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H OFSTRA H ORIZONS 24 Arts-Infused Learning Experiences for Early Childhood Educators Susan Goetz Zwirn Director Art Education Program Assistant Professor Department of Curriculum and Teaching W e live in New York, one of the world’s greatest art cen- ters. Attendance to arts events, in the performing arts and in museums, is at record levels. Besides this public appreciation of the arts, a grow- ing body of research documents that engagement in the arts stimulates cru- cial avenues of the cognitive and emo- tional development of children. Despite this, the arts continue to be cut from school budgets. Art specialists are becoming increasingly rare, almost a luxury, as school administrators focus on providing resources for remediation and test preparation. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the most significant case of the federal government micromanag- ing schools in U.S. history, does not actually support education in the arts, in spite of naming it as a core academic subject (Chapman, 2005). In exchange for federal funds, NCLB requires that schools make annual progress in reading, Creative Teachers, Creative Students: Photo Above: Kindergarten student explores painting during a visual arts coaching session.

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    Arts-Infused Learning Experiences for Early Childhood EducatorsSusan Goetz ZwirnDirectorArt Education Program

    Assistant Professor Department of Curriculum and Teaching

    We live in New York, one ofthe world’s greatest art cen-ters. Attendance to artsevents, in the performingarts and in museums, is atrecord levels. Besides this

    public appreciation of the arts, a grow-ing body of research documents thatengagement in the arts stimulates cru-cial avenues of the cognitive and emo-tional development of children. Despitethis, the arts continue to be cut fromschool budgets. Art specialists are

    becoming increasingly rare, almost aluxury, as school administrators focuson providing resources for remediationand test preparation.

    The No Child Left Behind Act of2001 (NCLB), the most significant caseof the federal government micromanag-ing schools in U.S. history, does notactually support education in the arts, inspite of naming it as a core academicsubject (Chapman, 2005). In exchangefor federal funds, NCLB requires thatschools make annual progress in reading,

    Creative Teachers,Creative Students:

    Photo Above: Kindergarten student explores painting during a visual arts coaching session.


    math and science scores. Since imple-mentation of NCLB, the Council of ChiefState School Officers (CCSSO, 2002, inChapman, 2005), a nonpartisan, nation-wide, nonprofit organization of publicofficials who, among other services, pro-vide leadership and advocacy on majoreducational issues, referred to the sub-jects that are not required to providescores (art, foreign language, humanitiesand social studies) as the “lost curricu-lum.” In a survey just completed, theCouncil for Basic Education, funded bythe Carnegie Corporation of New York,found that of all subjects included intheir survey, the arts seem at greatestrisk, especially in schools that servemostly minority students (NAEA News,2004, p.1). Yet, we look to public educa-tion to help young people find meaningand commitment through learning.

    This misunderstanding about theimportance of the arts in human devel-opment is widespread. It is a simple factthat the arts have not been a priority onthe American educational scene. Formany elementary school children, theonly place they will encounter educa-tion in the visual arts, dance, drama andmusic is with their classroom teachers;almost half of our nation’s elementaryschools lack a specialist art teacher.Today in America, a student can gradu-ate from high school meeting therequirement of zero to two credit hoursof arts education. In Japan, studentsmust take five credit hours, and inGermany, students must take seven tonine credit hours (Fowler, 1996, p. 19).

    Current research reveals that thereis a positive relationship between learn-ing in the arts and other disciplines.Important characteristics of the learningprocess, such as elaboration, fluency,originality, the capacity to take multipleperspectives and to comprehend layeredrelationships are stimulated by learningin the arts and other subjects (Burton,Horowitz & Abeles, 2000; Singley &Anderson, 1989; Greeno et al., 1992).

    Hofstra University supported theadministration of a two-year arts pro-gram in three high-needs Long Islandschool districts as well as at the DianeLindner-Goldberg Child Care Institute

    on the Hofstra campus. My role was toguide teachers in artistic development inparticular domains (the visual arts,music, dance, and drama) and to pro-vide specific methods for curriculumintegration. Cognitive capacities anddispositions in these four art forms,such as creativity, imagination and theability to think critically, have beenfound to enhance learning in other sub-jects (Catterall, 1998). Numerousresearch studies conducted in the past10 years, including the following, sup-port this view (Burton et al., 2000):

    • Improvement in writing, reading compre-hension and verbal expression has beenfound in elementary school age childrenfollowing artistic experiences in the visu-al arts and music (Catterall, 1998;Moore and Caldwell, 1993).

