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Fine arts (interacting with others)

Fine arts traditionally include drawing, painting and sculpture, but in modern understandings also include multimedia arts.

Fine arts traditionally include drawing, painting and sculpture, but in modern understandings also include multimedia arts (Wright, 2012).

As well as developing children’s appreciation and engagement in art, facilitating fine arts experiences are great opportunities for language

Drawing, painting, sculpture, craft, and multimedia experiences allow children to express themselves, and to make meaning. They are also opportunities for educators to introduce new concepts and vocabulary, use more complex language to describe features of artworks, and to tell stories using art and language together.

Elements of design

The following building blocks of design can be explored through various media, and can be used to create balance, pattern, and contrast (Dinham and Chalk, 2018).


Lines are marks that are longer than they are thick. They can vary in thickness, travel in multiple directions (horizontal, vertical, diagonal), and along different pathways (straight, curved, zigzag, wobbly). Lines can be used to create:

  • outlines
  • movement
  • shading.


These include geometric shapes like squares, triangles, circles, as well as free form shapes, that can be abstract, or can represent objects, people, or places.


Value refers to how light, or how dark lines, shapes, or colours are. Artists can play with how light, dark, or colourful marks are.


There are three primary colours (red, blue, yellow), and when mixed together form secondary colours (orange, green, purple). The concept colour can be explored and used in fine arts experiences, through mixing of colours and the addition of white or black.

Red, blue and green are the primary colours of paints and inks. Photo: Wikimedia


This is the quality of surfaces, that can be felt or represented. Textures differ in how rough or smooth they are.

Opportunity for learning

It is important to consider whether a fine arts experience is “just making stuff”. Dinham (2011, p. 143) provides some questions to consider whether the experience offers opportunities for authentic, rich learning:

  • are there opportunities for creativity and individual ideas?
  • what concepts of art and language are being embedded in the experience?
  • can children express their own ideas and creativity in the experience?
  • are there cultural connections between the experience and the real world?
  • will the experience provide opportunities for children to learn about how art and language works?
  • is the experience part of a wider unit of inquiry or exploration?


Drawing starts with earliest attempts at mark making; and develops into sophisticated use of materials to communicate meaning. 

Drawing is a way for children to communicate nonverbally, and can facilitate children’s understanding and expression of complex ideas.

Drawing media include:

  • dry media: pencils, chalks, crayons, charcoals
  • wet media: ink, textas.

As well as facilitating oral language, drawings can act as an anchor for children’s ideas as they begin to experiment with letters and engage in emergent writing activities (Mackenzie, 2011).

Facilitating children’s drawing experiences are opportunities for learning about the arts, as well as engaging in the earliest forms of written expression.

If teachers encourage and value drawing they can build a bridge between children’s prior-to-school experiences, a current system of meaning making and the new system of writing. In this way writing becomes a parallel means of meaning making rather than a replacement for the drawing and talking they already do so well when they arrive at school.
- Mackenzie (2011, p. 338)

When using fine arts experiences to develop emergent literacy skills like fine motor and early writing attempts, drawing becomes an important facilitator of written/visual expression. 


Though it is difficult to make a distinction between drawing and painting. Usually drawing involves lines, less colours, and drier media; while painting involves areas of paint, greater use of colour, and wetter media.

Children can engage in painting experiences from an early age, with the use of hand/finger painting, sensory experiences using paints, moving towards using paintbrushes.

Painting experiences can be open-ended and child led, with many opportunities to embed conversation, discussion, and stories. Image: University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre
Painting allows for the exploration and discussion of colours and colour mixing, as well as concepts like wet/dry, dark/light, and rough/smooth.

Much of what has been described for drawing also applies to painting, including the benefits for verbal, visual, and written expression, and the opportunities that painting experiences create for language learning.

Painting experiences can be used to encourage children to tell stories, or explore ideas, but they do not have to. Paintings may just be an opportunity to enjoy paint and explore what it can involve, including “dripping, spreading, dabbing, swirling, and building up layers” (McArdle, 2012, p. 44).

Sculpture and craft

Sculpture and craft takes the fine arts from two-dimensional (2D) to three-dimensional (3D) work. 

