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Arts Every Day

Both parents and educators stress the importance of making the arts part of young children’s everyday experience. At Gateway Child Development Center in Anderson, IN, the arts facilitate learning for children with a variety of abilities and needs. Louisville father and artist Victor Sweatt emphasizes the importance of parents spending time with their young children. Visits to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read, founded by Boston pediatrician Barry Zuckerman, explore how they encourage parents to read to young children. At a library branch in Lexington, KY, an arts project called Bilingual Boogie Bees helps bring neighbors and cultures together. And movement specialist Rae Pica urges parents not to overschedule young children, but to leave time for play.

In the Program

  • The arts and inclusive learning
    Teachers at Gateway Association Child Development Center in Anderson, Indiana use the arts to foster development and learning in preschoolers with a wide range of abilities, from those developing typically to those with learning delays and disabilities.
  • Key points
    Educators and parents discuss the importance of making the arts part of everyday life.
  • Parent/child activities
    Artist Victor Sweatt and his daughter Victoria make projects together at home, and Sweatt explains why it’s so important to spend time with your child.
  • About reading
    Country singer Dolly Parton discusses her Imagination Library, which provides a book a month to young children from birth through age 5. Pediatrician Barry Zuckerman discusses Reach Out and Read, which distributes books to young children through family physicians.
  • About bilingual activities
    Preschoolers in Kentucky share stories and songs in English and Spanish at the Lexington Public library’s Bilingual Boogie Bees activity.
  • Defining true play
    New Hampshire movement specialist Rae Pica discusses the “overscheduled child” and the importance of allowing time for “true play and joyful learning.”
  • Reading: A Primer for Parents
    This how-to guide is full of advice from fellow parents on reading with and to children, making use of the resources available at your local library, and encouraging a lifelong love of books. It’s also available in a colorful six-page PDF version.

Arts Every Day (Video)

Parents and educators stress the importance of making the arts part of young children’s everyday experience. At Gateway Association Child Development Center in Anderson, IN, the arts facilitate learning for children with a variety of abilities and needs. A Louisville father and artist emphasizes spending time with your young children. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read, founded by Boston pediatrician Barry Zuckerman, encourage parents to read to young children. And at a Lexington library branch, an arts project called Bilingual Boogie Bees helps bring neighbors and cultures together.

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The Arts and Inclusive Learning

Arts for Everyone


The preschool at Gateway Child Development Center in Anderson, Indiana includes children with a wide range of abilities. Children with typical development and those with disabilities and developmental delays all learn together.

Art activities are an important part of the day, for several reasons. One is the strong connection between arts and literacy, says Jean Wright, CEO of the center. “When children create art, they develop spatial awareness, and they develop language cognition skills. They learn to talk and engage in what they are doing.”

Rooms are organized around centers where children have a choice of activities, including art and dramatic play. Story time and group art projects also encourage creativity and participation. “Our arts-based curriculum allows all our children to feel successful,” says preschool teacher Shannon Belt. “Art is very open-ended in our classroom.”

Therapists at the center also use art in many of their programs. “There are many reasons—the tactile input, for example, in finger-painting,” says physical therapist Betty Bush. I find that children who are physically handicapped move much better with music. A child who is in a wheelchair has many outlets when they are aware of art.”

Another important benefit of art activities, Bush says, is how the children react to it. “They are full of joy when they do it, and that is what early childhood education should be about.”

Find Out More

  • Teachers and parents can use a variety of adaptations to ensure that children of all abilities can participate in art activities—from tools and supplies especially created for special needs to simply allowing more time for activities. VSA arts, a national nonprofit organization, has a program called Start with the Arts aimed at younger children. The web site also offers ideas and sample activities as well as a list of state and international affiliate programs, including VSA arts of Kentucky.

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Key Points

Arts Everyday


“People get confused sometimes what learning is. In the first six months of life, learning isn’t about flashcards or curricular lessons. Learning is what comes out in the interaction between an adult and a child. It’s feelings. It’s seeing, hearing, interaction.”

Barry Zuckerman, M.D., professor of pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine

“This is thought to be the first generation of children who will not outlive their parents because they’re living such sedentary lifestyles, because they’re watching TV more than they’re doing anything except sleeping. It’s frightening. Part of it is the TV, the computer, the video game. It’s tremendous competition for children’s time and attention. The other part is the overscheduling of children.”

Rae Pica, movement education consultant, Concord, New Hampshire

“Every child is the same in many ways. They want adults’ attention and they want to be with their parents. They want to participate, they want to do something new and creative. They want to experience joy. And it just doesn’t matter what color or race or language we speak—that’s the way kids are. And I think, deep down, that’s the way adults are, too. They just sometimes forget it.”

Amy Olsen, children’s librarian, Village Branch, Lexington (Kentucky) Free Public Library

“If there’s a hustle and bustle of everyday life that’s getting you down, things like that, I personally believe there’s nothing better than just slowing down and coloring with your child.”

