Art & Wonder

Connecting young children with contemporary art

Early childhood education experts believe arts-rich early learning programs have substantial benefits for children’s development, journalist Emily Campbell writes.

New research seeks to explore how infants and young children connect with modern art installations and how they interpret complex social cues in a gallery context.

A new book shares the findings from the pilot phase of the Art & Wonder: Young Children and Contemporary Art longitudinal study, which repositions preschool children as ‘savvy cultural citizens’ who are capable of experiencing art with sensitivity, curiosity and joy.

The Art & Wonder project is an ongoing collaboration between researchers from Macquarie University’s School of Education and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), who are researching how children under five engage with contemporary art and how the knowledge can be used to enrich and maximise their creative early learning experiences.

The research team, led by Dr Clare Britt from Macquarie’s School of Education and MCA Early Learning Coordinator Amanda Palmer, is focusing on young children’s engagement, learning and responses to regular encounters with contemporary art in the museum context, to better understand how young children bring meaning to and make meaning from contemporary art.

In the pilot phase, groups of young children from early childhood education centres based in Sydney attended a series of regular workshops at the MCA, which also involved the children’s families and early childhood teachers.

The book captures some of the highlights researchers observed and documented during these excursions, with photographs demonstrating the meaningful engagement children experienced attending the exhibitions and engaging with artists.

The key questions the research team investigated during the pilot phase include:

What potential might there be for creative reciprocity between artists and young children?

Can we create space for intellectually rich, thoughtful, deep and complex early childhood visual arts pedagogy for the very youngest children in early childhood education and care settings and museum and gallery contexts?

In what ways can a sense of belonging be created for young children (and their families) in large, public cultural institutions?

How do young children bring meaning to and make meaning from contemporary art within a museum context?

Macquarie University School of Education Dean Professor Mary Ryan said the initial findings of the Art & Wonder program are very important to inform how early childhood education should be approached.

“In the first three years of life children develop more connections within their brain than they’ll ever have at any other time in their life, so allowing them to explore contemporary art in various forms is a fantastic way to encourage their development,” Professor Ryan said.

It is hoped the findings from the Art & Wonder project will shape the MCA’s future creative learning programs to be used in early childhood education and care centres.

Members who are interested in learning more about the Art & Wonder project can purchase Art & Wonder: Young Children and Contemporary Art online via the MCA Store: