Tag Archives: art with children

Action Word Art

Yesterday, I started teaching a winter-break class at the AGNS for 4-5s called “On the Move”.  As the Canada Winter Games are taking place in Halifax, we were asked to tie the theme of our class to the games, or more broadly, “movement”.

I had various things planned yesterday, one of which was a moving valentine, but I think one of the most successful was an activity I came up with as a “filler”. (These kids can get through a lot of things in 3 hours, since in general 30 minutes is the limit, at least for some.) I originally thought we would use paint for this, but since we had just been doing some painting for another activity, I turned to pastels and resist. (Oh resist, how I love you. You make EVERYTHING amazing.)

The children were each given a large sheet of water-colour paper and a box of pastels was placed on the table. Before starting we talked a bit about “action words” and I asked them to come up with some examples. Then I told them to each pick a pastel, and that when I said an action word, they were to make the pastel respond. I actually phrased it a few different ways, both making the pastel do the action, or making the line to the action. I gave them a few second with each word before asking them to stop, pick another pastel, and respond to another word. Here are some of the words I used: bounce, slither, zap, plop, ooze, fly, skip, ripple, run, zoom….

They were remarkably focused. I liked seeing how they approached negotiating the words. Some responded in a kinesthetic way, using violent scribbling for “zoom”, while others tried to show the action visually, with clean lines racing from one side of the page to the other.

When we were done (the pages had started to fill up!) I invited them to add some more colour to their work with water-colour paint. (did I mention how much I love resist?)

I plan to display these at the end of the class show, along with a list of the action words we used. If we have time we may revisit these later in the week, and see if we can spot the various actions hidden in the work.

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I was using chalk with a young friend this morning when we came to body tracing, that old favourite. It reminded me of a very simple activity I’ve done a few times with my classes, and when I checked back in my photo archives I found a good example. First we read I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont, in which a boy paints every part of his body in. Then we use large paper and do tracings of each child’s body with pastel. The paper is not large enough for the whole body so the kids just pick which part they want to do – the head and shoulders, arms or legs. Then, we decorate. Sometimes the children look back at the book to get ideas for how they might want to proceed. This is really where reading the book pays off, because otherwise there is a tendency to just colour the body all one colour, or draw clothing, but when they take inspiration from the book the designs take off!

I generally do this activity starting with pastel, so they can do some more intricate designs and then pass out the paint for that large-scale, messy feeling that is in the book! Of course, the pastel resist the paint so in the end the artwork is quite stunning.

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Gary came to play his trumpet for my “Colour of Music” art class last week. There was much excitement over the “special guest” and I loved seeing them discover the instrument.  After the visit we made our own trumpets out of foam-core. As they drew we revisited what we had learned about the different parts of the trumpet, and how many valves it had and how it is essentially a long tube that has been curled up, and you can really see this in their drawings.

Gary’s trumpet is silver but I didn’t have any silver so we went with yellow (we had a book with a yellow trumpet in it, so they thought that was ok). After drawing the trumpets we made “fanfare flags” just to extend the activity a little. The trumpets were very popular and the kids spontaneously  began marching about the room “playing” their trumpets. (And they would have kept going if I hadn’t had to stop them after a while!)

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Autism Art Class Update

I haven’t said much about autism art class lately so I thought it was time for an update. This term we are working hard to create a recognizable and comfortable structure to the class and activities. We noticed that some children did very well when expectations were clear. An understanding that they must try each activity seemed to create a feeling of comfort. This doesn’t work for the everybody, as it is a divers group, but for three of the children we have a checklist of that day’s activities which they must complete and check off. In one way, it sounds uncomfortably rigid as an art class, but I have seen first had how this system is really helping. It is as if the structure allows them to feel free trying new things, a much-needed scaffold system for their exploration. One child who would do nothing but work with cardboard and tape now enters quite enthusiastically into all the different activities and did amazingly well in print making. Note the 3/3, A+ he included in this print – his way of recognizing and celebrating the fact that he tried all three activities.

On top of the organized list of activities, each station also includes  visual queues. For example, at the painting station there is a card with an illustration of a hand painting. Activities that have several steps are broken down into “First this, then this” instructions, complete with the appropriate visuals. “First draw then paint.” It can be tricky sometimes to come up with illustrations for every part of an activity, but again I feel the structure is helping.

