Domain 5: Creative Arts

Domain 5 of the Head Start Child Outcomes Framework identifies four elements: art, music, movement, and dramatic play. Teaching teams learn about effective classroom strategies that stimulate active involvement in the creative arts and promote learning and brain development in young children. The domain elements and indicators support children’s imaginative thinking and self-expression, and enhance their progress in other domains.

The following is an excerpt from the Head Start Leaders Guide to Positive Child Outcomes.

A boy paints with many colors. Introduction to Creative Arts
Domain Element: Music
Domain Element: Art
Domain Element: Movement
Domain Element: Dramatic Play

Introduction to Creative Arts

The creative arts Domain includes four elements: music, art, movement, and dramatic play. Each of these Domain Elements supports children's imaginative thinking and self-expression and enhances their progress in other Domains. For example, children may count musical beats, experiment with mixing colors to make a new one, create dialogue for a story drama, or move like the animal characters in a story. In such activities, they are learning in several Domains and using a variety of social, cognitive, and creative processes.

The creative arts engage children's minds and senses. They invite children to listen, observe, move, solve problems, and imagine, using multiple modes of thought and self-expression. Active involvement in the creative arts stimulates brain connections that support children's learning. A growing body of research on the effects of early arts experiences shows their positive relationship to improved, overall academic performance. Research in the arts also demonstrates that when creativity is developed at an early age, its benefits are continual and are transferred to many intellectual tasks (Arts Education Partnership 2000). All areas of creative arts can incorporate the diversity of children in the program. Dance, art, pantomime, and creative expression are areas where English language learners can be included without needing to rely on language skills in English. Music can be particularly effective since it can be fun for children to learn a song in either English or another language.

Music experiences for young children involve listening to, learning about, and making music. Children can listen and respond to different kinds of music by moving, dancing, painting, or talking about how it makes them feel, what instruments they hear, how it compares to other pieces they have heard, or what they do or do not like about it. They may use simple rhythm instruments to create music or to accompany live or recorded music. Children also enjoy singing favorite songs, learning new ones, and making up their own.

Art experiences allow children to convey their ideas, feelings, and knowledge in visual forms. Individually and in groups, children use materials such as crayons, paint, playdough, clay, found objects, glue, tape, and paper, along with tools such as scissors, brushes, rolling pins, cookie cutters, and more. They explore the processes of art using materials, tools, and techniques and create products such as drawings, paintings, sculptures, mobiles, and collages. Developing an appreciation for and aesthetic awareness of art is also a part of this Domain element.

Movement includes dancing to music and moving in various ways to learn what the body can do or to express an idea or feeling. Children might imagine how an animal moves, then try to imitate it. They could focus on a specific feeling, such as joy or fear, and create movements to express the feeling. Movement facilitates spatial awareness and sensory integration, contributes to overall health and fitness, and promotes development of physical skills.

Dramatic play and drama involve make-believe. Children take on roles such as mother, waiter, mail carrier, or doctor. They put objects to imaginative uses—for example, transforming a large box into a spaceship or cave. Dramatic play also offers a wide range of opportunities for children to use and expand their cognitive, language, literacy, and social skills (as described in other Domain sections).

To support children's involvement in the creative arts, Head Start teachers need to focus on what it means to be creative. Individuals are creative when they take existing objects or ideas and combine them in different ways for new purposes. They use their ever-growing body of knowledge to generate new and useful solutions to everyday challenges. Early childhood teachers are creative when they invent new ways to individualize the environment, curriculum, and interactions with young learners.

In addition to understanding and recognizing the creative process—in themselves and in children—Head Start teachers can encourage learning through the creative arts by introducing children to excellent and varied examples of art forms. They can involve children in noticing, thinking about, and discussing artistic productions. Using open-ended questions, teachers invite children to examine, critique, evaluate, and develop their own aesthetic preferences. Teachers also provide raw materials, props, tools, and appropriate spaces so that children can create in their own ways. They observe and respond to children in ways that communicate acceptance for creative expression. They can plan and offer integrated experiences to take advantage of the many ways creative arts support learning in other Domains.

