More Than Pretty: Creative Arts as a Language of Learning

Children’s artwork can be truly beautiful. Visually captivating. But more than being pretty, or even interesting, it can tell a story. A story of learning and knowledge and personal thoughts and ideas. Look intently as they create and you will see the child’s story unfold.

I was recently asked what led to my passion for process art for children and my response included;

 ”For six years I was the start-up Director of an Early Learning Centre for 2-5 year olds and it was during this time that I began researching, and ultimately adopting, an Emergent Curriculum approach to early education. I was particularly interested in the philosophy of the world renowned educators in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy and their work with the creative arts as one of the hundred languages of children. Through my study and subsequent implementation, I saw for myself the value of art making as a tool for children to use to share their thinking, ideas and feelings, and also the important truth – that for the child the act of creating is as important (and often more so) as the final product she creates.”

Early one morning Immy (5 1/2 years), AJ (15 months) and I looked out the playroom window to discover a brightly coloured parrot eating an apple on a fruit tree in our backyard. We watched closely for quite some time, both girls clearly captivated by the antics of the beautiful bird. The moment passed when the bird flew away and shortly after Immy disappeared out of the playroom. When I discovered her later, sitting at the island bench in our kitchen, she had gathered paper, a lead pencil and  coloured pencils and was busy creating. “I’m making a book about parrots,” she said.

Childhood 101 | Creative Arts- A Language of Learning

She had already completed the first page of her book, “Parrots eat apples,” (shown above) and was working on the cover (see below).

Childhood 101 | Creative Arts as a Language of Learning

I asked her what other ideas she had for the book and she responded, “I haven’t decided yet.” I got busy and distracted with other things and when I returned again a short time later I found her working on a second page for the book, “Parrots fly high.” (below).

Childhood 101 |Emergent Curriculum - Creative Art as a Language of Learning

There is so much I love about these drawings, not least that Immy felt compelled to share her story in this way. That she independently turned to creative materials as a means to communicate what she is learning about her world. And this is why I am so passionate about children having regular access to a range of simple art mediums as tools in their learning toolkit. Not for learning colours or as a fun opportunity to practice how to hold a pencil properly (though those are obviously both important things to learn) but as a support for sharing all that they know, all that they are processing and working through, all that they see and hear and feel. It is why I have always made art material freely available in our home.

An Emergent Curriculum approach to early learning, especially those inspired by the programs in Reggio Emilia, recognises the value of art making as an integral part of the process of learning. It is indeed a language of learning.

If you would like to read more about my interest in an Emergent Curriculum philosophy of early learning you can start here with my Understanding Emergent Curriculum series;

PerspectivesUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum - Perspectives An Image of the ChildUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum - An Image of the Child
Are 3 Year Olds Too Young to Vote?Understanding Emergent Curriculum Is Your Teacher a Pirate?Understanding Emergent Curriculum
The Child in the CommunityUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum Creating Learning CommunitiesUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum - Communities of learners
Parents ParticipatingUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum Following Children’s InterestsUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum
What Happens When You Follow a Child’s Interest?Understanding Emergent Curriculum How Does an Interest Differ from a Theme?Understanding Emergent Curriculum
Are We Supporting the Hundred Languages of Children?Understanding Emergent Curriculum Revisiting the Hundred Languages of ChildrenCurriculum

If you are looking for more information about the creative arts as a language of learning be sure to check out my new book, Time to Create.

Time to Create by Christie Burnett


  1. Such a beautiful, creative child! And good on you for noticing and re-telling this lovely event.

    P.S. I have your book and love every page! Tonight while cooking rice for dinner, Miss 6 and Miss 3 did hoop sewing in harmony and with joy. Apparently I am the best mum ever! A million thanks!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful feedback on the book, you have made my day 🙂 I hope you don’t mind me sharing your comment on Facebook?

  2. Yes! What a wonderfully-written post. It’s funny; a lot of people mention the importance of the process of kids making art, but you did a great job in describing why the process is important.

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