Many different materials can be used. Commonly used media in early childhood include:

  • clay
  • papier-mâché
  • play dough
  • balsa wood
  • recycled paper and cardboard materials
  • fabric offcuts
  • string and twine
  • pipe cleaners
  • everyday items like paper clips, pop sticks, pegs, coat hangers
  • natural materials like sticks, bark, driftwood, gumnuts, leaves, flowers, seed pods, grasses, shells.

Sculpture and craft experiences allow children to explore the elements of design in three dimensions, and create shapes, structures, and objects for multiple purposes: for example buildings, dioramas, animals, people, robots, natural landscapes, hybrids.


In multimedia arts experiences, children’s creation of their own media artworks is facilitated. The possibilities with the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are endless, as new software and hardware open up new avenues to push the boundaries of media arts making experiences.

Some broad examples include: photography, photo stories, digital story books, story boards, comic strips, video, animation (including claymation), sound recordings (for example early podcasts or radio plays), and posters/book covers.

  • titles and credits
  • lighting
  • pace
  • image composition
  • camera angles.

Multimedia making experiences are also useful to introduce children to how choices by artists can impact how characters, places, and objects are represented in different media (for example ideas of positive/negative, powerful/weak, good/bad).

Media making experiences that involve elements of storytelling allow children to engage with the language skills of stories in a hands-on, aesthetic way. Based on reflections or ideas for stories and characters, this can be achieved through:

  • drawing
  • painting
  • sculpture
  • multimedia experiences
  • stories and narratives.

Embedding language in fine arts

When planning fine arts experiences, think of what language concepts, words, sentences, stories, and discussions could be embedded.

The language may be related to:

  • the ideas, themes, stories, characters you are discussing (for example indigenous stories and art, art about sustainability)

The language used during the experiences to describe:

  • materials (for example clay, paintbrushes)
  • actions (mix, spread, dip, stick on)
  • techniques (dab, wipe, stack), and
  • qualities (light, rough, chunky, curved)
  • informal language used during the experience (which colour is your favourite? what a tall, and dark tower!)

Choose resources and plan experiences which will encourage interaction and teamwork between children, and with educators:

  • Provide opportunities for turn-taking, modelling, and imitation of fine arts techniques
  • Demonstrate to children how materials and techniques work, and provide clear instructions of how to take part
  • Encourage children to use art experiences to make meaning, communicate nonverbally, tell and create stories, and discuss their ideas
  • Plan for open-ended or guided experiences depending on your learning intentions
  • Demonstrate how colours, shapes, and materials can be used to symbolise different things (for example red may mean angry, a grey and dark painting may appear scary, doves are a symbol of peace)

When using fine arts as a teaching practice for interacting with others, there are a range of learning foci that educators can embed, including:

Making meaning and expressing ideas

  • encourage verbal and nonverbal communication during fine arts experiences
  • carefully watch children’s use of eye gaze, gestures, and joint attention, and follow their interests to support their engagement
  • experiment with the length and complexity of your instructions or guidance during experiences
    • younger children can usually follow 1 part instructions (for example pick up the brush)
    • older children will start to follow 2-3 part instructions (for example dip your paintbrush into the paint, and dab it on the sides of the pot).

Speech sounds

  • model use of sounds and words as you create art together (for example dot dot dot, dab dab dab, scratch scratch scratch!)
  • imitate what children do, to practice turn taking

Concept development and vocabulary

  • think about the artistic and design concepts you can introduce during an experience (see above)
  • introduce spatial, numerical, patterns concepts through art experiences
  • model and use new language for children to describe what you are working with, including:

    • materials (for example clay, paintbrushes)
    • actions (mix, spread, dip, stick on)
    • techniques (dab, wipe, stack), and qualities (light, rough, chunky, curved)

Conversation and social skills

  • create opportunities for children to work alongside or collaboratively, as appropriate to their developmental level
  • model sharing, turn taking, requesting and thanking during the experiences
  • think of art projects where groups of children can contribute
  • use the art making process as an opportunity to practice conversational skills, through modelling and questions like:
    • which colour are you using next?
    • what a lovely picture, can you tell me about it?
    • I like the way you have put this together, how did you get your idea for this?

