Creative Skills and the expressive arts within child-led approaches

31 May 2019 : Related Tags

Since 2013 Starcatchers has delivered artist-facilitated training for early years professionals across Scotland, building creative confidence and sharing open structures to give babies and young children a voice through the expressive arts. Here, Creative Skills Manager, Heather Armstrong, reflects on the role of adults in child-led practice.   

The Care Inspectorate’s Our Creative Journey explores how “just taking part in the expressive arts can be transformative”. Music, creative movement, mark-making, drama and puppetry, for example, all provide incredible opportunities for babies and young children to explore, experiment and express themselves through their body, voice, actions, facial expressions, and in whatever they create.

Within child-led practice there is still an important role for adults to tune into children’s interests and help move them forward in their learning by provoking thoughts, discussions, questions, and ideas.

With a toolbox of expressive arts ideas and the confidence to think outside the box and be creative, you can make the most of every learning opportunity, wherever the children take you.  This is exactly what participants explore as part of Starcatchers’ Creative Skills Programme.

But how does it work in practice? Here are some of the approaches used by practitioners who have taken part in the Creative Skills Programme.

Be the change you want to see

Guidance around child-led settings can often focus on material resources, and on giving children time to choose and explore. It’s easy to forget that we ourselves can be a resource. Whether it’s lying on your tummy and starting to draw, or starting to play with some scarves on your own, you can start an age-appropriate creative process and see who’s interested in joining you. More children may start to engage in a way they wouldn’t if physical resources were just left in a pile.

Take a schematic approach

This can work particularly well with pre and non-verbal children. By identifying common play schemas babies and young children are keen to explore, you can choose to introduce expressive arts provocations that support and expand their interests. This is very useful in situations where you are required to justify your decision to actively introduce ideas.

Have a chat

This may seem deceptively simple, but it really works! Lots of practitioners and children will chat informally about their weekends together, or what they’ve been up to since they last saw each other. This is a lovely opportunity to talk about the training and/or ideas you’ve been exploring. If the children think it sounds interesting, they’ll ask for a go – enthusiasm is infectious.

Share photos

Take photos during your training sessions. They can be a great stimulus to start a discussion. Again, it’s about seeing what piques the children’s interests – it’s an offer, not an instruction. We keep coming back to the old adage “you only know what you know”. No-one is going to express an interest in becoming a human spirograph if they don’t know what a spirograph is, or realise that human-sized bits of paper exist. Photos are a great way of sharing what’s possible, without being prescriptive.

Get Your “Specialist Teacher” hat on

In Anna Ephgrave’s Planning in the Moment with Young Children, she beautifully describes how “It is preferable for specialist teachers…to join children in their child-initiated play”.  As participants go through the Creative Skills Programme they work across artforms and build up a bank or toolbox of ideas that can be adapted and offered as part of organic play interactions. If you find it challenging to do this unconsciously, it can be useful to set aside a little time to put your own ‘specialist teacher’ hat on and see where your newfound creative skills can enhance what is already happening. Again, it’s about being playful and making an offer at an appropriate time, inspired by what children are already interested in, rather than taking over.


All of these approaches echo what the Independent review of Scotland’s early learning and out of school care workforces has to say about quality: “Quality can be defined in a number of different ways, and different interpretations of quality will be considered throughout; but the evidence base is clear: children benefit when the adults around them interact with them in sensitive, responsive and stimulating ways.”

Many thanks to the inspiring early years practitioners who take part in the Creative Skills Programme and share how they use ideas from the training in their own practice. Our artists who deliver the training are experts in creative approaches to the expressive arts, but it’s our participants who are the experts in their own settings, and the babies and children they work with. They are the most important ‘open ended resource’ our children have.

Find out more about Starcatchers’ Creative Skills training programme here.

If you’re interested in learning more about using the arts in a child-led way in your setting, contact us about Starcatchers’ Commissioned Training.

Download Starcatchers’ Commissioned Training Booklet