Tag Archives: Art

Repost Reminder: The Spectrum of Preschool Arts and Crafts

Little Artist ginam

There’s a fascinating article from Newsweek entitled, The Creativity Crisis.  It was actually published in the summer, but I just stumbled upon it recently.  It’s left me with all kinds of writing prompts swimming around in my head, but I thought I’d actually start with something I’ve already written.  Here’s a look at what the term “arts and crafts” means to me, originally published August 12, 2009.

I recently got a great compliment from a parent. At least I think it was a compliment. She said, “I love that you have these random art projects!”  Now, as I said, I do believe she sincerely meant it as a compliment, but it got me wondering.  Certainly I can see how creating collages with seeds, fingerpainting with  colored shaving cream , and dropping colored water on coffee filters may seem a little random, but random as compared to what?  I think when most people envision preschool arts, they see the paper plate snowmen, the construction paper alphabet train, and woven paper place mats.  These aren’t actually arts, they’re closer to crafts.  Now I’m not saying crafts aren’t appropriate for preschoolers, I quite enjoy making  paper plate snowmen and I think the children do to.  I just hate to see crafts used at the exclusion of art.  Let me explain how I see them as different.

A Crafty Plan.  Crafts are more teacher directed.  Whether for supervision, help with a technique, or providing step-by-step instructions, an adult’s help is usually needed for crafts. Though it is important to provide some kind of opportunity for variation and choice, crafts generally need to be done a certain way to create a certain “object”.  There is a bit more emphasis on the outcome being something (a tree, a frame, an ornament).  Often, we do crafts when we’re creating a parent gift with the children.  We want it to be something so that it has a purpose as a gift.  This has some benefits.  It is certainly not a bad thing for children to learn how to follow directions, and they usually have a great sense of self-satisfaction when they complete their product.  They also learn techniques that are often implemented in independent art projects later.  But to do only crafts and call it art gives our children the short end of the stick.  In fact, constant focus on crafts can muzzle creativity and leave children feeling discouraged.

Express Yourself.  I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t read Bev Bos’s book, Don’t Move the Muffin Tins, until recently, but I’m convinced that I was taught her philosophy for art by my own mentors during my undergrad. I think Bev distinguishes between arts and crafts best when she says, “I make my own distinction between “art” and” craft” by asking how much participation by an adult is needed once I have presented materials.  When the activity is truly art and genuinely creative, all I have to do is to put a name on the paper or perhaps stand by to add to the supplies.” (page 2) 

That’s how I judge my art activities.  If I really want to foster creativity  I simply need to focus on providing tools and media and watch how the children put them together.  They don’t need me to tell them how the end result should look any more than Monet would!  As a matter of fact, I have always taught and been taught that providing models for the children stifles their creativity and causes frustration, but I love Bev’s example of setting out something like a Van Gogh for teachers and asking them to copy it.  That’s what it’s like for children looking at our own versions of their projects.  It’s demeaning and intimidating.  True art activities honor the artist.

Often times, the satisfaction and expression comes in the process of doing the art.  It is not uncommon for children to spend tens of minutes on a project, and then show no interest in taking it home.  They have mixed colors and tried every utensil and now that their paper is caked and finally dried, they tell you they don’t need it. 

For them, it was about the experimentation, the sensory input, and the experience.  They weren’t looking for something to hang on the fridge.  They were looking for something to unload their feelings and energy on.  They wanted something to explore.  They wanted something to control.  The “product” is often something only we adults see.

So take another look at your art activities.  Do you see product or process?  Mentally create a spectrum with “true art” on one end (child-driven, teacher simply provides and monitors supplies) and “complete craft” on the other (teacher directed, step-by-step with identical outcomes expected).  As you plan, take time to evaluate where your art activities fall on that spectrum.  For the benefit of your children, make sure you’re providing enough “random art projects”.

Photo provided by ginam.

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Filed under Article, Create

This Could Be the Safest Finger-Paint Ever

I recently had a teacher ask about art projects for the very young, particularly young two’s.  She was especially concerned with the safety factor, as the little ones have a tendency to try to eat what they’re working with.  I have a long list of suggestions for her, but I’ll share just one with you now!

The first project that came to mind was finger-painting!  This finger-paint recipe is fantastic!  It’s so easy and made from ingredients that are safe enough to eat — but it doesn’t taste great, so I doubt they’d try more than once.  (Though as soon as I say that, some little child somewhere will eat an entire container of this like it was yogurt.  Oh well, like I said, it’s safe.)

