Before children become literate, music, painting, crafts and drama can give them powerful tools for communication and development
Thomas Johnston is a traditional musician and educational specialist. By day he works at St Patrick’s College, researching diversity in music education by documenting primary-school children’s experience of music in the classroom. In his spare time he works directly with an even younger demographic: infants and toddlers aged up to four.
“As a musician,” says Johnston, “working with such a young age group is exciting because there is a completely natural reaction to music: they embody it through movement. But as an educator the challenge is also an exciting one. How do you enable them to engage with music in the best possible way?”
Interest in early-years arts – targeting children before formal education – is growing in Ireland. As research reveals the enormous benefits to the development of children’s brains from cultural activity, and psychologists stress the importance of the first three years of life, the arts have become an integral part of early childcare.
The flexibility of the Aistear early childhood curriculum encourages the arts, with four development areas for the child: wellbeing; identity and belonging; exploring and thinking; and communication.
Aistear stresses the importance of play for these goals. The creative approach offered by arts practice is a brilliant match for enabling identity building or, as Johnston puts it, “the possible self”. Before a child can read and write, the arts offer a powerful communication tool.
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