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Sensory Experiences And Emotional Expression

Why is it that most children absolutely love to paint?  Brightly colored paint, wide paintbrushes, and large sheets of white paper are strong and undeniable magnets for young children - pulling them into the wonderful world of swishing, swirling, and moving the paint across the paper. Perhaps it’s the multisensory experiences that paint offers young children. They can feel the texture of the paint, see the vibrant colors, and observe how the paint spreads and changes on the canvas or paper. These sensory experiences can be intriguing and pleasurable for children as they enjoy engaging their senses on many levels. The magnetism of painting might be the pure freedom of standing at the easel with (hopefully) no adult telling them what color to use, how to hold the paintbrush, or where to put the paint on the paper. Through painting, children can visually represent their imaginations, experiences, and inner world, which gives them a sense of agency and empowerment. Another possibility of why children enjoy painting so much is because it is an emotional outlet. It allows them to freely express and process their feelings, whether it's joy, sadness, excitement, or frustration. Painting can provide a safe space for children to explore and navigate their emotions, which contributes to their overall emotional well-being. 

Attention Restoration Theory: Painting As A Chaotic-Relief Strategy

Young children may flock to painting easels because they enjoy experimenting. Painting offers children the opportunity to explore and experiment with various materials, colors, and techniques. They can mix colors, create different textures, and observe cause-and-effect relationships. This sense of discovery and experimentation can be highly captivating for children and fosters their sense of wonder and curiosity. They feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they complete a painting because they can see the tangible result of their efforts, which undoubtedly boosts their self-confidence and self-esteem. Although all these reasons why young children adore painting may be true and right, there could be a completely different motive why some children naturally gravitate towards the painting easel. It’s called RELIEF.   

Times Square Classrooms. Have you ever been to Times Square?  It’s a busy, noisy, and chaotic environment. Lights are blinking, horns are honking, people are rushing, sidewalks are bustling, and smells are interesting. Life in early childhood classrooms is much the same: crowded, busy, loud, and sometimes overwhelming for young children. It’s no wonder that children intuitively look for RELIEF from the physical classroom environment and escaping to the easel is just the perfect place. Since painting demands focused attention, children direct their entire attention to the immediate tasks at hand such as selecting colors, applying brushstrokes, and creating their artwork. This focused attention can help restore their cognitive resources, allowing them to recover from mental fatigue and improve their ability to concentrate. Also, painting calms children because when they engage in artmaking, it helps the nervous system relax. Providing continuous opportunities for artmaking in chaotic-reduced environments, therefore, is an important responsibility of early childhood teachers.  

Chaotic-reduced Environments. One strategy for helping children get RELIEF from chaotic environments is to understand the Attention Restorative Theory (A.R.T.) founded by psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. This theory is grounded in the concept of directed attention and the role of attentional fatigue. Directed attention refers to the conscious effort and focus needed to attend to specific tasks or stimuli, while attentional fatigue occurs when this directed attention becomes depleted over time. In adults and older children, attentional fatigue can lead to reduced cognitive performance, increased negative behaviors, and decreased well-being. Young children who are developing executive function skills—are especially impacted by mental and physical or visual fatigue. Their bodies and young minds are not capable of filtering out heavily ladened classroom walls and floors, cluttered shelves, or dealing with physically confining spaces. This chaos can lead to emotionally-bankrupt as well as physically-spent children. To reduce these possibilities, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s Attention Restorative Theory suggests that exposure to nature and natural environments can have a restorative effect on attention. Consequently, incorporating nature-based experiences into children's routines, such as spending time in green spaces, engaging in outdoor play, or participating in nature-based activities, may contribute to their emotional development and well-being. But, how does painting at the classroom easel, nature-based experiences, and restoring children’s attention link together . . . and what can you do to help strengthen this link?  

Linking Art and A.R.T. Overall, painting offers children a creative outlet that engages their attention, promotes relaxation, and provides opportunities for self-expression. By immersing themselves in the painting process and engaging with aesthetically pleasing and nature-based stimuli, children can experience the benefits of attention restoration, leading to increased engagement, focus, cognitive functioning, and overall well-being.  

Painting at the easel, particularly in a natural or peaceful setting, can serve as a restorative activity for young children. Engaging in painting allows children to focus their attention on the creative process, promoting a state of flow where they become fully absorbed in the task at hand.  

The importance of children painting lies in its potential to serve as a restorative and enriching activity. It can help children replenish their attention and cognitive resources, enhance fine motor skills and cognitive abilities, promote emotional well-being, and foster social interaction and communication skills. By encouraging children to engage in painting, we can support their holistic development and provide them with a creative outlet for self-expression and growth. 

Linking Paintbrushes & Attention Restorative Theory 

Parenta - Painting – Discover The Surprising Reason Why Children Love It Image
Parenta - Sandra Duncan industry expert and guest author

About the author:

Sandra works to assure the miracle and magic of childhood through indoor and outdoor play space environments that are intentionally designed to connect young children to their early learning environments, communities, and neighbourhoods. Dr. Duncan is an international consultant, author of seven books focused on the environmental design of early childhood places, designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and Sense of Place for Wee Ones, and Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University.

Parenta - Sandra Duncan industry expert and guest author

About the author:

Sandra works to assure the miracle and magic of childhood through indoor and outdoor play space environments that are intentionally designed to connect young children to their early learning environments, communities, and neighbourhoods. Dr. Duncan is an international consultant, author of seven books focused on the environmental design of early childhood places, designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and Sense of Place for Wee Ones, and Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University.

Parenta - Sandra Duncan industry expert and guest author

About the author:

Sandra works to assure the miracle and magic of childhood through indoor and outdoor play space environments that are intentionally designed to connect young children to their early learning environments, communities, and neighbourhoods. Dr. Duncan is an international consultant, author of seven books focused on the environmental design of early childhood places, designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and Sense of Place for Wee Ones, and Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University.

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