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With bright faces and unlimited enthusiasm for learning, nearly all five year olds and two thirds of all four year olds in the U.S. leave home for a long term relationship with formal schooling and learning. Research verifies that good early education has lifelong benefits for children, particularly for low-income children. For young children with physical and mental disabilities, early intervention offers the potential for reducing the amount of special services required later. Early intervention also promotes inclusion, by providing the child with a "jump start" to learning.

Current thinking and research supports a developmental approach to curriculum and instructionwhere educational programs are matched to the child's total and individual needs. The goal of these approaches is to provide children, both with and without disabilities, with meaningful learning experiences in integrated settings, while simultaneously engaging the family. VSA arts' Start with the Arts resource reflects these goals for early learning. The Background and History of Start with the Arts pages provide a more detailed explanation of the current literature and research supporting these assertions.

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Start with the Arts: An Educational Approach

This instructional resource enables educators and parents to create meaningful learning experiences for young children utilizing all of the arts - visual arts, creative movement, creative drama, and music. Designed to be implemented in mainstreamed settings, Start with the Arts assists young children, including those with disabilities, in exploring thematic topics commonly taught in early childhood programs through the arts. Start with the Arts capitalizes on the inherently motivating nature of arts activities to engage young children in exploring, creating meaning, and expressing their ideas about topics under study.

Using Start with the Arts instructional materials, teachers can achieve the following objectives:

  • encourage the use of the arts and creative play as important learning strategies for young children;
  • promote the utilization of developmentally appropriate arts experiences for all children, including those with special learning needs;
  • provide learning experiences that promote literacy in young children - particularly the development of oral language skills, vocabulary and concept development, and beginning reading and writing skills;
  • promote the inclusion of children with special needs into mainstreamed learning situations by providing early childhood educators with strategies and activities that utilize the arts.

To accomplish these objectives, Start with the Arts builds upon the existing classroom curriculum offering arts activities that focus on common thematic units found in early childhood programs. There are five thematic areas in Start with the Arts. The topics addressed in these units focus on self-awareness, transportation, weather, ecology, and nutrition. Each unit contains developmentally sound art experiences that are structured to incorporate the thematic content.

When used in this way, the arts provide children with opportunities to think about and react to the theme concepts and topics, to use related vocabulary, and communicate thoughts and feelings about the theme concepts, while exploring and developing skills in the art areas. In this way, Start with the Arts enhances the curriculum by providing the teacher with a rich selection of learning experiences from which to draw to meaningfully involve young children in the process of learning and creating.

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It has been said that language is the key to learning. The arts are an excellent vehicle for engaging young children in learning, sharing learning experiences, and thinking about what has been learned. Through carefully constructed learning experiences in the classroom and at-home, Start with the Arts engages young children in developing important expressive and receptive verbal and nonverbal communication skills through the arts.

Start with the Arts also promotes literacy through children's literature. A Literature Enhancement section is found in each activity of this program. Over 600 titles of quality children's literature, that relate to the topics under study are listed, to immerse young children in a "print-rich" environment both in the classroom and in the parent involvement component of this program.

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Developmental Appropriateness

The concept of developmental appropriateness should be paramount when developing curricula for young children. A developmentally sound and appropriate curriculum takes into account dimensions of age appropriateness and individual appropriateness. Human development research indicates that there are universal, predictable milestones of growth and change that occur in children. Accordingly, it is important that curriculum present learning opportunities that are geared to the level at which the child is functioning.

Start with the Arts is intended to meet criteria of developmental appropriateness in the following ways:

  • The learning experiences are designed to address the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual needs of young children.
  • The content is tailored to the interests of four to six year olds. The art experiences on which it is based are carefully designed to be age appropriate.
  • Finally, the program recognizes and seeks to accommodate individual learning differences by incorporating adaptive teaching strategies as an integral part of the program.

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Parent Involvement

Because parents exert a major influence on their children, parents are treated as partners when using the Start with the Arts resource. Classroom goals are shared with parents and their input invited. Parents are invited to extend their child's learning in the home through discussion and home-based activities that utilize the arts. Their experiences provide valuable insights to teachers that are essential to responding to each child's individual needs. Parents are also provided with relevant and age appropriate children's literature suggestions to read aloud and discuss with their child to further develop their child's literacy skills.