    • Improved ability in elementary and mid-dle school age children to think specula-tively, analytically, and critically afterexperiences in drama, dance and thevisual arts (Fineberg, 1991; Wolf, 1994).

    • Improved brain function, specifically spa-tial-temporal reasoning (required formathematics), following music education(Rauscher et al., 1993).

    Transfer has typically been viewedas an all too simplistic flow of informa-tion and effects from the arts to othersubjects (Eisner, 1998; Burton et al.,2000). Transfer is perhaps only onecomponent of a complex set of learningrelationships. More than simply regard-ing transfer of learning as a one-waymovement from arts learning to academ-ic achievement, this process involves adynamic relationship between subjectsthat enhance student learning. Forexample, when drama is taught togetherwith literature, each subject illuminatesthe other.

    This program provided hands-onteacher workshops and in-class coachingsessions for early childhood teachers andtheir preK to first grade students (chil-dren ages 3 to 6 years). The intent was

    to provide rich experiences for bothteachers and children in the visual arts,music, dance and drama. The grant pro-vided funds for specialists in each area,curriculum materials, art supplies, musi-cal instruments, and a culminating DVD.

    A basic premise guiding this workis that art should be central to the cur-riculum of all children. We attempted tobring the arts into the classrooms of asmany children as possible, particularlyto those children whose schools areimpacted by restricted budgeting for artseducation. Besides the academic boostsnoted above, research additionallydemonstrates that children exposed torich arts programs, in and out ofschools, demonstrate, over time, pridein their work and empathy towardpeers, families and communities. Itappears to be common sense to say thatarts integration helps young children toconnect academic learning to personalexperience, thereby assisting them tomake sense of their world. The expres-sive and constructivist nature of artisticactivity enables students to grasp com-plex concepts through the lens of theirown experience and perceptions.

    Arts-Infused Workshops: VisualArts, Drama, Dance and Music

    The arts specialists, university pro-fessors selected for their arts educationexpertise, first ran workshops for teach-ers. Following these hands-on experi-ences, the specialists joined teachers intheir classrooms to provide support. Thespecialists were: Anita Feldman, adjunctassistant professor of dance education atHofstra; Dr. Lori Custodero, assistantprofessor of music education atColumbia University; Dr. Milton Polsky,consultant, author and adjunct assistantprofessor of drama education; and me,Susan Goetz Zwirn, assistant professorof art education at Hofstra.

    In the workshops, teachers assumeda dual existence; learning to think liketeachers of the arts, they were also prox-ies for young students experiencing thelearning methods being taught. Theduality of these teachers’ roles revealed abasic challenge: how to connect abstract


    ideas to the students’ experience. Theworkshops were a constant weaving oftwo strands of experience: how to thinklike a teacher and how to experiencelearning like a young child.

    Expression and Spatial ReasoningExplored Through the Visual Arts

    In the visual arts workshops, teach-ers developed fluency in the media ofpainting, collage and sculpture.Philosopher Suzanne Langer (1924/1971) maintains that visual forms ofthinking are more efficacious for certaintypes of expression, as some ideas aretoo subtle for speech. For children whoare early language and second languagelearners, this subtlety makes the visualarts a brilliant media for the conveyanceof ideas. To assist children to expressideas in visual forms, the teachers studied approaches to teaching paintingand drawing.

    The workshopwalls were coveredwith art prints andexamples of children’sartwork. The teachersexamined prints fromdiverse cultures toexplore how artreveals history and thevalues and rituals ofculture. They devel-oped ways to questionchildren about theirart, stimulating themto think more deeplyabout the subjectunder review. Mostsignificantly, teacherscreated art that bothrelated to other sub-jects and had personalmeaning in each medium.

    To provide learning in spatial devel-opment, critical in both mathematicsand the visual arts, the workshops pre-sented teachers with many approachesto master mathematical or spatial con-cepts in 2D and 3D projects. They creat-ed sculptures, called constructions, thatdemonstrated an understanding of thethree dimensions, balance, types of

    angles, intersection and simultaneity.Working clay with their hands, theteachers learned about form (mass,shape, height, structure and balance), sothat they could pass on to children alanguage of hands (Kolbe, 2001). Theycreated collages that reinforced learningabout negative space, patterns, measure-ment, fractions and numeration.

