropriate practice and open-ended creative activities continues throughout a child’s experience at the center, Lodien explains. For example, as children’s fine motor skills develop, they begin painting with brushes. Or they may paint on objects. On the day of the Art to Heart visit, children in the preschool program were painting at easels. One child found an old paper towel roll and painted on it, then rolled it up and down the easel, discovering different kinds of color and texture changes in the process. “And it became something another child picked up on and added to. They put string around the roll and rolled that up and down their painting. On the other side of the easel, another child used a sponge roller to see if that would look different from the paper towel roll. She peeked around to see the other child’s paper towel effect. Conversations between the children were supported by a teacher who asked open-ended questions like, ‘Well, why is Susie’s painting looking different from yours?’ ‘How is the sponge different from the paper towel?’ So teachers were providing opportunities for the kids to think about what they’re doing,” Lodien says. “They may or may not get a response, but the children have heard the words, and their brains are going through the process. So that happens with the babies, and it happens with the toddler, and then it’s built on in the preschool program.”

Terms and Concepts

  • sensorimotor stage of development: In the “Playing with Paint” segment, Rebecca Isbell notes that infants and toddlers are in a sensorimotor stage of development. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget theorized that human intelligence evolves through a series of stages. Sensorimotor, the first stage, lasts from birth to about age 2. In this stage, intellectual development depends on sensory experiences and motor activities-children learn through grasping, touching, and manipulating objects and through sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Piaget’s other stages of development in early childhood are the preoperational stage (from about 2 to 7 years old), in which children acquire the ability to represent objects and events through skills such as language, symbolic play, and drawing, and the concrete stage (from about 7 to 11 years old), in which children can use logical reasoning and become aware of other people’s viewpoints.
  • developmentally appropriate practice: This term refers to education that is based on typical development for children as well as the unique way and timetable in which each child develops. Think about the range of ages and progression of activities shown in the program. The infants at East Tennessee State who play in paint are at a stage of development in which sensory exploration is at the fore, so allowing them to explore different textures and colors and the feel of the paint is appropriate. At 4, Cyndi Young’s daughter Georgia is at a stage where she is refining her motor skills. The arts activities help her learn how to hold and use markers and paintbrushes and how to glue-skills that will help her in school. The school-age youngsters in Daviess County are ready for more structured arts activities that teach specific skills and information-such as vocabulary and techniques-while still allowing room for personal expression.

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Activity Suggestions

Art at Home: A Mother’s Perspective


Cyndi Young, shown doing art at home with her youngest daughter Georgia, is an art teacher in Louisville. But as she explains in the following article, you don’t have to be trained in art to plan and enjoy art activities with your child. You just need the desire to give your child opportunities to create and some simple materials.

I think the fact that I am an art teacher is a testimony to the importance I place on the production of art. However, I was a parent long before an art teacher, and it was that experience with my children that most likely guided me into my career.

My fondest memories from my own childhood were the rainy days on which my mother would pull out the empty containers, toilet paper rolls, scissors, glue, paint, wrapping paper, scrap fabric-whatever-and she would play with us. We created dollhouses, cities, race courses, cars, dolls, game boards, anything we could imagine. She was terrific at letting our interests guide the activity. Upon reflection, this event was astonishing, because my mother did not tolerate a mess. Yet she always provided us an opportunity to create. As we got older and messier, we moved our projects outside or to the basement. Naturally, I wanted to duplicate these types of memories for my children.

Going to the Museum

I believe that children need to be exposed to art over and over again. Children-all of us, actually-need exposure to something visual that isn’t on a TV or video screen. Georgia and I frequently go to the museum. However, our stay may be only five to ten minutes long. Georgia leads the way by finding an artwork that fascinates her and tells me about it. If she asks, I will share any information that I think she may want to know. We can then leave or look at something else of her choosing. Either way is great fun. It’s enjoyable to find out what Georgia sees in a particular piece of artwork (color, lines, etc.). She had an awesome experience with a Mary Cassatt painting of two little girls at Louisville’s Speed Museum when she was just a little more than 2. She talked to the painting. It was charming.

When we visit the Speed Museum, we always venture down to Art Sparks to let Georgia play. (Her first trip to Art Sparks was at 3 weeks old.) On our way out, she often wants to see one last piece of artwork. I have found that these types of experiences inspire her own creativity.

What About Materials?

Georgia has had access to pencils and crayons since she was old enough to sit up. I try to keep the process and materials pretty simple. We have painted on the sidewalk with water, played with finger paint, and modeled with play-dough. Probably the most complicated thing we did was when I took a roll of butcher paper and traced her body outline and let her make marks on it.

