Third in a series of columns that will appear on Thurday’s Education pages.

Children are naturally creative. Parents can tap into young children’s artistic explorations of their world by providing a home environment that encourages movement, music, visual art and dramatic activities. These forms of creative expression are the foundation for literacy development.

Not sure how to go about creating an artistic home environment? Here are a few ways:

Art

Encourage artistic responses to favorite stories and songs. This fosters children’s ability to demonstrate their comprehension. You can nurture their creative expression by providing space for art supplies in a kitchen drawer: scrap paper, crayons, stickers, paints, glue and recycled cereal boxes are all excellent materials.

Collages: Print family photos and engage your child in talking about them. Have your child arrange and glue the photos on a piece of paper. Ask them to add their own colorful drawings to the composition. Finally, with your child’s help, label each photo by describing it and then printing each word as you say it aloud. This will enrich your child’s print awareness by reading the words aloud together.

Daily weather pictures: As you prepare breakfast, have your child look outside and describe the day’s weather. Doing so will promote talking about their world and will build their vocabulary. Have your child draw a picture of the weather as seen out the window. Encourage your preschooler to label their picture by writing the sounds they hear in each word. Display their pictures in sequential order so that you will have a visual record of the weather. Ask questions, such as: “How many rainy days did we have?” “Why do you think the trees were wavy in that picture?”

Music

Music is an essential part of young children’s lives. They respond to rhythmic patterns of nature and language. Songs provide them with a framework for remembering the sequence of events, lists of objects, or characters from a book. These activities will take music from background noise of daily life and place it in the forefront of your child’s language experiences.

Move to the beat: Play music at home and dance with your children. Teach them some fun steps to mimic. Clap out a repeated pattern, such as: clap hands twice, tap knees twice, and stomp feet twice. Patterns are everywhere and by integrating them into daily creative activities, you will not only develop their understanding of word patterns, but also foster mathematical thinking.

Rhythm instruments: Use household objects to make quick instruments: old wooden spoons, paper cups filled with beans and covered with construction paper taped over the top. Have them use their instruments as they listen to children’s music. Try artists such as Raffi, Jim Gill, or Ella Jenkins. Find these and others at your library! When children sing along to favorite songs, they develop a love of rhythm and play with language.

Drama

Dramatic play helps children develop comprehension of plots, develop characters and draw conclusions. These higher-level literacy processes are integral to young children’s cognitive development.

Play equipment: kitchen sets, tools, mailboxes, envelopes, take-out menus, and many more objects can be props for your child’s pretend play. Old mailboxes, envelopes, and stamps become props for playing post office; menus and plastic plates are useful for playing restaurant, etc.

Papers and crayons: keep these tools nearby so that your child can use the paper to take your order (restaurant), take a message (office worker), write a letter (post office), draw up plans (construction site), etc. In doing so, you allow your child to connect play with written discourse.

Jacqueline Witter-Easley is dean of the division of professional studies and an associate professor of education at Carthage College.

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