Developing visual literacy programming for very young children

Irene Lopatovska, Pratt Institute, USA, Anthony Volpe, Pratt Institute, USA

A growing number of museum educational programs focus on developing visual literacy (VL) skills in children. Currently available programs range from the guided tours and art-making workshops to games and formal lessons. They vary according to delivery methods (on site v virtual) and intended audience (babies, K-12 children, adults). However, very few of the existing programs target pre-school children.
We will report on a study that examined strategies for engaging young children (ages 3 to 5) in visual literacy instruction. The study focused on developing and testing a VL program for 3-5 year olds. The experimental program included four workshops, each covering one of the basic VL elements: color, line, shape and texture. Each workshop included the following components: 1) assessment of background knowledge; 2) instruction on basic visual element using paintings, photographs, and children’s book illustrations; 3) assessment of newly acquired knowledge; 4) encouragement of critical and creative thinking; and 5) hands-on activities that resulted in projects that children could take home and continued VL discussion with their caregivers. Each 40-minute workshop was conducted with a group of 8-12 children recruited from the Brooklyn Public Library. The post-work assessment indicated significant improvement of children’s knowledge of basic VL elements and their derivatives. After the workshops, children’s abilities to describe and discuss visual artwork had improved. The workshops stimulated interest among librarians and educators who plan to continue using the workshop methods for systematic VL programming. By presenting our findings to the museum community, we hope to facilitate the discussion on the future of VL education and the ways in which to engage young children with artwork.

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