As far as working these kinds of activities into our daily routine, I don’t allow Georgia to watch TV during the week, which creates an opportunity for her to entertain herself. She draws, decorates her room with Post-its, sculpts with play-dough, or plays in her sandbox. We have a designated area (including bins) for painting and play-dough. Her easel was a junk-day find; you can find one used at a consignment shop or yard sale or new at a discount store. Craft and hobby shops are great sources for materials, along with online sources such as Dick Blick. We also use found materials from around the house or yard.

Drawing can happen anywhere, and we have a backpack filled with sketchbooks, markers, pencils, and crayons. We have worked in terra cotta clay (or Mexican self-hardening clay-look for it at a local art store or online at Dick Blick), which is relatively inexpensive and messy fun. We also love working with plaster (you’ll find it at a building supply center for around $7.00 for 25 pounds).

Here are a few of our favorite activities:

Plaster Masks: Casting in the Sandbox

Create a depression in moistened sand. Dig out a star, flower, cactus, handprint, or footprint or any shape desired. It should be no more than 12 inches in diameter and 2-3 inches deep.
Lightly press objects (such as bottle caps, sea glass, marbles, twigs) into the sand facedown. Or draw a face or patterns in the sand with sticks.
Mix plaster: Put two parts dry plaster into a ziplock freezer bag, add one part water, and seal. Mix plaster by gently pressing out all the lumps. You don’t have much time; it sets in 3-5 minutes.
To pour the plaster so you don’t destroy the mold, place your hand (or your child’s) a few inches over the mold. Cut a bottom corner of the freezer bag and pour the plaster onto the hand and then into the mold.
Rinse hand in bucket of water. NOTE: Never rinse plaster out in a sink-it will clog!
After the plaster has set a bit, make a wire loop and place it in the back of the plaster.
After it is hardened (20 minutes), carefully dig it out around the edges.
Rinse your plaster piece in a bucket, gently rubbing off sand. It can be painted if desired.

Plaster Bag Sculpture

Mix plaster in a ziplock bag (two parts plaster to one part water) and let set for 3-5 minutes.
Gently push and press the plaster bag into desired shape. This can be a relief or a free-standing sculpture.
Let it set for 30 to 60 minutes.
Remove the sculpture from the bag.
Paint it with watercolor paints.

Painting Together

Either you or your child makes the first shape. Then take turns embellishing around it until you have filled the page. Connect one shape to another using pattern and line. This can be done on any size sheet of paper, and is also a fun way to decorate and fill in body outlines made on kraft paper.

Helpful Hints

Use small brushes. I don’t know why we always seem to give the huge monster-size brushes to little hands (no wonder young children get frustrated about losing detail).
Use a separate brush for each color. With early supervision, you can teach your child not to muddy the paint by keeping each brush with its color. That way the color experimentation is on the paper where your child can see it and control it.

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Daviess County's Research-Based Approach

Art for Learning: One District’s Experience


In 1996, the Daviess County, Kentucky public schools initiated an effort to redesign education in the district to improve student achievement. The district asked for community volunteers to help, and committees were formed to do research and to make recommendations. The result was Graduation 2010, which mapped out a 13-year program of studies for all students in the district, with particular emphasis on young children.

The arts and music are two of the program’s eight key components. (The other six are foreign language, reading, critical thinking, health and emotional health, parental involvement, and community involvement.) Graduation 2010 called for keyboard labs in each elementary school, along with intensive music instruction. Elementary students also experience dance, drama, and the visual arts taught by professional artists.


Why the Arts?

The recommendations were based on research into brain development. Daviess County parents and teachers looked at a wide range of research, including Howard Gardner’s ideas on multiple intelligence, Project Zero’s REAP (Reviewing Education and the Arts Project), neurological research, information from the Suzuki organization, and research done at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. The committee concluded that “The research is clear that there is a direct correlation between learning music and high academic achievement. By learning music, pathways in the brain are formed that will be utilized for other complex thinking and learning.”

Foreign language instruction also begins in kindergarten. And to help foster critical thinking, all students learn to play chess.

Encouraging Results

The district has seen what Stu Silberman, district superintendent when the project was initiated, calls “very encouraging” results. As children who were in kindergarten when Graduation 2010 began to reach middle school, “you look at a graph [of scores on state tests] and it goes straight up from the time we started. Our kids are achieving at very high levels.”