In a way it is kind of surprising that it has taken us a while to settle into this way of doing things, but in fairness the group is very wide in abilities, and I think we were reluctant to set up structure and expectations when there were some notable differences in the needs of the children.  I was uncomfortable with the idea that there are two groups, even while finding it easy to identify them – one group that participates in activities and the others who do better with free access to materials that seem to work for them every week, such as painting. So right now we have three kids who participate in carefully chosen activities, designed to explore different techniques and materials. I should mention that once they have tried the activities they are free to return to something they like, or do something of their choosing  – it’s not all regimented! We also have two children for whom art class is more open. Painting is generally available to them as it seems to be a favourite. Sponges, brushes, painting large-scale on the floor or wall, or on paper at a table. Sometimes drawing material is out, or last week we had some plasticine. Different children have different needs and it’s ok to tailor or support systems to make this a positive one.  We are still working on it. But we know that trying to meet all the needs in one way just wasn’t working.

This Saturday I took the structure set up a step further by including an activity that required several steps: a tissue box diorama. The first step involved painting the inside of the box, the next was choosing an image from a magazine as a background. Then they had to create the standing up scene inside the diorama (itself quite involved) and add plasticine figures. (I took some process shots but didn’t get good finished ones!)

It was a bit of a challenge to come up with clear visual instructions but the ordered process did work well. In our experience, it’s quite an achievement for these guys to work on a project in a sustained way. Next week I want to try another project that involves several steps. I feel this might be a good way of creating a sense of accomplishment with special works.

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Printed Fruit Trees

Yesterday I taught an art class to 5-7 year olds while being filmed for a kids TV show. I was asked to prepare two activities based on Natural Printmaking. It was a little tricky at first because….well, it’s March, and much of what I would normally like to use for natural printmaking, such as plants, leaves and flowers, are not available. What I came up with is a project that involves two separate printing techniques.

Behold my Printed Fruit Tree!

Of course, I forgot my camera so I don’t have pictures of the lovely Printed Fruit Trees that were created in the class. It’s a shame, because it was wonderful to see all the different approaches to creating the tree form. Mine is an apple tree, but for the class we had pears, apples, oranges and lemons growing on the same branches! I have to say that though I love the look of printed fruits, I found it a little hard to contemplate the waste. I’m sure this is mainly because we still try to get most of our produce locally, and though during the winter we buy oranges and even bananas, it still feels quite “luxurious”! But I’ll set that aside for a moment. Anyway, it is possible to do this project with just one apple!

I admit, I’m pretty happy with this, so I wrote out a little tutorial in case anybody is interested. Here it is:

Printed Fruit Trees



Piece of wood with a pronounced grain pattern. Test it by doing a pencil rubbing.

Brayer (roller)

Block printing ink or paint in brown or black

smooth surface for rolling ink – glass, Plexiglass, plastic


glue stick

Shallow container and thin sponge for print pad in as many colours as paint, or paint brush

Fruit (apple, pear, orange, lemon) cut in half

Wood Grain Printing

Step 1: Use the brayer to spread a little ink on a piece of Plexiglass. Listen for a “tacky sound” to know it is at the right thickness. Roll ink all over the piece of wood.

Step 2: Place a piece of paper ON TOP of the inked piece of wood. (Many children are familiar with stamping and I found even after demonstrating  I needed to remind them to do it this way, instead of trying to  stamp the wood on paper, which does not give a good print.) Rub hands all over paper in a circular motion. Lift paper off and check out the wood grain! Repeat this several times with the same, or a different piece of wood until you have enough “wood” for a tree. Let it dry.

The Tree

Cut out a trunk and branches from the wood grain prints and glue them to a large paper in the form of a tree. With younger children you could easily assist by cutting strips of different widths and lengths while they arrange and glue them on. (but do make sure they are in charge of that process – that’s how you get such beautiful and unique work)

Fruit Printing

Step 1: Place the tree paper on an old, folded towel. This soft surface makes it easier to get a good print. I skipped this step with the kids, and it was ok, but while doing my own I found it really was better. If working with a small group or single child it’s worth doing.

Step 2: Put the sponge in the shallow container and add a few tbsp of paint. Press half a piece of fruit, cut side down, on “print pad” .  Alternatively, with a small group, paint can be applied to the fruit with a brush.