Cornstarch Finger-Paint

3 Tbsp sugar

½ cup cornstarch

2 cups cold water


Liquid Soap

Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a sauce pan.  Add the water and mix well.  Cook over med-low heat, stirring all the time, until thick, about 5 minutes.  (To me, it looks almost like Vaseline.)  Remove from the stove, cool, and pour into containers (muffin tins are great for a variety of colors).  Add a little food coloring or liquid watercolors to each cup and then a drop or two of soap to help with the washability.  (Liquid watercolors are ideal, as they are more washable, though food coloring is pretty safe once it is fully mixed into the paint solution.)  Mix well and paint when cool!  If making the night before, store in the refrigerator.

One thing I like to do with this recipe is to make it without any color, and put about 1/4 a cup or so in plastic bags.  Then I let the children mix in the color by working the *well-sealed* bag.  It’s particularly exciting to let the children choose two primary colors and mix it all together until a secondary color is formed.

Finger-painting can be done on paper plates, poster board, or art paper.  For many young children, however, finger-painting is about the experience and exploration, not about making something to be displayed on a refrigerator or bulletin board.  So you may even want to do finger-painting right onto art trays or the table top.  If you do finger-painting on a table top or tray, you can always do a reverse print by pressing paper onto the paint and lifting it again to reveal the design!

This is a great creative sensory activity, while also working fine motor skills.  And if they happen to lick their fingers.  No problem!

Top photo by NecoGarnica.


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity, supplies

Bev Bos’ Secret to Successful Shaving Cream Art

I do enjoy Bev Bos!  That woman is in a league of her own!  Well, it’s thanks to Bev that I’ve learned the secret to great shaving cream painting!  In the past, I’ve had children paint with colored shaving cream, and they’ve had a great experience, but unless they spread the foam out, once that foam’s dry, it all seems to fall apart.  Enter Bev.  Her big secret is to add equal parts Elmer’s glue and shaving cream and whip them together.  Then add your color and you’re good to go!

One of the best kinds of fingerpaints ever!  (Great with brushes too for the mess-avoidant child.)  You can add glitter right to it, or let the little ones sprinkle it on top.  It’s still fragile after it dries, but it does hold it’s shape- and the sparkles- much better than shaving cream alone!

It’s a great sensory activity, creative activity, and small motor activity.  And really, it’s just plain fun!  Who can walk past a pot of colorful foam and not want to join in?  And as I look at these projects, and think of Bev Bos, I’m reminded of her statement, “children have to use too much”.  It’s not a judgemental statement, it’s a reminder of the exuberance with which they approach art.  So be prepared to supply them with “too much” of your art supplies!  In fact, I’ve learned that when given a shaker of glitter, the typical child will empty it entirely onto one piece of paper.  It doesn’t really seem to matter whether the shaker had .8 oz or 18 oz!  So I now use a smaller amount in the shakers (or smaller shakers) and refill them if needed for the next child.  That way, each child can have the satisfaction of emptying the container!  ♥


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity

Take a Closer Look – Examining Visual Art with Preschoolers

I’m rushing to finish up the posts for the Arts and the Senses unit, so that I can start posting the next unit I’m excited about!  Check back on the unit theme page, where I’ve explained several activities in quick notes and links rather than a full post!  This activity, however, warranted a little more explanation!

Whenever I talk to young children about visual art, I love to have several famous pieces of work to use for examples.  Of course, I don’t have any originals myself, feel free to use those if you do! 

I tend to get ideas about 12 hours before I need them.  24 on a good day.  I’d like to think that’s a sign of genius, but I have a feeling it’s more likely attributed to procrastination.  At any rate, the first time I decided I absolutely had to have some examples of fine art to show a group of children, I rushed to a few book stores and teacher supply shops looking for a kit with teaching samples.  I’m sure such a kit exists…somewhere.  But I certainly couldn’t find one in my frenzied search.  What I did find works just as well and is probably cheaper.  I love it when that happens.

I purchased this art book from the clearance table at Barnes and Noble or Borders.  It was about $10.  I took it home and took a razor blade to it, releasing the pictures from the book.  I selected some of my very favorites to show to the kiddos and laminated them.  I used construction paper to cover some of the more “mature” pictures (read: “nude” or “gory”) before laminating.  These laminated book pages are fantastic because they offer wonderful art samples while also including a bit of information, like the art era, the artist’s name and time period, as well as a short biographical sketch.  The book also includes information about each art movement through history.  So much information, which is really helpful when you’re only a hobby artist and not a trained one!


When I talk to young children about art, my objective is to expose them to great works, but also to help them see themselves as artists and to think critically about art.

I usually start by showing a few pieces from the Modern Era and talk about how the artists use shape and color.  We look through a few pieces by artists like Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman, and Sonia Delaunay.  And I always love to show the little ones the action paintings by Jackson Pollock!  Looking at these more abstract works makes it easier to focus simply on lines, shapes, colors, and intensity.  We talk a lot about how their work is similar to these  pieces!

From there, I begin showing a few other works, talking about how some artists like to paint nature, flowers, and scenes.  Some like to paint people in many different ways.  I show a variety of paintings- as long as the children are still interested- and we talk about what we notice, like, or feel about the paintings.  It may just be that one of the girls likes Degas’ ballet dancers!  Or it may be that one painting makes us feel warm because there are flowers and light, and another makes us feel cold because the colors are dark and it looks like the wind is blowing.  Sometimes I hand out magnifying glasses and we look at the types of strokes that were used. 

I use a lot of the concepts I addressed in this post.  The idea is to give a broad look at the different ways art can be done and the different experiences viewing it can bring.  It is very effective to use pieces that show contrasting components – bright/dull, reality/fantasy, warm/cold, etc. 

Depending on the attention span of your group, you may want to break these viewings up into several sessions with different emphases in mind.  One day you may look at the color and form of the Modern Era, and then create some similar works.  Another day, you may look at the different ways artists portray plants, and another day people.  Or you may look at a series of “blue” pieces, and a series of “red” pieces and compare and contrast them. 

There really are so many ways to examine visual art, and they go far beyond just memorizing artists and titles.  Ditch the flash card approach to art.  Get closer, get talking, and turn your little ones into critics! 

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

Top photo by tullosmark.  Painting in top photo by Robert Rouschenberg.


Filed under Create, Learning through Play and Experience

Create a Texture Shape Exploration Station

Children love to explore!  That is a widely accepted fact!  So here’s a little project you can do quickly and inexpensively to create a fun exploration station where they can explore shape, size, and texture, and create designs to their little hearts’ content!

First, cut a variety of geometric shapes out of sturdy cardboard.  I like to have smaller and larger versions of the same shapes for larger/smaller comparisons, and I also like to use some of the unit block principles (two triangles are the same size as one square, two squares are the same as one rectangle, etc.).  Next, cover those shapes with a variety of textures.  Go through your fabric scraps for silky, bumpy, ribbed, or wooly.  Raid your tool shelves for sandpaper and dig through your craft closet for smooth foam or spent and wrinkly aluminum foil.  One of my favorite textures is created from corrugated cardboard.  Sometimes you can find it with the corrugates exposed, other times you have to peel back one layer.  It’s fantastically bumpy!

Add self-adhesive magnets to the back and use them on a magnet board against the wall or at your working tables.  (If you’re concerned about the children pulling off the magnets, you may want to cover them with packing tape, or cover the entire back with contact paper.)

As children create a variety of designs with the geometric shapes (patterns, butterflies, etc.) talk about the names of the shapes, how the shapes feel, and how they compare in size.  This encourages language skills as they describe the shapes and the stories behind their designs, creativity as they come up with their designs, as well as math skills as they begin to be familiar with the characteristics of geometric shapes and can compare them using terms like smaller than, larger than, half as big, etc.  While they’re at it, they’re also using their small motor skills to manipulate the pieces, science knowledge is built as they explore with the magnets, and social skills would certainly come into play if they happen to be working with a partner.  Wow!  Who knew one fun little exploration center could support so many different areas?  There are even more objectives that could come into play, but my fingers are cramping up, so you’ll just have to recognize those yourselves!

Often, after free-play time, as I’m gathering the group, I will grab these shapes and ask who played with that area that day.  Then we’ll quickly go through the shapes as  a large group, discussing the shape names and characteristics as well as their textures.  This creates a quick opportunity for review as a group, while also sparking interest in that area for the next day.

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience

Book Activity: My Crayons Talk

My Crayons Talk

My Crayons Talk by Patricia Hubbard is a perfect introduction into the interplay between color and language.  The girl in the story explains how her colors talk as she draws.  For example, “Yellow chirps, ‘Quick, Baby chick.'” The accompanying picture shows the girl sitting in a straw-colored meadow, surrounded by baby chicks, while wearing a sunny sun dress and funky sunglasses. 

As you read the story, point out that the colors don’t actually talk in a way the girl can hear, but that the colors remind her of things.  They make her feel a certain way.  After the story, or after each color, talk with the children about what the colors remind them of.

