Expressive Arts use all the disciplines of art: visual, movement, music, drama and writing and it takes many, many forms: painting, drawing, collage, mosaic, weaving, sculpture, music, dance, role play, printing, photography, video, model-building, poetry, story-telling, design. And I bet we all offer [some, most, all] of these kinds of activities at [some, most, all] times. This means that providing opportunities for children to express their creativity needn’t mean leaving out the paints, scissors and glue pots for the little treasures to use at will – because, let’s face it, there’s so much more to it than painting, cutting & gluing. Yes guys, it’s sooo much bigger than arts & crafts.


Now, you know and I know that it only takes a couple of minutes of stepping away to change a dirty nappy (and if it’s reeeeeally bad, strip the child completely, perform a full neck to ankle body wash,  rummage through their bag to find spare clothes – and there isn’t – so rummage through every other child’s bag too), tip as much poo as possible down the loo, clean the toilet seat because it will definitely have splashed on there, bag up the soiled clothes, sanitise the changing area, wash your hands, arms and quite possibly the ends of your hair (and, not unrealistically, under your nails), then hygienically dispose of contaminated gloves, apron and nappy to come back to a lounge a la Jackson Pollock. Oh the joys of childminding.

Yes, of course you do want the children to be able to express their creativity as they’re feeling it. In that precise moment in time. Because once that spark of imagination and urge to be expressive is gone it’s gone. Lost. But must kids really have access to your scissors, glue and paints 24/7? Have you even really thought about what expressive art and design actually is?


Well, I know it’s not the done thing but I’m not one for letting go of good stuff. Useful stuff. Helpful stuff. So, for the sake of clarity, let’s look at the ‘old’ Creative Development area of learning of the earlier EYFS and its old sub-categories (things were soooo much easier back then).

Being Creative 

  • Exploring Media and Materials
  • Responding to Experiences, Expressing and Communicating Ideas
  • Creating Music and Dance (fairly self-explanatory so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel here).

So firstly, let’s think about what that means: exploring media and materials. The early EYFS definition was: how children experiment with media and materials and finding out about their properties and modifying and manipulating them. It includes exploring sounds, patterns, movement and different tools & techniques. The little bit later definition was: it’s about children’s independent and guided exploration of and engagement with a widening range of media and materials, finding out about, thinking about and working with colour, texture, shape, space and form in two and three dimensions. Aaah, any clearer?

 What exactly is meant by media though?

Media is simply the plural for medium which refers to the types of materials – any materials at all – that the artist is using in his or her artwork. Today, this includes any technologies that enable us to create or record artwork – think cameras, computer software & apps, mobile devices, printers, DVDs, CDs, video recorders etc. Media and materials, therefore, are really one and the same thing so I’ve no idea why they keep referring to ‘media and materials’ which does kind of imply that they’re two different things when they’re not. Doesn’t it?

And what kind of materials are we talking about here?


Well, this could be gloop, dough, clay, sand, soil and all those other manipulatives you can think of. Think also of the loose parts you have around too. Think of your natural materials such as pebbles (you ever seen stonework inspires storytelling?) petals, conkers, fir cones, rattan balls, seeds, twigs, leaves, twigs, canes, pebbles, shells, bark, feathers etc. Then think about materials made from card, wood, metal, glass or plastic such as tubes, pipes, wire, ribbons, jars, off-cuts of wood, pipe cleaners, strips of fabric, lids, yoghurt pots, wool, string, paper clips, dolly pegs, straws, sellotape, boxes, split pins, tin foil etc. Then there’s the tools: the brushes, the scrapers, the utensils, the pots, the pans, the trays, the racks oh, and paper. Think of what you can do just with paper and no tools at all: fold, tear, layer, scrunch, twist, roll. Now you can weave with it, blow through it, wear it – heck, I’ve even seen kids play balloon tennis and fight off marauding pirates with twisted up paper. Now, they might not create the kinda stuff you can stick on the fridge door but hey, you can still take photos of it and stick THAT up on the fridge instead can’t you? Transient art ain’t meant to be permanent so the kids could literally scatter it all away before you’ve even had chance to grab your camera. Never mind, there’s always next time.


Now then, “being imaginative”. Basically, this term is a catch-all that covers everything else about creativity that exploring and using media and materials doesn’t. It’s the Responding to Experiences, Expressing and Communicating Ideas & Creating Music and Dance.

In practice, it’s:

  • how children respond in a variety of ways to what they see, hear, smell, touch or feel and how, as a result of these encounters, they express and communicate their own ideas, thoughts and feelings. Think role play. Think play dough. Think sand & water;
  • children’s independent and guided explorations of sound, movement and music. Focusing on how sounds can be made and changed and how sounds can be recognised and repeated from a pattern, it includes ways of exploring movement, matching movements to music and singing simple songs from memory. Fairly self-explanatory no?


So, if Mrs O even dare to make a recommendation during your inspection to enhance your expressive art & design provision by making your arts and craft materials accessible at all times then you can politely steer her over to your loose parts storage, your basket of floaty scarves, your crate of stainless steel bowls and wooden spoons and your fabulous mud kitchen and tell her “there’s more to expressive art and design than painting, cutting & gluing you know?”

Further reading: