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How Good is Your Childcare Program with Art? Virginia Quality Weighs In

Does your child’s piece of artwork look different from all the other kids? Or is it an adorable craft identical to all the other students, done with materials precut by the teacher?

The answer to this question can be a clue to the quality of your childcare’s art program.

Well meaning parents often value cute teacher-led crafts or “product art” over messier “process art,” says Smart Beginnings Virginia Quality mentor Shannon Bolick. “But in doing so, they miss some language development opportunities and the chance to have rich conversations with their kids about their art.”

According to Bolick, it’s better for children to describe why they created a particular piece rather than how they made it. Discussing why they chose particular colors or themes kickstarts higher level thinking skills.

“It’s much better to let children choose the tools they want to use and then plan on their own what they want to make,” says Bolick.

A childcare program with a great art center allows for mess and creativity, she says. “Exposure to different materials such as watercolors, oils, glitter or chalk is messy, but it allows children to realize each has a different use and encourages critical thinking skills such as cause and effect and trial and error. Eventually they learn to plan and use symbolic representation. This kind of art has far more meaning, and children take much more pride in their work.”

This doesn’t mean crafts should go away entirely. “Identical crafts are great for teaching other skills, such as following instructions and learning to clean up. But it should not replace free art.”

Art is just one of the areas Bolick assesses as a mentor for the state-funded Virginia Quality program, under the direction of Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area. Each of the 60-plus programs participating works on four nationally recognized standards with the help of a team of mentors. To check out the standards, a quality childcare checklist and the list of participating childcare programs, go to

Why is Art Important in Childcare Programs?
• Art develops fine motor skills and hand strength
• Art allows children to experiment with math and science concepts through exploration of shapes, lines and space.
• Art allows children to show how they see things.

How to Talk to Your Child About Art
• Tell me about your drawing.
• How did you make this color?
• What made you think of making this?
• What is your favorite part of this picture?
• Is there anything you would like to do differently with your picture?
• What would you like to do with your picture now?

How to Display Your Child’s Art
• The back of the bathroom door
• The back of furniture.
Ask your child to dictate to you a description of the art. Use an index card to attach the child’s description to the art rather than putting it directly on the picture.

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