    They studied Howard Gardner’s the-ory of multiple intelligences, specificallyspatial, bodily-kinesthetic and mathe-matical intelligences (1983). Accordingto Gardner’s theory, spatial intelligencerelates to one’s ability to accurately per-ceive the visual world and performtransformations of perceptions; musicalintelligence, one’s ability to appreciateand produce forms of musical expres-sion; and bodily-kinesthetic, one’s capac-ity to understand concepts or solve prob-lems through the body. They studied theaesthetic and spatial qualities that bothmathematics and the visual arts have in

    common, and how sculpture is an idealart form to embody these abstract ideas.After studying children’s perceptualstages of development to examine howchildren develop in their ability tounderstand and create art (Lowenfeld &Brittain, 1987), teachers explored theunderlying principles of the materials,design, compositional elements andcolor theory. As a result of their studies

    and its application in the classroom, theteachers witnessed their students’ mas-tery of mathematical concepts, such asthe three dimensions, and the expressionof complex ideas, such as metamorpho-sis, through the creation of art.

    Language Development, Problem Solving and Social Emotional DevelopmentNurtured Through Drama

    During the drama workshops, theteachers developed a sense of communi-ty as they engaged in dramatic enact-ments. These workshops focused onthree key areas: language development,problem solving and social emotionaldevelopment. Drawing on a large bodyof research that demonstrates the docu-mented impact that drama in the class-room has on literacy (Ackroyd &Boulton, 2001; McCaslin, 2004), Dr.

    Polsky emphasizedcurriculum thatfocused on the interre-lated strands of litera-cy: listening, speaking,reading and prepara-tion for writing. Heguided the teachers touse children’s dramati-zation of stories, par-ticularly traditionalfables, as a means tounderstand characteri-zation and thematicdevelopment. Severalteachers commentedon how participatingin creative dramahelped them to conveyan understanding ofcharacterization. Oneboy said, “We get to

    think like the people in the story.”Research reveals that through dramaticreenactments of stories heard, youngchildren demonstrate enhanced storysequencing, use of language and storycomprehension (Williamson & Silvern,1986).

    Through these methods, teacherslearned the differences between varyingdramatic approaches: creative drama,

    Children participate in shadow theater with the drama specialist and their teacher.


    dramatic play and children’s theater. Aconstellation of literacy competencieswas encouraged: story structure, vocab-ulary building, and comprehension ofcharacters. As with the other art forms,the teachers learned through creatingand dramatizing themselves. For exam-ple, the teachers participated in theancient art of Shadow Theater, whichintegrates drama (enacting the story),art (making the shadow puppets), music(Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring), and move-ment (movement of the puppets). Theconnections to science, making shadowsand understanding light sources wereapparent to all the teachers. Moore andCaldwell (1993) found that when dramawas combined with other art forms,such as drawing, children demonstratedgreater accomplishments in languagearts than when only traditional discus-sion was planned.

    A unique benefit of drama in theclassroom is its stimulation of a sense ofcommunity. Howard Gardner notes thatthe highly interpersonal nature of dramarequires engagement with universalhuman traits, and verbal and nonverbalinteraction with cast and audience.Building a sense of trust and coopera-tion is integral to developing a sense ofcommunity in the classroom.

    Learning Becomes Concrete andPhysical Through Dance

    Howard Gardner (1983) states thatmovement can be a form of bodily-kines-thetic intelligence, in which ideas areexpressed and problems are solvedthrough the body. Nikitina (2003)describes the “... inherent tendency of thearts to transcend the boundary of bodywith the mind. ...” (2003, p. 55.).

    The goal of the workshops was to pro-vide avenues to integrate movement intoother curricular areas as a means to makelearning concrete, physical and active.Movement exercise can stimulate learn-ing in many areas: it can reveal meaningin literature, facilitate understanding ofconcepts in social studies, and makeabstract mathematical and scientific con-cepts concrete (Lazaroff, 2001).

    Learning is enhanced for childrenwhen they have additional understand-ing through dance activities becausebasic components of dance (pattern,form, shape, time, space, energy andrelationship) are pivotal concepts inother curricular areas (Fowler, 1978).The teachers created dances alone andin groups, discovering ways to usemovement to dance a story or idea. Theyexplored a variety of connections to aca-demic curriculum. For English enhance-

    Teachers from the Diane Lindner-Goldberg Child Care Institute at Hofstra experiment with traditional clay techniques in a Saturday workshop.


    ment, young children can assume theshapes of the letters, order themselvesinto sentences, create movements toembody long and short vowel sounds,punctuation marks, syllabication andrhyming, and interpret stories throughdance. For mathematics, shapes, dimen-sions and sequencing are all joyouslyexplored with and without music.