Strategies for Creative Arts

To support children's development in the creative arts

  • Maintain a supportive atmosphere in which all forms of creative expression are encouraged, accepted and valued. Participation in any art activity should always be a choice. There is no wrong answer.
  • Plan a flexible environment that offers a sufficient range of materials, props, tools, and equipment for creative expression.
  • Plan a variety of open-ended creative arts activities that foster children's imaginative thinking, problem solving, and self-expression.
  • Adapt materials and experiences so children with disabilities can fully engage in the creative arts.
  • Model their own creative thinking and expression by making up voices and sound effects and using gestures when reading or telling stories, by using recycled items for new purposes, and by thinking out loud when solving a problem.
  • Encourage children by making positive, specific comments ("I see you've made a pattern—green, yellow, green, yellow"), rather than offering broad general praise, such as "Good job."
  • Introduce a new character, prop, or problem into children's play to broaden their awareness and encourage creative thinking.
  • Lead children through the thinking and problem-solving process by asking open-ended questions such as, "What will you need?," "How might you …?,"and "What could you do first?"
  • Involve families served by inviting them to share something from their own culture in the creative arts.

Domain Element: Music

Children's experiences and associations with music begin in infancy. Some babies are comforted by the slow rhythms of lullabies, and others are excited by music with a lively beat. By the time they reach the toddler years, many children have favorite songs and musical pieces. They listen attentively, sing along with a familiar chorus, and begin making their own music by shaking a tambourine or banging on a drum. As language skills grow, toddlers begin making up their own songs. If they have had many opportunities to listen to and talk about music, they can identify the sounds made by specific instruments—trumpet, drum, or violin, for example.

Young preschoolers can recall enough of the words and tune of a simple song to sing along quite well. They learn to listen and play along with music using rhythm instruments such as sand blocks. Older preschoolers can learn about basic musical concepts such as pitch, duration, tempo, and loudness, and they can understand and use musical vocabulary. Their singing skills continue to grow, along with their ability to play rhythm instruments. An increased attention span allows preschoolers to listen to recorded music and talk about what they hear. When young children take part in developmentally appropriate music experiences as part of their daily routines and activities, they can (Isenberg & Jalongo 1997)—

  • listen, identifying the sounds made by different instruments;
  • respond by clapping to the beat or marching around the room quickly or slowly in response to different kinds of music;
  • create (explore the sounds made by different keys on a thumb piano and make up a tune);
  • understand (determine whether a piece of music has a slow or fast beat);
  • make up (create a new song or a verse for a familiar song); and
  • play (shake maracas to accompany a song).

Music Indicators

Domain Element
Creative Arts Music
  • Participates with increasing interest and enjoyment in a variety of music activities, including listening, singing, finger plays, games, and performances.
  • Experiments with a variety of musical instruments.

Music Strategies

To encourage musical expression and appreciation

  • Incorporate the music of children's cultures and home languages in the curriculum. Sing songs suggested by children's families. Sing along with a recorded version of a song until everyone learns the words. Introduce real or homemade versions of instruments that are typical of children's cultures.
  • Share and discuss a variety of musical forms and styles. Sing traditional and contemporary children's songs and folk songs from the United States and other countries. Introduce different kinds of classical music—piano sonatas, lullabies, ballets, and operas. Listen and move to jazz, reggae, and marches. Encourage children to share and compare their responses to different kinds of music—how it makes them feel, what they do or do not like about it, how it is similar to and different from other music they have heard, what instruments they hear in different pieces of music.
  • Enjoy making and listening to music. Most songs for preschoolers have a range of about five notes, so they are simple to sing. Learn new ones by listening to and singing along with recordings. Share favorite kinds of music with children—let them catch the enthusiasm.
  • Provide an environment that supports making music and listening to music. Include rhythm instruments, xylophones, bells, and materials for making instruments. Provide a child-friendly tape player with a variety of music tapes and headphones.
  • Use music to enhance routines and activities. For example, play the same piece of music to signal it is time to clean up and go outdoors. Play music in the art area and encourage children to listen and paint according to the way the music makes them feel.
  • Share a book version of a song, such as Pete Seeger's Abiyoyo or Simms Taback's There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Make a tune to go with a book that has a rhythmic, repetitive text such as Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault or Uno, Dos, Tres: One, Two, Three by Pat Mora.

