Create Art by "Playing" with Art

Early SMARTS provides early training in the arts for children ages 18 months - 5 years-old to develop critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills so that any child can choose to pursue an arts discipline in Kindergarten. Early SMARTS is an arts-integrated approach to teaching children the arts, literacy, and math skills they need in order to be ready to read (American Library Association), ready to learn math (Zero to Three), and ready to be an artist (SMARTS) by age 5. This learning happens through a creative process inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy, providing students an opportunity to create art by “playing” with art in an environment that invites collaboration. Early learning in the arts helps students develop the three Executive Function Skills set forth by the Harvard Center for Early Development by exhibiting self-control, activating sensory stimuli, and memorizing roles and patterns. Beyond age 5, research has shown that the pursuit of any arts discipline - visual art, music, dance, theater, or creative writing - will bolster students’ overall intelligence, sense of wellbeing, and empathy for others. The Early SMARTS curriculum prepares students to pursue an arts discipline by age 5 by developing the following 7 Early Arts Skills, developed by SMARTS: 1) Color Knowledge; 2) Fine Motor Practice; 3) Rhythm Sense; 4) Curiosity, Exploration, and Patience; 5) Courage and Confidence; 6) Creative Play; and 7) Arts Experiences.

Early SMARTS skills chart comparison (2)

7 Early Arts Skills

Developed by SMARTS, Students Motivated by the Arts


Color Knowledge

Like letters and numbers, children need to know the colors of the rainbow before entering Kindergarten. ROYGBIV is an acronym for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet that is typically used by art teachers in grade schools. However, for the PK audience who is still learning letters, purple, pink, and brown are more important to learn than indigo and violet. Black, gray, and white may be taught in terms of light and darkness.

Fine Motor Practice

In order to do most arts activities, especially painting, playing piano, telling stories with movement, and writing, children need practice developing the coordination of their bodies. Most importantly, opportunities in the arts will help students develop strength in their fingers, hands, and wrists and build balance and coordination in their feet and legs.

Rhythm Sense

Children must understand that speaking/reading, visual art, music, and dancing all possess patterns that repeat through sound, movement, or images. Speed, volume, and vibrancy affect rhythm. A steady beat (tempo), like a heartbeat or rhythm of walking feet, is a central defining rhythm that controls or drives other rhythms. Children must experience the opportunity to try creating or replicating rhythms in unison with groups in order to have a foundation for how visual, auditory, or kinesthetic patterns in the arts are created.

Curiosity, Exploration, and Patience

Children need the opportunity to try new things, experiment, and explore with their five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. It is important for children to have the freedom to make choices and witness the cause-and-effect nature of their choices. Children must experience the difference between control and lack of control, speed versus wait-time, and the effect those have on the art.

Courage and Confidence

Children need the freedom and safety to develop confidence with the arts by making mistakes, starting over, and working through obstacles. Practicing these skills builds confidence working through problems, which builds a foundation for resiliency. Sharing a creative work of art and receiving affirmation from adults and peers at a young age also helps build children’s self-esteem and sense of worth. This validates a child’s self-expression and encourages use of imagination.

Creative Play

Children need to experience playing with art in an unstructured environment without plans, time restraints, or expectations. When children are in charge of constructing their own experiences, they are given the opportunity to pursue something they enjoy. When playing creatively, children produce narratives, build representational structures/objects from blocks, innovate by finding new ways to play with common toys, and learn to cooperate with peers in conceptual scenarios. Playing is not only a way for children to process their experiences, but it also helps children heal and recover from challenges or conflicts in their day.

Arts Experiences

Children need exposure to all of the arts disciplines in order to have the opportunity to pursue a creative interest of their choice. Trips to museums, live music events, dance recitals, book readings, and live theater for younger audiences (interacting with characters in costume) helps children witness artists in careers at young ages and exposes them to the quality, variety, diversity, and culture of art. If these experiences are not accessible, videos from Internet sources, virtual events, libraries, after-school programs, and free public art venues/centers may be possible resources.

What does the research say?

The National Endwoment for the Arts found that early engagement with the arts benefits social emotional intelligence in preschool-age children.

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The arts can be use to build executive function skills in children. See suggestions by Edutopia.

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Example Early SMARTS Lessons

Visual Art

Early SMARTS Body Shape Painting

This class takes finger painting to a whole new level. Students learn to play with paint by using parts of their bodies to create class murals. Using large rolls of paper and canvas tarp, students will create paintings based on a story read in class. Students might stomp with paint on their feet or roll across the tarp to paint with their whole body. What shapes can you paint with your elbows and knees? This class will be messy and a truly creative hands-on approach to making art. Students should come to class in old clothes. Plastic coverings and a cleaning station will be provided for students.



Early SMARTS Merry Melody-Makers

Students create their own songs using handheld instruments, such as maracas, hand drums, and triangles, and learn to make their own music-makers out of common household items. Sing songs about going on adventures, waking up in the mornings, and playing with your friends. Students will work together to make their own song based on a story with their instruments and shake your sillies out in the process.



Early SMARTS Animal Dance

Students learn to dance by mimicking the movement of animals, reading stories about animals from around the world, and imagine the kind of music animals might like to dance to. The animals will help us learn our right from our left, how to count, and give us a tour of the science behind the natural world and animal life.



Early SMARTS Neighborhood Theater

Using a prop box with objects and costumes, students will role-play to learn about different types of people in their neighborhood and what their jobs are. Students will read a story each class to help them understand the problem that has occurred today in the town, and through creative play, students will interact with each other in character to solve the problem.


Creative Writing

Early SMARTS Artist 101: Out of the Box

Based on the book, “A Box Can Be Many Things,” students will explore all five SMARTS disciplines – visual art, music, dance, theater, and creative writing – using ONLY boxes. Discover all that a box can be, learn what it means to be an artist, what makes something art, and stretch your imagination to think outside the box.




Partner with SMARTS!

Contact SMARTS President Becky Keck, bkeck@SmartsArtSchool.org, to inquire about professional developments for teachers, Artists-in-Residence, or having a SMARTS teaching artist at your school all year with SMARTS programming.

About Us

SMARTS, Students Motivated by the Arts, is a community art school that provides classes in visual arts, music, dance, theater, and creative writing for our region's PK-12 youth with a focus on underserved populations.

Address: 25 East Boardman Street, First Floor, Youngstown, Ohio 44503

Phone: 330-574-2787

Email: info@SmartsArtSchool.org

Our Services

SMARTS hires and prepares community teaching artists with professional training and oversight so that they can provide quality arts-focused teaching and learning with lesson plans that follow state standards. Since 1997, SMARTS classes have been free and open to the public and all students are accepted through a simple application process.

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