Art as Invitation: The Effects of Including Art Education in the Curriculum of a Preschool Classroom of Refugee Students

Nancy Heckmann Erekson


This study is about how art constitutes an invitation for marginalized people. Refugees are the uninvited, and often remain on the periphery of host communities. This research examines how artmaking acts as an invitation for refugee preschool students and their families to connect with the broader community. I approached data collection through the method of educational connoisseurship and educational criticism and the theory of relational aesthetics. I analyzed data from observations conducted in a refugee preschool classroom and from interviews with six families. Further, I analyzed observations and surveys from a public exhibit of children’s art. These sources provided data about how invitations were made and accepted through artmaking. Results of the analysis showed how processes and materials of artmaking mitigated student distress and changed dispositions of fear to trust and engagement. Choice in artmaking empowered students and built confidence. Close quarters and the need to share desirable materials prompted collaborations, forming connections among children of different languages and cultures. Artmaking invited sharing of verbal narratives and created feelings of relatedness in the classroom community. The public art exhibit expanded understanding between refugees and the host community. The key features of successful invitations were the attractive qualities of art processes, art materials, and opportunities for choice and relatedness in artmaking. These invitations connected refugee preschool students and their families with the school and the broader community.