The Importance of the Arts to Children’s Development in the Infant-Toddler Years


“Arts for babies? What can they learn at that age?” is a reaction that Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) sometimes gets when we describe our work with children ages zero to three (infants and toddlers). “Actually, quite a lot” is the answer that we are proud to give, as we share news about our growing activity in this area.

ICIC is delighted to build upon our curriculum of arts education programs for children and announce our launch of a new infant-toddler initiative, through which we are significantly expanding our arts and literacy programming for zero- to three-year-old children. The initiative will allow us to increase our impact dramatically in early childhood education in Washington, DC, by reaching more underserved children at an earlier stage of their development.

As part of this exciting work, ICIC will present research-informed classroom residencies and workshops that integrate music, movement, and visual and tactile arts with early learning. In addition to providing robust experiences for children, the workshops will demonstrate for teachers and parents engaging ways to interact with infants and toddlers that support their development, and give the young children in their care a strong foundation for success in school and life.

We wrote in a previous post that the remarkable brain development that occurs between birth and age three forms a foundation for all later learning, health, and behavior. During this important stage, children learn a host of critical skills, including how to focus their vision, identify and manipulate the objects around them, imitate behavior, develop fine and gross motor skills, understand and form language, and—perhaps most importantly—develop attachments with others.

For young children, having opportunities to build nurturing relationships with caregivers and cultivate their curiosity and creativity through play are key drivers for learning. We know from research that arts education programs for children that incorporate singing, moving, and exploring materials through touch provide powerful opportunities on both of these fronts: the arts help infants and toddlers form healthy bonds with parents and teachers, and facilitate learning through play at all stages of all children’s development, beginning at birth. As one report phrased it:

A close look at what constitutes the best kind of experience for infants and young children leads quickly to the arts . . . The arts motivate and engage children in learning, stimulate memory and facilitate understanding, enhance symbolic communication, promote relationships, and provide an avenue for building competence. The arts are natural for young children. Child development specialists note that play is the business of young children; play is the way children promote and enhance their development. The arts are a most natural vehicle for play.

Children like one-year-old Brandon show us the extraordinary power of the arts to support infants and toddlers in their social development in early childhood. When ICIC started a residency in Brandon’s early childhood center classroom recently, his teachers knew him as a withdrawn child who rarely participated in classroom activities. It surprised us to hear this, because it was a side of Brandon that we never saw.

During the residency, in which ICIC teaching artists modeled for Brandon’s teachers ways to integrate singing and music in the classroom curriculum, Brandon responded immediately to opportunities to hold and play instruments, make his own music, imitate his teachers’ facial expressions and gestures, increase his exposure to language through learning new songs, and connect with his teachers through cuddling, marching, and making sounds with them. From the first day of the residency through the end, the Brandon whom we saw was engaged, confident, and advancing to the next stages of development.

Weeks after the residency was over, Brandon continued to be engaged in arts-based activities and did not retreat back into being a disconnected, withdrawn child in his classroom. His teachers exclaimed: “The music transformed him!” For ICIC, there is no better reason to do this work.

An Invitation to You

A blog is not sufficient to convey what children like Brandon gain from Inner City-Inner Child’s arts integrated infant-toddler programming. Please watch our video and click here to learn more about our work and how to support it.

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.