Kid's Art Project, Messy Art, Preschool Art, Process Art

Sensory Art Play

Messy Baby Art

I was first introduced to the idea of Sensory Art for kids when I lived in Portland, OR. The class was offered at an art studio called Art A La Carte that I frequented with my kids. Though my kids were too old for the class I fell in love with the concept. When I moved back to Knoxville in 2015 and opened my studio,  I felt like such a class would be great fit here in Knoxville. I first began offering sensory based art classes at my studio, The Basement Community Art Studio back in 2015. Messy Baby Art Classes were geared to infants (Sitting-24 Months).  Since 2015 the class continued to grow and grow in popularity. I have had the privilege of working with so many infants and toddlers through this program. When I accepted the Job at the MUSE Knoxville  in 2018, I added a similar class there, Mess Maker Mondays. Though this class is slightly different, it has continued to offer a sensory based art experience here in Knoxville.

Messy Baby 1
Sensory art can be a full body experience.

Sensory based art is something that I am deeply passionate about. I believe that fostering this type of experience from a very young age acts as a building block to support creativity and creative play as a life long habit.  So that begs the question…

What is Sensory Art?

Child development experts agree that young children learn best when their play appeals to their senses. When children engage their senses during play, they build powerful cognitive connections. They begin to learn about the world around themselves. Young children and infants uses all of their senses to take in stimuli from the world. When they are provided with an environment rich in sensory experiences they are able to make more of these types of connections. Being able to explore this way stimulates movement from the child and strengthens their motor skills and coordination as well.
As the child plays you can add language to their experience. Give the proper names of the tools they are using. As they reach for a tool, name it. “Sponge.” or “Feather.” You can also name the colors they are using. Simply say “Blue.” when they use blue paint… Keeping the language short and clear allows them to begin to make associations between the language and the object. It is much more clear than saying something like, “Yes, you found the blue paint. Can you use the feather to paint blue on the paper.” Simple language is best.

messy collage
Sensory art play is fun for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers!

Setting up a Sensory Based Art Experience at Home

During our sensory art classes we like to offer a variety of tools and materials for the child to explore. Basic everyday household objects make great painting tools! Possible ideas include:

  • Wooden spools
  • Toilet Paper tubes
  • Bits of Yarn
  • Corks
  • Sticks
  • Pine cones
  • Leaves
  • Food (potato, celery, apple) all make fun prints
materials collage
Using a variety of materials provides diverse sensory experiences. 

Look around your home and find items with an interesting texture that are safe for the child to explore. Try to offer them a variety of different shapes and textures to explore during their art play. Be sure to use child safe, non toxic art materials. I love Blick Student grade tempera paints, they are non-toxic, gluten and peanut free,  and washable. Using a variety of tools offers the child multiple sensory stimuli, plus it provides opportunity for further language acquisition when you name the tools as we discussed above.
There are wonderful art products out there for young children that you can purchase through stores or online if you wish, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money. You can find some amazing DIY art supply recipes for tiny artists online. From craft dough to edible paints and more, the internet is filled with great ideas you can make at home with common ingredients found in most kitchens! Have fun exploring and setting up your child’s sensory art projects (This can be a great creative outlet for you too)!

Where to create?

 

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Standing at an easel or wall can be a fun way to explore paint for toddlers and preschoolers. 

Provide your child with a variety of ways to explore the art materials as well. Once the child can stand consider painting at an easel. If you don”t have an easel you can tape paper to a wall at their height. You may want to use a drop cloth or larger paper behind the paper they are painting to contain the mess and make clean up a bit easier.
If your child is not yet standing simply spread out paper on the floor for them to paint on. Remember older children also enjoy working on the floor from time to time as well! Working on the floor can give them the opportunity to work much larger, using large motor movements which can be a nice change for older children.

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It can also be fun to involve your child in the clean up!

If you are concerned about the inevitable mess consider working outside on a nice day or use an old sheet/drop cloth on the floor under their work. When the art time is over simply fold away the drop cloth and store it for next time! Another fun place to create art is in the bath tub. When art time is over just clean the baby and the mess up at the same time.

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Working at the table, splattering paint on rubber bands. 

Tables are always a great place to explore art materials, but try to provide variety for your child with their art play. If you usually paint at the table, consider trying a new spot. Often as children get older, most of their art is done at a table. This limits the size of their art as well as the motor movements they use to create their art. An occasional change in location is always exciting and keeps their art experience fresh and new!

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Large sheets of paper on the floor are always fun!

