Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Marketing & International Business

First Advisor

Prof. Margaret Linehan

Second Advisor

Dr Judith Butler


This research aims to investigate current approaches used by practitioners in the design and delivery of visual arts curricula for children availing of the Irish Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme (DCYA, 2019). The study rationale is borne out of an interest in establishing what constitutes good practice in this domain. The focus of the study is to provide an extensive review of national and international literature debating approaches to visual arts curricula for young children and to establish how this translates into practice through a field study methodology within the Irish ECCE context. Underpinning the research is the amalgam of theoretical and experiential knowledge and expertise, in designing and operationalising an inquiry-based, emergent curriculum using a transdisciplinary approach to the visual arts. A transdisciplinary approach is one whereby subject boundaries are broken down and art permeates all areas of learning by transcending the confines of individual subject disciplines. The field study cohort is a selection of ECCE practitioners (n=30) and support personnel including authors, researchers, mentors and academics (n=10). Qualitative methodology is employed and data collection is by in-depth, semi-structured interviews to garner participants lived experiences. Findings from the extensive literature review and supported by the field study identify a confluence of factors which mitigate against inquiry-based learning (IBL). The arts and creativity are accorded low status in the majority of third-level Early Years Education (EYE) programmes. The resulting deficit in initial professional education (IPE), ill-prepares practitioners to implement child-centred, developmentally appropriate, visual arts curricula, on entering the workforce. The majority of practitioners describe visual arts opportunities which they provide for children as being adult-led and product-orientated. This approach limits the creative process as children assume a passive, often spectatorial role which is at variance with an IBL emergent curriculum. Another salient finding is the imbalance between theoretical and practical art training experiences in third-level programmes. Minimal emphasis on IBL extends to the content of continuing professional development (CPD) initiatives. There is a disconnect between rhetoric and practice, as well as low self-efficacy among practitioners. As a consequence of a lack of experiential engagement with art processes during training, practitioner confidence in their ability to fulfil the requirements of Síolta (CECDE, 2006), the National Quality Framework and Aistear (NCCA, 2009), the National Curriculum Framework is evident. Additionally, respondents voice confusion regarding the regulatory bodies and requirements in inspecting and evaluating the quality, range and appropriateness of experiences offered to children. This confusion influences approaches to the visual arts curriculum implementation, which is further compounded by perceived parental expectations. Children are facilitated to engage in adult-led, template-based, seasonal art activities as evidence of learning for parents. The underlying ethos and philosophy of an ECCE centre also determines approaches to visual arts experiences. One of the main research recommendations emerging from the research is to locate the arts centrally within IPE degree programmes in EYE and make available CPD opportunities specific to IBL using a transdisciplinary approach to the visual arts. Emerging from these findings, two resources to assist Higher Education Institutions in IPE and CPD for practitioners have been devised. These act as a strategic drive to address research findings, in a practical sense, to equip current and future personnel with the requisite knowledge, skills and expertise, to effectively implement an emergent, inquiry-based, visual arts curriculum, using a transdisciplinary approach, in the pursuit of good practice.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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