    The teachers learned how to teachnumber and pattern sequences throughmovement during drumbeats, isolatingand responding with different bodyparts. They explored ways to teach sci-ence concepts through movement suchas the rotation of the planets around thesun and the cycle of rain and plantgrowth. The teachers noted that combining the teaching of cognitivefunctions with the physical as well asthe artistic and academic stimulated anintegration of ideas. “Physical experi-ences help personalize abstract ideasand emotions (Lazaroff, 2001).”

    The Generative Power of Music

    Musical concepts such as rhythm,tempo, dynamics, style, range, inflec-tion, and pitch can be explored and further developed through improvisedsinging, chanting stories, and games. Inthe workshops, the teachers learnedways to help children musically engagewith their voices, their bodies and musi-

    cal instruments. The teachers experi-mented with vocal range and songsthrough improvisation, telling storiesthrough the representative sounds ofcharacters and events. They createdmusic with their voices and with instru-ments. Such improvisation providesopportunities for children to express themusical grammar of their culture. It alsoencourages a creative interplay of musicand language (Wright, 2003). Music inthe workshops was not about teachersdirecting songs or instrumentation, butabout stimulating children to createtheir own music.

    As the teachers turned from thevoice to the body as the focus of musicalengagement, they noted that manymathematical ideas, such as countingand sequencing, are most easily graspedby children through music. The teachersstudied recordings with a clearly distin-guished formal structure, highlightingpattern and repetition. They engaged inseveral strategies for multidisciplinaryteaching, weaving songs, movement,and instrument playing into reading andwriting. Teachers were introduced to anextensive selection of children’s litera-ture with stories that emphasize thepower of sound and offer wonderfulreading opportunities. Several teachersnoted that infusing music into literatureis a natural way to highlight the lyricismof language.

    Teachers reported that the commu-nal nature of music makes for a pleasur-able atmosphere. By responding, creat-ing and moving to music, the relation-ship between sound and the expressionof emotion was clearly evident. As withthe other art forms, the teachers notedthat music should be basic to the education of young children, not onlyfor the sense of community that itencouraged, but because through musicbasic skills of reading, writing andmathematics are enhanced; problemsolving and higher order thinking aredeveloped (Lehman, 1993).

    For Transformative LearningThrough the Arts, IntegratedCurriculum Must Be Developedin Actual Classrooms

    What happens after the workshops?Newly acquired artistic skills andapproaches need to be integrated intoclassroom activities. In order to assistparticipating teachers in the actual inte-gration of these artistic approaches andtechniques, specialists need to workwith classroom teachers and their stu-dents in actual classrooms. For the firstcoaching session, the specialist andteacher worked in tandem in the class-room, with the specialist leading whereneeded and assisting when appropriate.

    Teachers celebrate their creative accomplishments.


    The specialist may demonstrate, directand/or clarify the activity. In this way,the arts specialists model the creativeprocess and the problem solving skillsand perseverance that go with it(Lazaroff, 2001). For the second coach-ing session, a collaborative approachwas employed to encourage the teacherto assume more or full control over thearts activity, with the specialist playing asupportive role. This is necessary inorder to facilitate the teachers’ masteryof the actual implementation of an arts-integrated curriculum.

    One notable difference between thepre- and post-workshop/coaching inter-views was the self-description of theteachers. Prior to the workshops, theydid not consider themselves to beartistic; after, they all consideredthemselves creative. Severalattributed this to the timeallowed for the free explorationof materials and the open-endednature of the art projects. “...(F)or optimum facilitation oflearning, curriculum designmust focus on the delivery ofintrinsically meaningful materi-al that is open-ended enough tobe transformed by the children(Custodero, 1999, p. 19).”Therefore, it is not surprisingthat the teachers found that thistype of curriculum allowed “ to find deeper meanings,” “...a window of exploration for thechildren.” A teacher explainedthat the “rigidity” of the currentschool curriculum, governed bythe NCLB mandates thatencourage “teaching to thetexts,” discouraged this type of engage-ment with materials. By integrating artinto their classrooms, teachers claimedthat they were freed to explore creativeideas with their students.

    In fact, teaching with the artsproved to be so powerful that, althoughaddressing students with special needswas not a stated goal of the grant, therewas notable engagement by some ofthese children. During a coaching ses-sion, for example, Dr. Polsky noticedthe vigorous participation of one first

    grade girl challenged by cerebral palsy,who he found to be particularly bright,expressive and creative. After the ses-sion, her teacher remarked, “She openedup like a rose petal to participate in activi-ties for the first time since she arrived.” Asa result of this work, plans to put thischild in a contained classroom werebeing reconsidered. The sole ESL(English as a Second Language) teacherwas very excited by the positive effectson her kindergarten students of thenonverbal and verbal dramatic exercises.“The students owned the stories theyacted.” The teacher recognized that thereceptive skill of listening was powerful-ly linked to the expressive drama skill ofspeaking clearly and loudly enough tobe heard by their peers.