Step 3: Press fruit firmly on paper. Another option, particularly with little ones (and I’d probably do this in a REAL class)  is to let the kids experiment with fruit print on a big piece of paper where they can just stamp away and figure out how it all works. Then bring out the tree. Having done some experimenting they may have a more “compositional” approach to adding fruit.Use many different fruits to create a “Crazy Fruit Tree”!

I felt my tree needed a little something more so I cut a simple leaf shape out of a quarter apple and printed some leaves. In the summer or fall I think it would be great to experiment with printing using real leaves. This would be yet another printing technique and perhaps more in keeping with the rest of the project. Printing with real wood, printing with real fruit and then printing with real leaves. Oh, or even doing some leaf rubbings and furthering the collage element by gluing them on!


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A Sewing Experience

One of the most exciting experiences from my class last week was sewing. Yes, with sharp needles.

The class was for 3 – 5 year olds but the youngest was two months shy of his fourth birthday so when I saw the list of children I was pretty confident we could do some sewing. I’ve worked before with sewing by making sewing cards, which I had originally intended to do as well as a warm up activity, but  just didn’t seem to fit into the day. I think it could still be worth doing though. We used embroidery hoops, embroidery thread and large pointy needles (I’m not sure exactly what kind they were) .

We sat in a circle on a mat, each child having been assigned their own spot (a coloured square on the mat) to avoid any accidental neighbouring needle pricks. Then I showed them how to sew, focusing on how the needle would go from back to front, then front to back. The embroidering hoops and threaded needles were handed out with much solemn ceremony, which I think encouraged the children to feel very grown up and responsible. Then they started sewing!

They all seemed to really enjoy sewing and were very proud and excited. In a group of nine it requires a fair bit of support to re-thread needles with new colours and to deal with any tangles and I was happy to have a volunteer thereto help! The most common issue was if the needle didn’t go back through the side it had come and the thread went around the hoop. Some children noticed this issue right away and we could solve it, others happily sewed away and I dealt with it afterwards. When they had been sewing for a while I introduced some beads for them to add to their work. They worked for about 45 minutes and had to be persuaded to stop at the end of class. It was lovely to sit in our own little sewing circle with everybody so concentrated on their sewing.

The needlework looked fantastic in the hoops but unfortunately the hoops couldn’t go home. When I took the cloth out of the hoops the results looked a little sad, what with the resulting lack of tension, especially with the rather large stitches. So I improvised and took the pieces home and used a machine to sew them into small round pillow shapes. The next day the kids stuffed them with fabric scraps and then sewed them closed. That last step was a little more tricky but they managed it. I could have stuffed and closed the pillows myself (hmmm….maybe if I had a bit more time!) but the children were so proud and pleased of their work that I’m glad I let them do it. I think another alternative would be to make round cardboard frames and attach the fabric with staples instead of using hoops. This way the “mistake” of sewing round the rim of the hoop would not be a problem, and they could also take it home. Now that I’ve had success with the sewing I know I’ll be thinking of all kinds of ideas to include it in projects! Sewing is so rare these days that many of the children didn’t have much of an understanding of it at all before we started. I found this activity really helped them to appreciate some stories we read about quilting and they were able to identify dashed lines in the illustration as the sewing lines. All very exciting.

Here are some of the funny little pillows:

Oh, and in case you are wondering – over the course of the week there were TWO paper cuts, and nobody got stuck with a needle!


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Flock of Birds

It’s been a busy and exhausting week so I feel a bit behind with posting! Today in Folk Art for Little Folk we made birds out of cardboard. In the first class I gave the children pencils to draw their birds as I was anticipating some size issues (they needed to be cut out). In fact, I think the pencils had a negative effect, almost causing the children to tighten up and worry about what they were drawing. I hadn’t considered that before. As we moved on things went well, but it is a little crazy to have nine little kids draw, colour and paint birds, with all the support that requires, and also cut out and assemble the birds without having the kids waiting around……so I was almost tempted for the second class to give them vague bird-like cardboard shapes for them to work with. But I decided against it and I’m glad I did. I knew it would be busy but the results were worth it. In the second class I  skipped the pencil step which worked better. You always learn something in these classes.

We attached the wings using a button technique found here. I love looking at the finished flock of birds and when I see the wonderful different sizes and colours and shapes and ideas I’m glad I didn’t limit them simply for ease!

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