Not Just a Pretty Picture: Visual Literacy Education Through Art for Young Children

Not Just a Pretty Picture: Visual Literacy Education Through Art for Young Children by Irene Lopatovska, Sarah Hatoum, Saebra Waterstraut, Lisa Novak, and Sara Sheer

The purpose of this paper is to understand young children’s knowledge of visual literacy elements as well as their ability to comprehend newly introduced visual literacy concepts. The study also examined existing support for visual literacy programs from parents and educators. The study explored the knowledge of basic visual literacy elements of young children enrolled in two private schools in the New York City metropolitan area. The authors interviewed 17 children, aged four to six years old, about fine art paintings using a semi-structured interview format. Children’s responses were qualitatively analyzed to determine their initial level of visual literacy and their ability to learn and retain the concepts of visual literacy after receiving basic instruction. The children’s educators and parents completed online questionnaires that were quantitatively analyzed to determine their level of support for visual literacy programs. The findings show that young children exhibited extensive knowledge of simple visual literacy elements (color, shape, line), and limited understanding of more abstract elements (perspective and salience). Children’s knowledge of visual elements improved after instruction. Parents and educators expressed support for incorporating visual literacy instruction in early childhood education. The study relied on a sample of children and adults drawn from two private schools. The sample’s demographics might have affected study findings. More studies are needed using a larger and more diverse sample. The study suggests that young children are ready to receive instruction on visual literacy elements using art images. Children reacted positively to the images and were engaged in the discussions about them, supporting the use of fine art paintings as an instrument to introduce visual literacy concepts to young children. Survey of children’s parents and teachers indicated strong interest in, and support for such programs. With the increase of visual information production and consumption, it is important to introduce visual literacy early in life. The study advances research in methods for developing visual literacy instruction for young children.