    ‘Staying Alive’

    Current government policies ignorethe critical role of the arts in the educa-tion of young children. In her discussionof the effects of the No Child Left BehindAct, Laura Chapman, renowned leader inarts education, states that, “... in thehigh-stakes climate of ‘test-em-til-they-drop,’ extraordinary leadership will benecessary. Traditions of teaching andlearning in the arts (visual, music, danceand drama) are contrary to the prevailing

    ethos of national policy .... ”(2005). Since they are not part of NCLB’s testingregime, the arts are on the firing line,vulnerable to disappearance, particularlyin high-needs school districts. The statusof arts education, in any school, is basedon the financial resources of its commu-nity (Chapman, 2005).

    This program enabled theUniversity faculty to provide support, inthe form of teaching workshops and in-class coaching, as well as curriculummaterials for the arts in high-needsschool districts. It is our goal, throughthe Art Education division of the Schoolof Education and Allied HumanServices, to maintain a close alliancewith schools on Long Island to supportteachers in furthering artistic develop-

    ment and curriculum integrationin the education of young chil-dren. The survival of the arts intoday’s educational environmentdepends on a concerted effort bythe teachers of young children.

    Please contact Susan GoetzZwirn at ifyou wish to view the DVD thathelps to bring this project to life.All teachers and their schooladministrators who participated inthe grant have received this DVD.


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    Workshop participants said ...

    • “My creativity had slowed, was buried within. The juices are flowing again after this experience anddiscussion with colleagues.”

    • “I particularly liked using the African Americanand Hispanic art prints as inspiration; the childrencould see how people from their own cultures expressedtheir thoughts through art. They would feel unique, special. Our principal has hung one of the prints in the lobby.”

    • “I actually felt that I had support. Extensive discussion with peers and specialists gave me confidenceto try my ideas in the classroom coaching sessions.”

    • “I practiced the techniques in drama, music andmovement, at circle time. The children were so excited. This makes it personal, holds their attentionbecause through the art form it has meaning. It thrillsme that they took so much away with them.”

  • interface. Paper presented at the“Cognitive Processes of Children Engagedin Musical Activity” Conference,Champaign-Urbana, IL, June.

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    Susan Goetz Zwirn has been integrat-ing art and education for more than 25 years.For the past 15 years, Dr. Zwirn has been teach-ing this practice to graduate and undergraduatestudents at Hofstra. Currently, she is director ofthe Art Education Program at Hofstra. In this

    capacity, Dr. Zwirn advises graduate students,teaches art education courses, and plans andimplements curriculum development. Additionally,she advises and teaches art education courses toundergraduate students.

    Her work integrating art into academiccurricula has included designing educationalprograms that integrate art for museums, serv-ing as a consultant and supervisor for NewYork City’s Project Arts Program, an interdisci-plinary, citywide public school program, anddirecting an educational program for an out-patient drug rehabilitation program. Dr. Zwirn’sother research interests include role and identi-ty issues of artists and teachers, the creativeproduction of art teachers, the marginalizationof the arts in public education, and the role ofthe arts in the education of young children. Dr.Zwirn earned a B.A. from Clark University, anM.A.T. from Rhode Island School of Design,and an Ed.D. from Columbia University.

    Dr. Zwirn has given numerous presenta-tions on topics relating to her research atnational and local professional organizationsand schools. She recently presented the results

    of the research described in the accompanyingarticle at the National Association for theEducation of Young Children (NAEYC) inAnaheim. From the results of this work, shealso created an educational DVD, which canbe viewed by contacting Dr. Zwirn She has publishedarticles on her research topics in numerousjournals, such as Art Education, AmericanEducational Research Association’s Arts andLearning Journal and the Journal for CreativeBehavior. An article on arts integration, titled“Schools That Teachers and Children Deserve,”will appear in a special annual issue of thejournal Childhood Education in June 2005.

    In the midst of her teaching and research, Dr. Zwirn continues to work actively as an artist.Recently, she held a solo exhibition of her paint-ings at the Port Washington Library Gallery.Titled “Landscape Boundaries,” this exhibit pre-sented her abstract interpretations of landscapecompleted during the past 10 years.