Early SMARTS classes are an introduction to the arts for children ages 18 months - 5 years old. Through creative play and exploration, our goal is to help our little creatives develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and a strong sense of imagination. Learning is accomplished by experiencing. Children have unlimited ways to express themselves and are learning constantly. We simply want to teach students to use painting, sculpting, dancing, and acting as other tools, thus we utilize Reggio Emilia’s Philosophies. We believe the physical environment, other students, and self-exploration are also teachers.

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 pursuing any arts discipline - visual art, music, dance, theater, or creative writing - will bolster students’ overall intelligence, sense of well-being, and empathy for others. 

SMARTS use arts-integrated approaches to reinforce and teach literacy and math skills. Additionally, SMARTS classes cover multiple Ohio Early Learning Development Standards (Approaches to Learning, Cognitive Development, Creative Development, Language and Literacy, Mathematics, Physical Development and Wellness, Science, Social and Emotional Development, and Social Studies).  We “teach the whole child” and nurture the creative voice inside all children. 

Early SMARTS is one of SMARTS Premier Programs and classes occur both in the community and at SMARTS in the Ohio One Building. 

Teaparty Theater

Early SMARTS classes are created to deepen or develop the 7 following skills: 

#1: Color Recognition

Like letters and numbers, children need to know the colors of the rainbow before entering Kindergarten. SMARTS classes reinforce color recognition by using colors to help us represent sounds, dance moves, or emotions. We accomplish these goals while simultaneously teaching skills like color mixing or creating a dance.

#2: Fine Motor Skills

To do most arts activities, especially painting, playing piano, telling stories with movement, and writing, children need to practice developing the coordination of their hands. In SMARTS classes students may have to build a robot using different-sized cardboard boxes or use watercolors to paint a mural. Students will practice the skill of manipulating their bodies while simultaneously learning to work as a group and to see ordinary objects as arms, legs, and antennae. 

#3: Steady Beat/Rhythm

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. SMARTS’ classes reach this goal by allowing students the opportunity to create rhythms with their feet and hands, by clapping along in unison with a song or creating a dance. Additionally, they are creating live art in the form of a dance or a song.

#4: Curiosity and Exploration

Children need the opportunity to try new things, experiment, and explore with their five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Children need to have the freedom to make choices and witness the cause-and-effect nature of their choices. SMARTS reinforces this skill, by offering a variety of class options in which students try; different instruments, create art with a range of mediums, and build a classroom structure where experimentation is the norm.

#5: Patience, Courage, and Confidence

Children need the freedom and safety to develop confidence in the arts by making mistakes, starting over, and working through obstacles. Practicing these skills builds confidence in 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 the use of imagination. 

#6: Community

Children need to have an opportunity to interact with other students. They need to develop emotional management skills and empathy. Interaction teaches children about their own needs and helps them anticipate the needs of others. Children share customs, culture, and family norms. Children learn what excites, scares, or makes others feel uncomfortable. SMARTS reinforces this goal by providing a safe, fun, interactive environment.

#7: 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 allowed 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.

What does Early SMARTS look like?

What to Expect for Public Early SMARTS classes that occur @ SMARTS in the Ohio One Building

The Early SMARTS teacher will provide rules and expectations for safety and behavior, but it is understood that students may engage with the activities in various ways depending on their ability level. The Parent/Guardian role is to help support their child by encouraging them to make their own creative choices. We encourage Parents/Guardians to take the class time as an opportunity to learn best practices for early arts learning and to play along with their child so as the teacher, you are teaching the adult and the student. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, or model creativity for your student/s by doing something unexpected. Our goal includes “Green Skies, Blue Trees” Creativity and coloring out of the lines is expected and encouraged, along with the Reggio Emilia approach in which children are active protagonists in their growing processes.

What to Expect for Community Early SMARTS classes at our partner locations

The Early SMARTS teacher will follow the rules and standards set forth by the partner school district and all classroom rules will fall under the district code of conduct. Early SMARTS teachers can expect classroom teachers and/or aides to stay with students. Teachers are encouraged to engage the teachers and aides, in addition to the students, as key players in the instruction and arts exploration. We encourage all adults present in the classroom to support and encourage students to make their own creative choices and use class time as an opportunity to learn best practices for early arts learning. Our goal includes “Green Skies, Blue Trees” Creativity and coloring out of the lines is expected and encouraged, along with the Reggio Emilia approach in which children are active protagonists in their growing processes.

Early SMARTS skills chart comparison (2)

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.

Read more

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

Read more

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 Pots and Pans

Cook up a musical masterpiece and experiment with our brand-new steelpans. We will cook up silly songs, creative beats, and random rhymes. Wooden spoons, drum mallets, and chopsticks are welcome here. Come join the neighborhood band!



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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