Getting practical and progressive

Designing an Art & Design Curriculum Part 4 – thoughts, ramblings and useful tidbits from our journey

So, we’ve talked about equipping children with a kaleidoscope of artistic perspectives, and the importance of blending theory with those messy, joyful art-making moments. We even explored how we’re all artists and the need to embrace everyone’s inner creativity. Now, buckle up, because this piece dives into the nitty-gritty of building a progressive art curriculum: how do we design a program that actually helps children blossom as artists? Let’s explore the practicalities of progression and see how a well-structured journey can unlock their artistic potential!

I truly believe that art and design education in England’s primary schools has the potential to be a transformative experience, nurturing young minds, igniting creativity, and fostering essential skills. Yet, the debate on the ideal form of the curriculum often lingers. In designing our own curriculum we decided to champion a hands-on, skill-progression approach, arguing that practicality is the key to unlocking its true potential.

Making as a form of knowing

Remember finger painting in nursery? That wasn’t just messy fun (although it definitely was that too!). It was a foundation for understanding colour mixing, texture, and even spatial relationships. Hands-on art isn’t just about the finished product; it’s about the journey of discovery through exploration and experimentation.

Think about it – when a child sculpts with clay, they’re not just shaping a lump of mud, they’re learning about pressure, form, and three-dimensional space. Building a collage with scraps of paper and fabric teaches them about colour theory, balance, and composition. These experiences go beyond rote memorisation; they create a deeper understanding that ignites a child’s natural curiosity and a sense of ownership over their artistic voice.

Building Blocks of Skill Progression

Now, imagine that finger painting experience wasn’t a one-off, but part of a larger journey. A well-designed art curriculum builds upon these initial explorations, creating a “skill progression” that empowers children as they grow. It’s like climbing a ladder – you wouldn’t jump straight to the top, would you?

This progression starts with foundational skills like learning to hold a crayon or paintbrush properly, mastering basic shapes and lines, and exploring primary and secondary colours. As these skills become comfortable, the curriculum can introduce more complex concepts like perspective, shading, and different artistic styles. Imagine learning how to draw a house – first, it might be a simple square with a triangle roof, but with each step, details like windows, doors, and even texture are added, building a child’s confidence and artistic vocabulary.

You can imagine these skills being honed through projects inspired by various artistic movements and artists. As discussed in my previous article (Selecting the Lenses Our Children Look Through), we’ve curated galleries of diverse artists. These galleries, along with our curriculum’s focus on six progressive areas, inform the creation of single-page overviews for teachers.

The Power of Six

Our curriculum’s focus on these six progressive areas allows for a well-rounded artistic experience. Here’s a glimpse into how each area contributes:

  • Drawing: The foundation of visual language, mastering drawing skills unlocks the ability to express ideas and observations.
  • Painting: Experimenting with colour, texture, and various mediums allows children to explore emotions and tell stories.
  • Collage: Combining different materials fosters creativity and problem-solving as they find ways to express themselves through unique compositions.
  • Making (3D art): Working in three dimensions challenges spatial reasoning and introduces concepts of form, balance, and function.
  • Responding to Art & Artist: Engaging with established works and artists fosters critical thinking and expands their artistic vocabulary.
  • Sketchbooks: These become a personal space for exploration, experimentation, and documenting their artistic journey.

By weaving these areas together throughout the curriculum, we create a tapestry of learning that fosters not just artistic skills, but also critical thinking, problem-solving, and lifelong learning.

How this works practically

To see how this translates into action, I’ve included six examples of plan overviews below for different units within our curriculum. These overviews showcase how the “Es” framework is integrated and highlight the specific skills being developed through each unit.


So, ditch the textbooks and embrace the art supplies! A well-designed curriculum that prioritises hands-on learning and skill progression can be truly transformative. It’s not just about creating art, it’s about nurturing young minds, igniting creativity, and empowering children to become confident and lifelong learners.

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