Victor Sweatt, parent, Louisville

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Parent and Child Activities

Parent and Children Together


Like many of the parents interviewed for Art to Heart, Victor Sweatt of Louisville believes that art opportunities are important—for children of all ages. “They are a part of children’s natural growth,” he says. “It gives them a voice. It gives them an identity, lets them express themselves.”

And when parents and children spend time doing hands-on art activities together, it’s an important foundation for closeness and communication. “They learn love through that—that someone is taking the time to find out how they feel about things. The art usually turns into words.”

Activities don’t have to be complicated to be enjoyable, Sweatt says. He and his 3-year-old daughter Victoria enjoy coloring together and making projects such as the diorama shown in the Art to Heart segment. “I let her use different supplies, fabrics, paints, just let her explore. She may line up blades of grass and make a train. Or take a stick and draw in the dirt and use rocks for eyes. She may want to paint right over what she has just done, even though I think it’s beautiful. I think the key is to let them make something out of nothing, to try new things, and to slow down and relax.”

Find Out More

  • Check out our Arts Activity sheets for ideas.
  • Parent Cyndi Young’s suggestions for art activities are part of Art to Heart Program 1.
  • More activities and links to other resources can be found at the PBSKids and Sesame Street web sites.

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About Reading

The Importance of Reading


“I believe if you can read, you can do anything,” says country music star Dolly Parton. And the way to get children to love books is to make sure they share books with someone they love, says Dr. Barry Zuckerman, a professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.

Both Parton and Zuckerman founded special programs to get books into the hands of young children and their parents. Parton’s Imagination Library, working with partners in states and communities, provides a book a month to children from birth through age 5. Zuckerman is a founder of Reach Out and Read, a program that works through pediatricians to provide books and information as part of well-child pediatric visits in the early years.

Both programs are offered in thousands of communities nationwide.

Find Out More

  • The Reach Out and Read web site has information about the program, along with tips for parents.
  • The Imagination Library web site has a list of affiliate organizations in each state. Children can be enrolled in the program if they live in a community with an affiliate partner.
  • Check out the Art to Heart Reading Primer for Parents for advice on reading to and with young children, using the library, and encouraging a love of books.

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About Bilingual Activities

Bilingual Boogie Bees


In talking with parents at the Village Branch of the Lexington (Kentucky) Public Library, children’s librarian Amy Olson found that many English-speaking parents wanted their children to learn Spanish and many Spanish-speaking parents wanted their children to learn English. Since Olson’s background was in music, it seemed natural to her to start a music-based program for youngsters at the library.

“There have been multiple studies to look at the rate of literacy and how it is improved. And one of the ways is through music,” Olson explains.

The Bilingual Boogie Bees program brings parents and children together to have fun learning songs in both English and Spanish. “I try to find songs that are culturally relevant—that the parents know or have heard or the children know or have heard,” Olson says.

The result has been positively received on many levels in this diverse neighborhood. Parents and children alike have found enjoyable ways to interact and learn, and Olson finds interesting ways to incorporate information about music basics. The program has exposed families to one another’s cultures as well as to what they all share in common as parents and children. And parents gain ideas for activities they can do at home. As Olson sums it up, “The whole goal is to make it fun and entertaining and to help parents come up with songs and ideas on their own.”

Find Out More

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Defining True Play

True Play and Joyful Learning


“We think that if we have signed our children up for soccer and ballet and gymnastics and all these things, that we’re giving them what they need, but we’re not,” says movement education consultant Rae Pica.

What young children need most is “true play,” Pica says. And that may not be found in organized activities where children spend more time waiting than participating and where competition is the focus.

What Is True Play?

Pica defines true play this way:

  • It’s self-initiated—by the child.
  • It involves the imagination and creativity.

Starting children in organized, competitive programs too young places them in a situation where they are developmentally unable to understand what is expected, Pica says. “For example, a 5-year-old can’t understand—socially, emotionally, or cognitively—the rules and activities of many sports. They’re not ready.

“So we need to let children organize their own games. And if the rules don’t work, children change them. That’s what problem solving is all about.”

Advice for Parents?

“Realize that it’s OK to take the time to play with your children,” Pica says. “Let them know that it’s OK to find creatures in the clouds and to use their imaginations. And children need to know how to be alone with themselves as well.”

Allowing true play and joyful learning will help develop creative thinkers and problem solvers, Pica believes. “We don’t know what kind of future our children have ahead of them. Things are changing quickly. The one thing I think we can be sure of is that our children will need to solve problems. And that means thinking creatively, thinking imaginatively. Overscheduled children don’t have time to think. They don’t have time to imagine. They don’t have time to be.”

Find Out More

  • Find out more about Pica’s ideas in Program 4 of Art to Heart.
  • Pica’s web site, Moving and Learning, has numerous articles on movement and physical education in early childhood, as well as activity suggestions.
  • Pica has written several books on movement, physical activity, and play, including Great Games for Young Children and Your Active Child.

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Reading: A Primer for Parents


This how-to guide is full of advice from fellow parents on reading with and to children, making use of the resources available at your local library, and encouraging a lifelong love of books. It’s also available in a colorful six-page PDF version: Reading: A Primer for Parents

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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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