 

Keep in mind that art is messy, and the mess is part of the fun! Learn to embrace the mess as your child creates. With a little planning the mess can be easily contained and relatively easy to clean up as well!

 

Prepare for a mess

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Crawlers enjoy exploring the slippery textures.

Sensory exploration in art is often very messy, so be prepared. At the studio we recommend letting our youngest artists paint in their diapers or an old onsie. Older toddlers and children we recommend wearing old clothes paired with an art smock or apron. Most children’s art supplies are considered “washable” however, I have noticed that they do not always wash completely out. So, it is best to dress in clothing you are not too worried about. Adults facilitating messy art should also dress in clothing that can get painted…because it very likely will, lol.

Drop cloths such as a painters tarp or old sheet can help protect the ground or table around your art area, making clean up a bit easier.

Most importantly have fun and embrace the mess!

Check out this fun little video from one of my classes!

 

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Kid's Art Project, Preschool Art, Process Art

Simple toys for creative play.

Simple Toys for

Back in 2011 Jonathan H. Liu wrote an article for wired.com called “The 5 Best Toys of All Time” The title is linked to the article if you wish to read the whole thing. Here are his selections:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tube
  5. Dirt

This article got me thinking about kids and creative play. As we enter this holiday season, our minds are focused on the next great toy. Each year there is that special coveted toy that makes every child’s wish list. It is usually flashy and colorful with buttons and noises. So much fun, right? Well yes, it is fun for a while… but have you noticed that once your child has played with it for bit they tend to lose interest in it?  That flashy, great, must have toy usually ends up in a corner somewhere collecting dust when the child loses interest and moves on to something else. Why is that? Well I believe that it is because children’s interest is better served with much more open ended play things. Toys that allow for creative play and thought. Toys that can be used in multiple ways and for multiple purposes tend to stand the test of time. Often times those toys are much more simple in nature, such as the box or the stick. They can represent many things at many different times. They grow with the child’s interest and knowledge of the world. They are  as dynamic as the child’s own brain. 

Found Object Sculpture collage

I am not saying that these fancy toys are bad or that you shouldn’t provide them for your child. I am only suggesting that they be balanced with simpler more open ended play things. Items that last beyond the lifespan of a battery.

I am reminded of two of my very favorite toys from childhood.

toys

  1. A wooden rope spool
  2. 2 pieces of plywood hinged together.

These toys were given to me and my brother for Christmas one year by a dear family friend and they provided hours of entertainment throughout the years…Yes I said years. I still had them when I went away to college! When we received these toys we were quite young. I do not remember exactly how old, but early elementary school anyway. At first the hinged wood became a fort/tent  to play in. We would set it up and hide inside. Sometimes it was a doll house of the cave for a stuffed animal. The spool was often used as a car or a wheelchair. Sometimes it was a tower as we built with blocks. I used to even pretend that it was a two story condo for my barbies.  I loved to try to walk on it, pretending I was in a circus act. Both of these toys provided hours of endless entertainment. As I got older the spool became a seat in my room or a night stand. The hinged wood became a table top, or a hard surface to draw on. These toys grew with us and allowed for many uses as we grew up and our interests changed. I can tell you I do not remember many of the toys I played with as a child. There are only a few that have remained in my memory, but these were two of them. These two simple yet creative and open ended toys remain as fond memories of childhood.

nature art collage

Throughout my work with children, I have seen the toys listed above turn into magnificent creations. When a child’s imagination is at play wonderful things happen. Creative play allows the child to process their own unique ideas and thoughts. It allows them to problem solve, to discover new ways to do things, and to build confidence in their own ability. 

bottle cap art

So with all of that in mind I would like to expand the list of toys to include a few more items that allow for creative play and foster the child’s imagination and creative minds. 

  1. Sticks of all sizes.
  2. Cardboard boxes, and sheets of cardboard.
  3. String/yarn/ribbon
  4. Cardboard Tubes (Toilet paper tubes , and sturdy mailers)
  5. Nature Item: dirt, leaves, pine needles, pine cones, acorns, seed pods…
  6. Corks
  7. Bottle caps, both plastic and metal
  8. Tin cans
  9. Wooden Spools, (both large and tiny!)
  10. Scrap wood (Large and small pieces, perhaps with a hinge!)

These are simple toys that are readily available to just about anyone,  they provide hours of creative play, and are engaging to all ages! Children of all ages can enjoy playing with these items. The photos throughout this post have been made by preschoolers, school age children, teens, and even adults! So go ahead raid your own recycle bin or collect some items from your yard.