Domain Element: Art

Children pass through several stages as they progress in drawing and painting. These stages are related to early writing skills. They begin with scribbles, random marks that go in many directions. As their fine motor skills improve, they learn to control the tools of art—crayons, markers, paintbrushes—and make circles, lines, and zigzags, sometimes covering the whole paper. Next come basic shapes such as crosses, squares, and rectangles. A child at this stage might repeat the same shapes over and over. Children then combine shapes, placing crosses inside circles or rectangles and making sun-like objects using circles and lines. Soon children use shapes and lines to make figures that represent humans, animals, and trees. As skills continue to grow, children's artwork becomes more and more representational. They can discuss both the process used to create their artwork and what it represents. And, increasingly, they are able to plan what to create and determine what materials, tools, and techniques they need to carry out their plans.

Artistic skills are closely related to physical development. Art experiences such as fingerpainting, sculpting with soft wire, or using clay allow children to use their senses to explore the properties of the materials, build fine motor skills, and practice eye-hand coordination. Painting and drawing invite children to explore concepts—color, shape, size, cause and effect, and same and different. They can make sense of experiences by creating physical representations of events, people, and objects. By exploring a single idea in various media, such as drawing, painting, and sculpting an autumn tree, children develop focus and deepen their level of understanding. Art can help children build a sense of competence because there are no right or wrong ways to use materials, and all products are valued.

Another important part of this Domain Element is art appreciation. Preschoolers can observe, compare, and respond to the properties of artistic works. With a teacher's guidance they can discuss the artist's use of color, shapes, texture, and more. In addition, they can learn to notice and appreciate the elements of art—color, line, shape, or pattern —in everyday items, such as the colors of fall leaves, the brickwork of a nearby building, or a spider's web.

Art Indicators

Domain Element
Creative Arts Art
  • Gains ability in using different art media and materials in a variety of ways for creative expression and representation.
  • Progresses in abilities to create drawings, paintings, models, and other art creations that are more detailed, creative, or realistic.
  • Develops growing abilities to plan, work independently, and demonstrate care and persistence in a variety of art projects.
  • Begins to understand and share opinions about artistic products and experiences.

Art Strategies

To encourage children's development in art

  • Provide a wide variety of open-ended materials and tools children can explore and use to create art.
  • Include periods of time in the daily schedule when children can choose what they want to do and what materials to use.
  • Offer sufficient space for creating and storing completed work and work-in-progress.
  • Designate an area where children can be messy; provide clean-up items and help children to use them.
  • Display children's work, with their permission, at eye-level, in a variety of places throughout the classroom.
  • Encourage children to take art home to share with families.
  • Encourage children to talk about their art by commenting on colors, textures, techniques, and patterns and saying, "Tell me about your…." Ask questions about the process, "How did you make these shapes?"
  • Introduce new materials and techniques that children can use in their art, such as how to work with real potter’s clay.
  • Include various art forms, materials, and techniques representing children's cultures.
  • Invite local artists to share and discuss with the children a work-in-progress or to display their work in your program.

Domain Element: Movement

Some children are kinesthetic learners—they learn best by moving their bodies. All children, however, can benefit from movement experiences because exploring and repeating movements support brain development and learning. Creative movement is linked to developing and refining fundamental motor skills. This is described more fully under Domain 8, Physical Health and Development. These include locomotor movements (running, jumping), gross motor manipulative movements (throwing, kicking), fine motor manipulative movements (cutting with scissors, using a crayon), stability movements (balancing, stopping) and sensory integration (sensitivity to and awareness of space and surrounding movement).