The district’s accountability index as determined by Kentucky’s CATS (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System) scores rose from 78.9 in 1999, the first year for CATS, to 94.1 in 2005. A state goal is for all students to achieve proficiency by 2014-a goal already achieved by all of Daviess County’s elementary schools.

  • Find out more about Graduation 2010, its recommendations, the research considered, and the district’s performance at the Daviess County Public Schools web site.
  • Since the Art to Heart segment in Daviess County was taped, Silberman left Daviess County to become superintendent of another Kentucky public school district, the Fayette County Public Schools, where he has initiated a similar community wide educational improvement project: 2020 Vision.

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Art Sparks and other museum activities for families

The Evolving Art Museum


Take a preschooler to an art museum? Absolutely! In fact, in recent years, art museums have become more valuable than ever as resources to both parents and teachers of young children.

Why? Because across the United States, art museums are making extraordinary efforts to attract families as well as to be educational partners with teachers.

How? With interactive exhibits. Hands-on galleries and events. Special classes, camps, and tours. Guidebooks and teacher kits. Even changing tables in the restrooms and snack areas.

For example, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville-one of the museums featured in Art to Heart-added an entire interactive gallery called Art Sparks, with a wide variety of creative activities. In this special space in the museum’s lower level, children can jump into dozens of creative activities-from playing dress-up in a period cloak and creating rubbings to dancing inside a “video artwork” and exploring Kiddy Face, an interactive computer program that lets kids manipulate images of works from the collection. There’s even a special area called Planet Preschool for the 5 and under group.

A Change in Attitude

Adding Art Sparks, along with family tours and guide materials, was a concerted effort to reach out to families. The space also serves as an art learning center for school groups, as an accompaniment to tours of the Speed’s main galleries and exhibits.

“The museum culture has changed,” explains Cynthia Moreno, the Speed’s curator of education. “There’s a major effort to make the museum a friendlier, more workable place for families.”

That attitude is echoed at major museums from Los Angeles to New York. “Art museums have come a long way in catering to kids,” says Miriam Arond, editor-in-chief of Child magazine. In February 2006, the magazine surveyed more than 100 museums and found all kinds of cool exhibits and programs.

See Museum Activities for Young Children for advice on planning a trip to an art museum with kids.

Top 10 for Kids

Child magazine’s list of “The 10 Best Art Museums for Kids” was topped by the Art Institute of Chicago, which opened its first children’s gallery in 1926. Today’s family-friendly features include a Touch Gallery, a state-of-the-art Kraft Education Center, “mini-masters” classes for 3- to 5-year-olds, and Family Art Camps.

Other museums on the Top 10 list:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • Dayton Art Institute
  • De Young Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco
  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha
  • Winterthur Museum and Country Estate, Delaware
  • Dallas Museum of Art
  • Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
  • Louisville’s Speed Art Museum was high on the list of 25 runners-up.

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The Multiple Intelligences

Multiple Intelligences


It’s not how smart you are, it’s how you are smart,” says Howard Gardner.

Gardner, a psychologist and professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and a member of Harvard Project Zero, an educational research group on learning and creativity, is one of America’s foremost thinkers and researchers on what constitutes intelligence.


Gardner shook up thinking in the education community with his 1983 book Frames of Mind, in which he rejected traditional thinking about intelligence as being a uniform capacity-mainly in math or language. Gardner defined intelligence as the ability to solve problems or to create an effective product or service that is valued in a culture and proposed that there are many types of intelligences, reflecting different ways of interacting with the world.

More Ways To Be Smart

Initially, Gardner proposed that there are at least seven different types of intelligences. He has since added an eighth. His theory posits that each person has all of the intelligences to some degree, but that some people are more geared to one intelligence area and that each person has a unique combination, or profile, of intelligences.

Gardner’s theory challenged traditional beliefs about education. For example, it rejected the idea of short-answer tests as ways to measure intelligence and understanding. They actually measure only rote memorization. In traditional classroom practice, teachers teach the same material to everyone. Gardner’s theory would require teachers to teach and assess differently based on individual intellectual strengths and weaknesses. And instead of teaching topics or “subjects,” teachers would be more effective by structuring learning activities around an issue or question and then connecting subjects. Teachers would also need to develop strategies that allow for students to demonstrate multiple ways of understanding and value their uniqueness.

