Early Childhood Education

Assessment, Visual Art


Teachers of young children assess visual art in a variety of ways, and for a range of purposes. For teachers in public schools, part of art assessment means ensuring that classrooms for young children are in compliance with frameworks and standards prescribed by the state. In addition, most teachers collect samples of children’s artwork to include in child portfolios. Finally, the inspiring work of Reggio Emilia has encouraged teachers to use diverse documentation of children’s artwork and the artistic process in order to make learning visible to children, parents, and the larger community.


Standards and Frameworks

A recent push toward increased accountability in schools has led to the development of a complex set of national and state learning standards for many subject domains. Currently, both national and state-specific standards exist for the arts. An example of one state standard for the visual arts drawn from Massachusetts is shown below:

PreK-12 STANDARD 1: Methods. Materials, and Techniques

Students will demonstrate knowledge of the methods, materials, and techniques unique to the visual arts.


Grade Level

Learning Standards

By the end ol

grade 4

Students will

1.1 Use a variety of materials and media, for example, crayons, chalk, paint, clay, carious kinds of papers, textiles, and yams, and understand how to use them to produce different visual effects

1.2 Create artwork in a variety of two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) media, for example. 2D - drawing, painting, collage, printmaking, weaving. 3D - plastic (malleable) materials such as day and paper, wood, or found objects for assemblage and construction

1.3 Learn and use appropriate vocabulary related to methods, materials, and techniques

1.4 Learn to take care of materials and tools and to use them safely


As a result of this increased push for academic accountability and increase standardized testing even of young children, many perceive that the arts are receiving less attention than more “academic” subjects such as literacy and science. A current trend in art curriculum is tied to these realities: educators such as Carol Seefeldt advocate integrating the arts across domains, thereby including artistic learning and development alongside literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies curriculum. Many teachers are embracing this idea, which is also supported by Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and ideas from the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Each of these sources acknowledges that children learn in different ways and possess different “languages” for communicating and understanding the world. Integrating the arts allows all children a chance to make sense of and communicate their understandings about other topics through artistic means.



Classroom teachers often compile portfolios of children’s work throughout the year to assess their artistic development. Although children like to take work home to show parents, teachers may retain work that represents a shift in the child’s use of materials or thinking, to look at development in terms of what concepts, materials, and forms appear in the child’s artwork. In some instances, the children themselves may self-evaluate, choosing what work should be included in the portfolio. The teacher and the child may look at the portfolio together at different points throughout the year. This also helps children become objective and evaluate their own work, and gives them a new perspective on the work they are currently doing in the classroom. By continually taking notes of what children say about their work, and using these comments as points of departure for discussion about work, teachers can assess what is important to each child about the artwork he/she is producing. For the teacher, knowing what engages the children is helpful in planning future lessons, considering what new materials to introduce, and offering meaningful experiences in which to practice skills.



In addition to taking anecdotes, teachers will also take photos, sound recordings, and even videotape classroom activity to assess learning. These photos, transcriptions of conversations, and anecdotes are displayed in the classroom or school by the teacher alongside children’s artwork. Documentation includes text articulating what the work might have meant to the teacher and the child. This form of assessment serves as another point of reflection and evaluation for the teacher. Teachers may use documentation to start dialogue with the children, parents, or other faculty. Documentation and conversations that emerge from documentation help teachers as they plan future lessons for children.



Assessing children’s artistic work serves multiple purposes. By collecting, displaying, and examining pieces of children’s art, teachers may better understand artistic and representational strengths of the children they teach. Observing and documenting the process of creating art can inform teachers about children’s fine motor abilities, as well as provide insight about the ways in which children make decisions and plan during artistic experiences. See also Child Art.

Further Readings: Massachusetts Department of Education (2000). Massachusetts curriculum frameworks (Visual Arts). Available online at http://www.doe.mass.edu/ frameworks/current.html; McWhinnie, Harold J. (1992). Art in early childhood education. In Carol Seefeldt, ed. The early childhood curriculum: A review of current research, 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 264-285; Seefeldt, Carol (1999). Art for young children. In Carol Seefeldt, ed. The early childhood curriculum: Current findings in theory and practice. 3rd ed. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 201-217.

Megina Baker and Maggie Beneke