What can you create out of these items when you allow your imagination to run wild?

cardboard tools

Consider the following tools to use with your creative items when playing:

  1. Low Temperature Hot Glue Gun
  2. Scissors (Sharp enough to cut cardboard)
  3. Tape (Try out different kinds!)
  4. Sharpie Markers
  5. Paints
  6. Simple hand tools (hammer and nails, drill…)

child with hot glue gun

Note: All of these tools can be used with children, however adult supervision is necessary to prevent possible injury with some of them. Just remember not to take over if you are assisting a child. Your job is to assist them in creating their ideas… even if you can think of a better way to accomplish the task. Failure is ok in creating…it provides opportunities to problem solve and to learn perseverance. Most importantly it shows the child that you have confidence in their ability and that their thoughts are valid. And always, remember to have fun!  🙂

creative play art collage

box costume

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I would love to see what you create leave a photo in the comment section or on Instagram with the hashtag #artbreaks

 

Art Project, Preschool Art

Gravity Painting with Preschoolers

Paint the Rain

One of my favorite projects with preschool aged kids is gravity painting. There is something so rewarding about watching paint drip. The kids alway have such a great time with this one! This project is very easy to set up and can be done easily at home. Keep in mind that it has the potential to be quite messy though so if you are worried about a mess you may want to try this one outside!

gravity painting collage

You will need:

  • Small jars
  • Eye droppers or pipettes
  • Washable paints, I prefer liquid watercolors though tempera paint works well too.
  • Water to dilute paint.
  • Paper to paint on. I like to use a watercolor paper or at least a 90# paper for durability.
  • Drop cloth for floor or table if painting inside.
  • Some sort of easel or wall that you can attach your paper to.

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Set up:

  1. Prepare your space by covering the floor and or table where you will be painting.
  2. Attach your paper to an easel or wall. Be sure that it is at the correct height for your child. They should be able to comfortably reach the top of the paper.
  3. Prepare your paints by mixing with water. Paints should be thin enough to be collected in the dropper and to drip. I like a fairly watery consistency for this project. Just make sure that you have enough paint to give a rich color.
  4. Place one dropper or pipette into each color.

A note on paints: For this project select 2-4 colors of paint to work with. Be sure to keep your paint colors in the same color family in order to avoid brown drips…unless brown is what you are after! Warm colors: reds, oranges, yellows work well together as do cool colors: blues, greens, purples…

Spilled paint
Remember messes are likely!

For this project I love to tell the kids that we are going to be painting rain! So I tend to choose dark blues, purples, and turquoise colors to paint with.

Process:

Gravity painting collage1
A mom guiding her child to squeeze the dropper by gently placing her hand over his to demonstrate when to squeeze.
  1. Invite the child to paint. As I said before, I love to tell the kids that we will be painting rain. This is a fun way to relate this project to their life experience a bit.
  2. Show the child how to squeeze the dropper or pipette in the paint to collect the paint. I like to really slow this down and exaggerate my movements. Ex: Say, “Squeeze” and very slowly squeeze the dropper in an exaggerated way.
  3. Then say “Let go,” and while the dropper is in the jar completely remove you hand from the dropper, showing the child your empty hand. This is important for children who do not yet have experience with droppers. Otherwise they tend to continue squeezing as they lift the dropper and the paint comes back out before they get it to the page.
  4. Next demonstrate lifting the dropper out of the paint. Point out the paint in the dropper to the child. Finally show the child how to hold the dropper at the top of the page again. Say, “Squeeze” allow the paint to drip down the page.
  5. Hand the dropper to the child and say, “Your turn.” It may take them several tries to collect paint and get it to the paper. That is OK. Unless they are showing signs of frustration allow them to continue exploring it unassisted. If they seem frustrated, repeat the above steps or gently guide their hand as you demonstrate.

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Exploration is key here. Allowing the child to fully engage with the tools is the goal. It may take some time for them to master the tools and they might instead try to paint with or draw with the dropper. All of that is ok. They are exploring something new and relating it to their previous life experiences. Most of all have fun with this project. If the child loses interest, don’t force it. Perhaps try again later. I have noticed that some children respond better to a project the second or third time it is introduced. So don’t worry if your child is not interested, simply try again at a later time!

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This project is a great exploration for older toddlers and preschoolers, but it can also be extended for older children. I have done this project with kids up to 12 years old with great results. For older children try having the child paint a landscape or an umbrella type rain scene on their page first. Then you can have them add the rain to finish it off. Kids of all ages enjoy watching the paint drip!

gravity painting collage2

I hope you have a blast with this project! I would love to hear your experiences with it. Feel free to leave a comment.

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