Having an Impact

Gardner’s ideas have been widely embraced by educators, who had long recognized that students learn in different ways and show strengths in different areas. Many schools have incorporated Gardner’s ideas into the way they teach. The Art to Heart series visits one school, Key Learning Community in Indianapolis, that was founded on the principles of multiple intelligences.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

  • Linguistic intelligence relates to spoken and written language.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively, and think logically.
  • Musical intelligence includes skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence involves using the body or parts of the body to solve problems and refers to the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.
  • Spatial intelligence is the ability to use the sense of sight to recognize, use, and create visual representations of objects.
  • Interpersonal intelligence is the capacity to work effectively with others.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence is the capacity to understand oneself and to appreciate one’s feelings, fears, and motivations.
  • Naturalist intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, categorize, and draw upon features of the natural world.

Find Out More
Howard Gardner has written numerous books on his theory. Frames of Mind (1983) introduces the theory of multiple intelligences. The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand (1999) shows how topics might be taught with a multiple intelligence approach, and Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligence for the 21st Century (1999) updates the theory.

WNET/New York’s web site includes a free online professional development course called Tapping Into Multiple Intelligences. Of special interest to educators are specific examples of how the multiple intelligences theory can be implemented in the classroom. The site also includes an interactive survey to help you discover your own multiple intelligence profile.

The Project Zero web site has extensive information about multiple intelligences research, including multiple intelligence schools.

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Growth and Development in the Early Years of Life


Parents get excited about, and take a great deal of pride in, watching their babies grow and develop. Sitting up, taking first steps, saying first words, first saying “ma ma” or “da da”—events like these demonstrate the amazing and important growth and development that goes on in early life.

Understanding how children typically develop helps parents, caregivers, and teachers provide appropriate and beneficial guidance and activities at home and in the classroom—and recognize possible developmental delays or areas of special need.

Language development begins with an infant responding to sounds and progresses to the ability to speak in complex sentences. Many arts-related activities, from singing to playing make-believe, contribute to language development.

In describing child development, certain basic points are typically referred to as “milestones” or “stages” that can be seen in children. Milestones have been identified through research ranging from observation to brain science. Keep in mind that each child develops at his or her own pace. Observing and understanding your child’s abilities is a better way to determine appropriate activities than simply following the ages listed in connection with specific milestones.

How the Brain Develops

Brain research has opened new windows into how the brain develops before birth and in early life. “In many ways, neuroscience has confirmed good common sense about child rearing,” says Lise Eliot, assistant professor of neuroscience at Roslyn Franklin University in Illinois. “The fundamental basis is a healthy emotional state—that a child has loving parents, that they are emotionally secure, that their needs will be met. That someone loves them and is communicating with them.”

It’s important, Eliot says, to understand that children are not just small adults, but that “They have a fundamentally different brain. They process things differently. This complex organ does not develop uniformly. The sensory and motor skills develop first. Very young children live in an immediate world: They perceive things, they move, and they get feedback from that movement. And that fuels their growing understanding of the world around them. Adults are more sophisticated about the world; we process things more abstractly. We have long personal histories we can remember, and [we can] look forward, too. Children do not do that; young children live in the moment. I think we accept that in babies, but it is surprising in preschool-age children. Sometimes people have unreal expectations of what their memory capacity will be and their ability to plan something with several parts to it. They really do need the guidance to look ahead, because they do not have the frontal lobe skill we call planning.”

Here are some sources of information about general growth and development in early childhood:

  • In Program 5 of Art to Heart, neuroscientist Lise Elliot discusses the importance of reading to young children. In Program 7, she discusses how music, movement, and visual stimulation help prime the brain for language development and future learning. Her book What’s Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life offers in-depth and accessible explanations of how the brain develops from conception, plus useful ideas on what parents can do to nurture that development.
  • The PBS Parents site has extensive information on growth and development, cross-referenced by area of development and age range, along with information about early learning.
  • The web site for Zero to Three offers extensive articles and informative resources for parents and early childhood professionals. Special features include Brain Wonders, with information about how the brain developments, and The Magic of Everyday Moments, with suggestions for everyday activities. As its name suggests, this national, nonprofit, multidisciplinary organization focuses on infants and toddlers.
  • The KidsGrowth web site has information about milestones, growth charts, and childhood health issues. The milestone information is available both in English and Spanish. The site was developed and created by leaders in the field of pediatrics and adolescent medicine. Members of a Medical Advisory Board oversee all KidsGrowth content for medical accuracy.
  • focuses on brain development and features an Ask an Expert section.
  • In recent years, scientific and medical advances have given researchers windows into the brain such as MRI technology and other scanning tools. These tools allow scientists to see exactly how brain activity relates to actions, reactions, and other stimuli—information that can help confirm or dispute practices and theories, guide the fields of child development and education, and affect policy. Sites with links to brain research include the National Child Care Information Center, which links to a wealth of studies on brain development, and the Educational Cyberplayground, which offers information about numerous studies, some relating to the arts.