As children explore movement, cognitive, social, and emotional development is also going on, particularly when movement experiences involve children in creating, representing, and expressing their interpretations of events, ideas, and feelings. For example, children's thinking skills are activated when teachers ask, "How can you jump and land quietly?" or "How might a family of ducks get across the street?" Both questions require children to use what they already know to come up with several possible solutions. Movement activities can foster cooperation and consideration of other people’s ideas. Think of two children standing inside a single hula hoop who must work together to get to the other side of the playground. Creative movement can help children feel more competent and capable when their ideas are accepted and valued and when experiences help them build physical skills used in other activities.

Movement experiences prompt vocabulary, language, and conceptual development. Their vocabulary expands as they learn to "turn around," "twirl," or "rotate." Their understanding of concepts deepens as they learn to jump "high," "higher," and "highest"; to grow from "teeny," "itsy bitsy," or "small," to "big," "large," "enormous," "gigantic," "tremendous," or "humongous"; to express their interpretations of "sad," "melancholy," "disappointed," "scared," "frightened," "petrified," "happy," "delighted," "excited," or "ecstatic."

Movement Indicators

Domain Element
Creative Arts Movement
  • Expresses through movement and dancing what is felt and heard in various musical tempos and styles.
  • Shows growth in moving in time to different patterns of beat and rhythm in music.

Movement Strategies

To encourage creative movement

  • Incorporate dances from children's cultures in the curriculum. Ask families to share traditional music and dances from their cultures. Some family members might be willing to teach you and the children the dance. Once children know the basic steps, encourage variations so they can use their creativity.
  • Provide an environment that supports movement. Offer open-ended props such as scarves, wrist bells, and foam balls that children can use on their own. Provide an open area where children can move to music or just explore different ways to move their bodies. When leading a small group activity, be sure to have enough materials for each child so nobody has to watch and wait.
  • Use movement to enhance other routines and activities (Pica 1997) and vocabulary. For example—
  • Walk like a… "Pretend you are walking across hot sand, or through the jungle, or up some stairs." Or ask children to walk as if they were brave, tired, excited, or proud. This encourages them to use divergent thinking and to recognize and express their feelings.
  • What's the opposite of …? Gather a small group of children in a space that provides plenty of room such as a grassy area outdoors, the gym, or the group meeting area of the classroom. Ask them to make their bodies as small as they can, then as large as they can. Have them reach for the sky, then touch the ground. They can balance on one foot, then on all fours (hands and feet). Invite the children to suggest some of their own opposites and to demonstrate them.
  • Use what you know about… Ask the children to think about a specific animal—one they have studied. Perhaps they read some books about it or saw it on a trip to the zoo or a farm. Have them recall whatever they know about the animal, what it looks like, where it lives, what it eats, and so on. Then, ask the children to imagine how it moves and to move that way themselves.

Domain Element: Dramatic Play

Pretend play begins to emerge even before children are two years old. But while a toddler might pick up an empty plastic cup, lift it to her mouth, and pretend to drink from it, an older child is able to use a can or block to symbolize the cup. A preschooler's ability to create mental images—of objects, people, actions, clothing, conversation, and more— leads to rich dramatic play. Children who are skilled in dramatic play use both their imagination and their knowledge of the world to recreate familiar experiences and create new ones. They use social and cognitive skills such as negotiating and problem solving to plan and carry out complex scenarios. Indeed, dramatic play and teacher-guided drama are attuned to the way in which young children learn. Cognition evolves from the physical exploration and understanding of a concept to its mental representation and, finally, to its verbal expression.

Dramatic play and teacher-guided drama support development across Domains. The links with language are evident. Children learn language, in part, by practicing, and drama and dramatic play provide for the use of and practice of language in a natural and spontaneous environment. Acting out a variety of roles gives young children the opportunity to experiment with various kinds and uses of language. Children must listen and talk to each other in planning their play and carrying out their roles. A drama session can be structured by a teacher to promote the specific language skills needed (Brown & Plydell 1999). As children make signs for a store, read to dolls, or write a shopping list, they step into the world of literacy. And many of their scenarios, whether child-initiated or teacher-directed, are retellings of familiar stories and recreations of known characters from literature. When counting out change or measuring the width of an imaginary river, children also see mathematics in action. In dramatic play, they have many reasons to use language, literacy, and mathematics – reasons that matter to them.