After the story, I like to use this My Favorite Color poem page to do a whole language activity.  It gives each child the chance to think about her favorite color in terms of each of the five senses.  As she completes each thought, her words are written down, creating a connection between the written and spoken word.  You can enhance this language and literacy activity by slowly sounding out the words, or asking questions like, “What letter does ‘blue’ start with?”, or simply thinking out loud as you write (“Purple.  P..p..p.. that sounds like a “p” to me!” “I like writing “T”! Straight down and straight across!”).  Don’t make it overly laborious, but enhance the experience as it feels appropriate.  (For more  tips for encouraging beginning writers, read here.)  Afterward, the children draw pictures right on top of their words, or on the back of the paper, whichever they prefer.  It’s a preschool masterpiece combining visual and language arts along with the five senses!

This activity builds sensory awareness, creativity, and language and literacy skills.  It is also just an enjoyable experience to hear the children’s answers!  Some are poetic, others silly, and some are very matter-of-fact, but they are each unique to the individual child who composed them! 

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!


Filed under book activity, Building Readers, Create, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, sensory activity

Book Activity: Mouse Paint

Mouse Paint

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh is one of my very favorite books for teaching about primary and secondary colors.  The children absolutely love it as well.  In the story, three mice climb into three jars of paint (red, yellow, and blue) and then begin dancing, stirring and mixing with their feet as they blend the primary colors together to create secondary colors.  (Incidently, White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker is also fantastic and follows a very similar format.  Just in case one is easier for you to get your hands on than they other!)

I love to follow up this activity with a color mixing activity.  Simple finger-painting works well, as does the Colorful Snack activity.  My favorite way to extend this activity is with tie-dying!  I love to start out with a white rolled up shirt, and then dip it into each color just as the mice in the book.  Here’s how I usually do it.

For starters, I like to follow the spiral pattern explained here at the Rit website.  So read through those directions first, and then my directions might make more sense!  (I could only hope!) I like this because it gives a great wearable sample of color mixing as the colors blend together. 

I start out by putting the water on the stove to heat up as I read the story with the children.  Once we’re done and the water is sufficiently heated, I pour the water into three bowls (this will stain plastic, so ice cream buckets or something disposable is great, otherwise use stainless steel).  I ask the children about the three colors in mice paint as I add the dye to make one red, one yellow, and one blue – just like in the book.  The Rit instructions give specific proportions, but I kind of eye-ball.  About half to a full gallon of water to half a container of dye.  This is much more concentrated than the directions call for, but it gives more vibrant colors.

Then we twist up the shirts as directed and secure with rubber bands to create our white “mice”.  Now, I am generally a very hands-on person, but once it comes to the dying part, I pretty much keep it to my own glove-covered hands.  (I mean, we are talking about boiling hot water and permanent dye.)  I dip the shirts into the first color and have the children count or sing to help me time the process.  I try to get 1-2 minutes in each color.  Give the shirts a quarter turn as you dip them into the next color.  Once you’ve been through all of the colors, you can unwrap them to show the result.  I’ve found, however, that if you let the shirts sit for a few hours to “cure” the colors are a bit better.  So you may want to do a “dummy” shirt so that the children can see the result without unwrapping theirs. 

The Rit directions also say to unwrap the shirts before rinsing.  There tends to be a bit of color picked up by the white areas of the shirt as you rinse, but this is minimized if you do your rinsing while the shirts are still wrapped.  Rinse as well as you can, until they run clear.  The shirts still need to be washed and dried afterward, so there will be some bleeding, but a bit less than if you unwrap before rinsing.

I like to show the shirts again before sending them home, since some time will have elapsed since the activity.  We talk again about the story and how we made the shirts, and I point out the different colors in the shirts.  You can find where the yellow and red meet together to make orange…and on and on.  I send the shirts home with a note reminding parents to be careful as they wash them for the next few washes in case the colors bleed further.  (I usually just wash mine with towels for a while.  Of course, I don’t really have fancy towels though.)

You’ll notice in one of the pictures above, I have one batch of shirts in the red and another in the yellow.  This worked OK, but I found that when I used the same dye for more than one batch, my colors were a bit tainted.  So if you can, do all the shirts at once.  I like to do it with a small group, about 4-6 children at a time, one group per day, so I can have a fresh batch each time.

This is a really exciting activity that incorporates the concepts of primary and secondary colors, wearable art, and the senses as the children see and smell the dye and as they feel the shirts they made.  It is a perfect extension for either Mouse Paint or White Rabbit’s Color Book, which builds language and literacy skills as well.  So glove up, and get into some Mouse Paint!

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, Create, Learning through Play and Experience