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Museum Activities for Young Children


The Art to Heart series includes numerous segments showing museum-based learning for young children, offering ideas that both teachers and parents can adapt to use with museums. In Program 1, parents and children play and learn together at the Speed Art Museum’s Art Sparks gallery. Program 2 includes segments about activities combining books and art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution’s Early Childhood Enrichment Center. An interdisciplinary activity using objects from the Smithsonian in combination with storytelling is found in Program 5.

If you live near a metropolitan area, you probably have major museums nearby that offer education resources as well as special exhibits and activities aimed at families. And many smaller communities have art, history, and/or science museums; nature centers; or zoos with collections that will be of interest to young children. “Almost every museum has something valuable to offer teachers and children,” says Sharon Shaffer, director of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, in her guidebook Preschoolers and Museums: An Educational Guide (see excerpt).

Whether you are planning a family trip or a field trip, be sure to call ahead or visit the museum in advance. Check the museum’s web site for information and advice. Find out what types of exhibits the museum includes and about family or educational services to help plan your visit.

Plan a Family Visit

Find out in advance …

  • Are there special exhibits and activity areas for young children?
  • Are special family tours, guidebooks, or activity packs available? Do you need to make reservations for these?
  • What are the admission fees? Can you avoid waiting in line by ordering or reserving tickets in advance?
  • Does the museum have any restrictions in terms of strollers, backpacks, etc.?
  • Are there certain days or times that are more conducive to visits with young children (for example, times when the museum is less crowded)?

The visit itself

  • Keep it short. Don’t try to take in everything in one visit. Cyndi Young, an art teacher and mother in Louisville, has taken her preschool daughter to museums since she was an infant. “But our visit may only last 10 minutes,” she notes.
  • Think about your child’s interests and visit places and exhibits that relate.
  • Ask your child to talk about what he or she sees and is interested in.
    Share your ideas about what you see with your child. Don’t feel you have to be an expert-there’s usually plenty of information on exhibit. Focus instead on sharing what you find interesting, what you like, and how the art or exhibit makes you feel.
  • Try to relate the exhibit to something your child already knows or has experienced.
  • Bring along a sketchbook or paper for your child to create his or her own souvenir, or allow your child to choose a postcard from the museum gift shop.
  • Before or after the visit, read books that relate to what you are going to see or have seen.
  • With toddlers and older children, discuss appropriate behavior and praise it during and after the visit.

Plan a Class Field Trip

Find out in advance …

  • How far in advance are reservations required? What types of tours and services are available that are appropriate for your students’ ages and areas of interest? What special upcoming exhibits might be of interest to students?
  • What teaching materials are available to help you plan pre- and post-visit class activities?
  • What are the admission fees and policies regarding payment?
  • Does the museum have restrictions or requirements in terms of group size, number of chaperones, backpacks, etc.?
  • Is there an area for hands-on activities and/or for student to eat purchased or sack lunches?
  • Is bus parking available?

The visit itself

  • Plan museum visits that connect to what you’re doing in the classroom. Tell children why they are going to the museum.
  • Plan related classroom activities before and after the visit.
  • Arrange for adequate chaperoning and the division of the class into manageable groups so that all the children have opportunities to view the exhibit and to discuss it with a guide or teacher.

Additional tips for teachers

  • Ask about professional development events. Many museums offer special workshops, pre-tour orientation sessions, and tour previews for educators.
  • In addition to teacher’s packets with lesson plans and other resources to use in conjunction with museum visits, some museums offer free or on-loan materials for use in the classroom.
  • Many museums have staff education specialists available to offer advice and, in some cases, conduct workshops with teachers and students.

More Resources

  • Preschoolers and Museums: An Educational Guide is available from the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center Store. The store also offers a Museum Magic video, an overview of museum-based learning for preschool and kindergarten children based on the center’s experience.
  • Many museum resources are available online. has extensive links to all kinds of museums, exhibit information, and online activities for youngsters arranged by topic and geographic location.

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Other Programs in this Series

Why are arts experiences important in the early years of life? How do music, dance, drama, and visual art contribute to growth and learning? How can parents and educators foster young children’s creativity?

Art to Heart is an eight-part KET production that explores the importance of visual arts, music, dance, drama, and literature in the lives of infants, toddlers, and young children, providing useful ideas and information for parents, caregivers, and early childhood teachers.

Visit the Art to Heart Collection

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Early ChildhoodEnglish Language Arts and LiteracyThe Arts