Dramatic play and teacher-guided drama promote all elements of the social and emotional Domain and help children gain greater understanding of themselves, their peers, and their families. In the symbolic world of make-believe, children often express thoughts and concerns that might otherwise go undiscovered or remain repressed. Within the world of play that they themselves control, children are able to cope with fears and matters that trouble them. Positive approaches to learning also develop as children engage in dramatic play and drama. These experiences can stir a child’s curiosity, provoke questions, and develop initiative, persistence, reasoning and problem solving (outcomes in Domain 7).

Research suggests that dramatic play is good for children in all these ways, but it also tells us that many children have very limited dramatic play skills (Smilanksy & Sheftaya 1990). They have had few experiences with make-believe and lack the skills to build a play episode and keep it going. English language learners may not want to participate in dramatic play until they are more comfortable with the dominant language. To help these children become capable players and gain the many benefits of dramatic play, at times adults will need to join them in their play to model behaviors just beyond their present level.

Dramatic Play Indicators

Domain Element
Creative Arts Dramatic Play
  • Participates in a variety of dramatic play activities that become more extended and complex.
  • Shows growing creativity and imagination in using materials and in assuming different roles in dramatic play situations.

Dramatic Play Strategies

To promote dramatic play

  • Dramatize stories from children's cultures. Ask families to share traditional stories from their cultures.
  • Create a flexible environment that stimulates children's imaginations with appropriate and varied props, furniture, and materials and enough space and time for children to get fully involved.
  • Provide props of varying realism to meet the needs of both inexperienced and capable players, including realistic props (cash register, stethoscopes, dolls, coins, and a variety of dress-up clothes) and open-ended objects (cardboard tubes, unit blocks, or pieces of cloth).
  • Observe children's play to learn what they might need to enhance their play—additional props, a suggested action for one of the players, or a subtle comment to take the play to the next level.
  • Observe children to determine what they might need to join in the play.
  • Help children identify emotions or problems that are surfacing in their dramatic play or drama work.
  • Encourage recall and sequencing skills by asking them to tell you what happened in their drama: "How did the story start?" "What happened next?"
  • In teacher-guided drama, ask questions that encourage problem solving such as, “How can we get past the cave without waking up the bear?”
  • Use scaffolding to provide just the right amount of support. For example, teachers can (Davidson 1996):
    • model how to pretend or act out a part through words and actions;
    • model how to use a prop;
    • model the type of conversation that takes place in the setting ("Dr., I have a sore arm. Can you x-ray it for me?");
    • make comments that help children notice what each other is doing;
    • assume a role and join in to show children that pretend play is important and to introduce new ideas they might want to use in their play; and
    • intervene in disagreements when necessary to prevent physical harm.
  • Create prop boxes focused on a specific theme such as post office, firehouse, health clinic, or pet store.
  • Structure the activities to accommodate young children's involvement and encourage creativity when leading a story dramatization. For example,
    • allow for the story plot to change as you encourage and include the children's ideas;
    • break the story plot into a series of short scenes or experiences to keep the children focused and involved.
  • Engage each child by having all of them play the same role. In Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, all children can pretend to be Max, making mischief, transforming his room, and sailing on an imaginary boat. When they arrive at the place where the wild things are, they all can switch roles and become "Wild Things" making a wild rumpus.
  • Allow children to create their own ending for a story; "How do you think the cap seller got those monkeys to give him back his cap? Show me!" This encourages creativity.
  • Consider having the children act out a story before you read the book to them.
  • Compare the children's dramatization of a story with the illustrated book (Brown & Pleydell 1999). Discuss how they were the same and different.

Many adults wish their teachers had provided more opportunities for self-expression through music, art, movement, drama, and dramatic play. These experiences are fun and engaging ways for children to build language, numeracy, and literacy skills; to learn about their own and other cultures; and to develop social skills. They also set the stage for using the creative arts to solve problems, express ideas, and gain self-knowledge in the school years and beyond.

"Domain 5: Creative Arts." The Head Start Leaders Guide to Positive Child Outcomes. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2003. English.

Last Reviewed: February 2010

Last Updated: September 5, 2014