Creating a Primary Visual Arts Curriculum for Home or Classroom

Apr 15, 2019

The full curriculum in The Arts can cover Media Arts, Drama, Dance and Music, as well as Visual Arts. The focus here is to consider how Visual Arts can be taught across other curriculum areas as well as a standalone subject. Whether you are a classroom teacher or home educator, trying to fit in everything that is outlined, even prescribed, by local, national or international governing bodies can be daunting.

strategy to help make this simpler is to identify, within the curriculum for your jurisdiction, the main purpose for teaching visual arts and then the key features. Knowing your children or students will help determine what level to start at. From there, it can be a matter of determining what can be integrated naturally into other units of learning and which elements of the visual arts curriculum need to be taught separately and explicitly.

Here are some general ideas to help develop your own approach (while considering the expectations of your local authorities).

What is the purpose of a visual arts curriculum?

* To develop an understanding of the diverse nature of art, craft and design and how it is a part of our everyday lives
* To encourage an appreciation of the work of artists from many backgrounds, times and cultures
* To provide opportunities for art-making and visual expression
* To build skills in using a range of materials, tools and techniques
* To promote creativity, imagination and innovation
* To foster communication and connection through visual media

What are key features of a visual arts curriculum?

* materials and tools - two and three dimensional, traditional and digital…
(blog: Art Supplies on a shoestring - ideas for materials)
* visual conventions - design principles, composition and style...
* approaches and processes - describing, exploring, inquiring, imagining, creating, critiquing, modifying, presenting...

* evaluating and responding to own artwork and that of others
* considering own and others’ viewpoint on art in varied contexts

How do I know what level to start teaching art?

Naturally there is a progression in the conceptual, practical and perceptual development of children, which is reflected in the way a visual arts curriculum unfolds. A guide can be provided but a child’s development can be greatly affected by exposure, or lack of, to opportunities for advancements in representing and responding to art. Identifying prior knowledge and skills helps to determine what the next learning steps might be.

In Artventure there is a progression in difficulty levels as well as an indication of grade or year level at school. By starting with a few easier examples (no matter what age or grade) - perhaps a free choice - it is possible to gauge how well a child is able to draw basic things in their lives.

1. Early Stages

With younger children (junior primary or early elementary age groups), their focus is personal and their art-making tends to be a representation of the people, places and events they are familiar with. This is the exploratory stage where the senses are in overdrive! They experiment with textas (permanent markers), crayons, chalk, fingerpaint, sand, mud, playdough... Their observations are simple as they describe what they are creating. Imaginations are active and their representations can by a window into their perceptions and understandings. A delicate balance exists between fostering their creativity and structuring their development of skills in visual conventions.

In these younger years, just as we help children become literate and numerate, we also have a responsibility to help them to express themselves visually (blog: Start Art Young). Teaching them how to draw the things they are familiar with - people, animals, cars, houses, plants - provides them with a vehicle to share their stories and ideas before they can even form their letters. 

Across the curriculum for this age level, expectations relate to the development of knowledge and understandings connected to the familiar world of a child. Artventure lessons connect art to other curriculum areas.
For example:
* in History they consider their own past (drawing grandparents);
* in Geography they focus on important events and places in their lives (holidays with sandcastles, birthdays);
* Science offers new insights into the basic needs of living things (many lessons on drawing animals and plants);
* Mathematics helps develop a sense of shape, space and location (in the lesson videos, there are constant referrals to position, direction and shape during the drawing process);
English opens the door on fantasy, imagined creatures and fairylands (a vast array of lessons on creative characters).

It is especially important at this stage for children to be able to share their ideas and stories visually, as this helps them express themselves, when writing is not simple, or beyond them. For some children, art-making comes more easily than verbalising their experiences. Asking them questions about their creations may help them develop their personal narrative and also then help them to respond to others’ artwork. It is delightful to watch those initial images grow and evolve on the page!

2. Middle Primary

In Grades 3 and 4 children are learning more about community events and cultural celebrations, now and in the past, in places beyond their own personal world (History and Geography). These sorts of events are often rich in artworks: lanterns, emblems, posters, aboriginal artefacts, celebrations… These concepts are covered in Artventure - if you have ideas, contact Kirsty to see if it might be possible to include your suggestion.