Stories and narratives

  • use oral and written stories as stimuli for art making experiences, for example you may encourage children to draw, paint, construct, or record their favourite character, or part of a story you have enjoyed together
  • use story boards, comics, and poster making experiences to demonstrate the parts of a story (start, middle, end)

Explanations and sharing information

  • discuss choices made by artists and children during experiences, using open-ended questions (for example what do you think of this sculpture? Tell me about your art?)
  • after art making experiences, make time for discussions about artworks
  • asking what for, why, and how questions help children to express their opinions and observations

Higher order language

  • model to children how you might describe and comment on art works
  • have fun with children when creating titles or names for art pieces, allowing them to play with language to describe their work
  • talk about the words chosen by children, and what they mean.

Theory to practice

Dinham and Chalk (2018) describe the multiple links between learning and the arts, including:

  • the arts as first literacies
    • Understanding art as “children’s ‘first languages’—their primary way of seeing and knowing the self in the world” (McArdle and Wright, 2014, p. 22)
  • the arts as having inherent qualities
    • open-ended approaches to learning
    • practise for improvement – allowing children to revisit art forms multiple times to refine their artwork
    • creative thinking processes
    • wonderment and aesthetic awareness – inspiring “awe, curiosity, thought and innovation … [as] fuel for many of children’s own explorations …” (Dinham and Chalk, 2018, p. 47)
  • the arts as playful engagement in serious learning

Dinham and Chalk (2018) argue that embedding learning (including language and literacy) within the arts allows for children to engage in learning in rich and meaningful ways:

As children explore the nature of being, belonging and becoming in this world, they are fruitfully engaging in learning. They are laying the foundations for reading, writing, and numeracy, and developing capabilities and learning dispositions that will help them ride the wave of their unfolding future - Dinham and Chalk (2018, p. 54).

Evidence base

It has been difficult for researchers to establish an evidence base for the arts as a mechanism of learning language skills. While there is research suggesting a link between engagement in arts-based learning, and other academic outcomes, so far it has been difficult to determine if the arts were the main reason for that change (Winner and Hetland, 2000).

However, preliminary studies have indicated some of the benefits of arts-based approaches on literacy and numeracy outcomes in older children (Martin et al., 2013; Smithrim and Upitis, 2005). Further research is needed to establish the causal links between arts-based approaches, and improvements in language and literacy skills.

Outcome 1: identity

Children feel safe, secure and supported

  • explore aspects of identity through role-play

Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities

  • explore different identities and points of view in dramatic play

Outcome 2: community

Children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active civic participation

  • cooperate with others and negotiate roles and relationships in play episodes and group experiences
  • build on their own social experiences to explore other ways of being
  • understand different ways of contributing through play and projects
  • are playful and respond positively to others, reaching out for company and friendship

Children respond to diversity with respect

  • become aware of connections, similarities and differences between people
  • listen to others’ ideas and respect different ways of being and doing

Outcome 3: wellbeing

Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing

  • combine gross and fine motor movement and balance to achieve increasingly complex patterns of activity, including dance, creative movement and drama
  • manipulate equipment and manage tools with increasing competence and skill

Outcome 4: learning

Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity

  • use play to investigate, imagine and explore ideas
  • initiate and contribute to play experiences emerging from their own ideas

Children resource their own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies and natural and processed materials

explore ideas and theories using imagination, creativity and play

Outcome 5: communication

Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes

  • interact with others to explore ideas and concepts, clarify and challenge thinking, negotiate and share new understandings
  • use language and representations from play, music and art to share and project meaning
  • contribute their ideas and experiences in play and small and large group discussion
  • exchange ideas, feelings and understandings using language and representations in play

Children engage with a range of texts and get meaning from these texts

  • view and listen to printed, visual and multimedia texts and respond with relevant gestures, actions, comments and/or questions
  • actively use, engage with and share the enjoyment of language and texts in a range of ways
  • recognise and engage with written and oral culturally constructed texts

Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media

  • share the stories and symbols of their own cultures and re-enact well-known stories
  • use the creative arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, drama, dance, movement, music and story-telling, to express ideas and make meaning
  • experiment with ways of expressing ideas and meaning using a range of media

Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work

  • use symbols in play to represent and make meaning
  • develop an understanding that symbols are a powerful means of communication and that ideas, thoughts and concepts can be represented through them

Children use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking

  • identify the uses of technologies in everyday life and use real or imaginary technologies as props in their play
  • engage with technology for fun and to make meaning
  • use information and communications technologies as tools for designing, drawing, editing, reflecting and composing

Experiences plans and videos

Early communicators (birth - 18 months) and early language users (12 - 36 months)

Language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months)

Learning foci and teaching practices