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Visual Literacy

In a world ruled by an increasing amount of media and visual information, visual literacy is an essential skillset for young people to master. As adults who have had to adapt to the growing pace of technology and media, we have had the luxury of developing the capacities to navigate this terrain gradually.

Young nervous systems, however, are inundated at a pace that does not afford them that option. The pace of technology and its integration with every facet of our lives has raised the need for education to address this need for visual learning.

Anyone reading this can agree that a component of successful communication involves interpreting and expressing information in visual ways. It falls into the camp of the cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Many educators believe that “today’s technologies are creating an easily distracted generation," which only intensifies the need for educational efforts to address the two sides of this technological coin:

  1. the ability to direct one’s focus

  2. the ability to interpret/ create visual information

To a certain extent this does mean leveraging tech-based tools and teaching media literacy, but it also creates an opportunity to move off screen and return to “old school” methods for developing visual thinking strategies.

Early childhood (when the brain is developing more rapidly than it will at any other time in their lives) is the ideal time to nurture reading and writing skills that will serve as the foundation for a lifetime of meaningful communication and learning. We know this, but do we know that we can often “back door” cognitive skills through creative frameworks that don’t appear to involve traditional literacy?

By integrating the visual arts— specifically drawing and design thinking methods— into the common core of elementary learners, we are curating greater opportunities to develop a myriad of cognitive and character-based skills.

Whether a student shows a proclivity or aversion for reading and writing, visual thinking strategies empower students with both learning differences and unique gifts the chance to engage in multi-sensory learning that is novel, enjoyable and easily scaffolded.

Creating a focus in the curriculum to empower students with the ability to communicate their ideas visually is one of the core skills that the Elements of heART program targets. As young artists are focused on the fun and easy task of expanding their drawing, design and creative problem-solving skills, they are not even concerned with the innate reading, writing and executive function skills they are developing as they create. Meanwhile their stamina, self-direction and focus are all developing beneath the creative surface.

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