Investigating how the world works, why we have night and day and the seasons, how heat affects things, comparisons between living and non-living things is exciting stuff! These experimentations and inquiries use a combination of skills across the curriculum particularly in Science and Mathematics as they work through processes and techniques. Being able to represent their observations and findings can require drawing, designing and crafting skills and so they demonstrate their understandings in these other subject areas while using their visual arts skills: diagrams, maps, symmetry, angles, patterns, symbols, shading... It is often expected that children will do graphic representations for these subjects but with no guidance in how to draw or visually present their work.

Explicit art lessons are sometimes needed to develop visual conventions with certain tools and materials. Such lessons in Artventure have a visual arts focus: shading, perspective, art in history… There are also TIPS for some specific techniques and processes like mixing colours and drawing individual facial features.

Teaching with an integrated approach can mean one lesson or unit of work can cover multiple curriculum areas. Each Artventure lesson has been allocated to one curriculum area BUT they are all able to be used across the curriculum. The subject focus is just a suggestion. 

3. Upper Primary

Children in Australia who are in the higher levels of primary education (10, 11, 12 year olds) focus on colonisation, migration and democracy; foundation and development of a nation; and the people and events involved in this, including aboriginal people, the traditional owners and custodians of this land. They consider people, places, societies, cultures in Asian, European and North American countries looking for similarities and differences from diverse viewpoints. History and Geography are grouped as a curriculum area under Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) with the human connections being paramount. As children’s learning progresses, and their horizons broaden, the understandings that are central to units of work have global significance while drawing on local relevance and allowing for personal interests. There are many opportunities for students to illustrate the results of their inquiries through things like artworks, poster and pamphlet designs, multimedia presentations and models incorporating an understanding of visual conventions.

With advances in technology, the world has become the classroom for students. Homeschoolers and classroom teachers can not only draw on local activities and community networks, but also make global connections. Technology has made communicating with people from similar or diverse backgrounds so much easier. Children educated at home, in cities, towns or rural communities need no longer feel so isolated. Access to learning through digital devices provides a wealth of opportunities for children to discover new things in new ways, to collaborate and create in ways not possible for past generations. Artventure is an example of a resource for teaching and learning used globally in over 100 countries.

Developing units of work at this level can be all-encompassing. For example, inquiries may focus on historical contexts in Europe looking at artworks of a particular period or comparisons of artworks by first peoples in America and in Australia. Or a focus in Mathematics on three dimensional shapes may then relate to a consideration of cubism in art.

Access to art galleries and museums beyond those in local communities is now possible online (Art Gallery of NSW Musse d’Orsay: Claude Monet). How amazing is that! Even just viewing the work of artists posting work online for sale provides children with opportunities to develop an appreciation and an ability to critique art (Art Lovers Australia). What do they like or not like and why? What materials, techniques and processes have been used? How is the artist communicating with the viewer and what might they have been thinking?

Responding to art is a much deeper element of the visual arts curriculum at this stage as children have developed a greater capacity to engage in metacognition: thinking about their thinking. Helping children to reflect on their own artwork and that of their peers was the first step but now, gradually they come to appreciate the work of local artists as well as those who are world-renowned.

Summary tips

  • Identifying the level of skill a child has in visual arts through spending time just drawing together, can help determine what explicit teaching may be useful.
  • Using an integrated approach to incorporating elements of the visual arts curriculum helps make art-making a part of their broader learning.
  • In the Australian Curriculum, this link to examples can be used to help ensure you are including a range of visual conventions and techniques.

Stages for teaching and learning in and with visual arts are flexible depending on the individual learner. Being able to differentiate the curriculum is vital to foster a love of art. If a child has a passion for visual representation, Artventure can provide them with diverse opportunities to create their artworks in their own time, at their own pace, anywhere they can access the Internet. If a child struggles with drawing, then Artventure provides simple directions for developing basic skills. If a teacher or parent feels uncomfortable trying to teach artistic conventions, Artventure offers a helping hand.

Teacher and Artventure Blogger