Being part of a pre-school classroom where morning sessions are fairly structured and the children learn literacy, numeracy and even a little French, I look forward to the contrast of the early afternoon period when we usually spend time on art projects that allow creativity to come to the fore. Children can learn about the world around them, the seasons and traditions of different countries whilst developing their own creative talents.
I work mainly with children aged between three and a half and four and a half, and our art projects are often related to our monthly topic, such as shapes, the senses or the environment, as well as to seasonal events such as Hallowe’en, Christmas, Mothering Sunday and Easter. At this age, most children enjoy collage and painting, some love colouring whilst others find it boring, some are adept with a pair of scissors whereas others struggle with them and it might of course be a child that shines academically that finds difficulty here.
Painting with a thick brush gives satisfyingly quick results and usually allows for more freedom than using coloring pencils. For our monthly topic on shapes, we painted a multicoloured beachball for circles and a square house with square windows. The house paintings took on individuality when the children added trees or flowers to their liking in the garden.
Triangles offered an opportunity for a pyramid scene, and this time the children painted palm trees around them. Winter was a time for paintings of robins and snowmen with bare trees and snow falling. We start off with pots of primary colors and the children can easily learn that blue and yellow make green, and so on. Painting a rainbow provides the ideal opportunity for showing the progression of one color to another.
Collage allows for cutting and sticking, as well as the chance to experiment with a wide variety of colors and textures. Materials could be tissue paper, coloured paper, recycled gift wrap, catalog cuttings, or scraps of fabric. PVA glue is inexpensive and will successfully stick fabric as well as paper. I live in Portsmouth in England where we have the curvaceous and striking Spinnaker Tower on the waterfront. When we were looking at the local environment, I drew a basic outline of its shape on A4 paper, then let the children stick small squares and rectangles of colored paper on the basic shape; these were then overlaid with thin strips of paper for the curved frame. Sky was coloured in but could also be painted. If you don’t have an interesting building locally, you could choose a world famous one such as the Eiffel Tower. I am thinking of attempting HMS Victory later this month.
We have recently started following the tradition of an Easter bonnet parade, a fairly ambitious project but definitely a worthwhile one. You need circles of card about forty centimetres in diameter, with a few slits cut across the middle to fit over the child’s head. The children painted the underside in a pastel shade of their choice, and we helped them to cover the upper side with tissue paper. I had visions of heads bursting through the tissue on the day of the parade, but fortunately none did!
Tissue paper flowers can be made by rolling strips of tissue (about six centimetres wide) around the index finger, opening out one end a little and taping the other end up tightly. Last year each child had a different themed hat, such as Easter bunnies, chicks or Easter eggs, but this year we had a few of each decoration on each hat. Most children would be able to cut egg shapes out of card themselves, but some might need help cutting rabbit or chick shapes. They can then paint or colour them, really going to town with the patterned eggs; collage could also be used. The decorations can then be taped on to the hats. We fixed ribbons to the underside by stapling and covering the staples with sticky tape. The day of the parade was a wonderful photo opportunity!
Hallowe’en is another occasion that lends itself superbly to art projects. We have made witches on broomsticks complete with a black cat on the other end of the broom and a cauldron hanging below. Not the most colorful project I admit, but you could stick silver stars or crescent moons on to the witch’s cloak to add a sparkle. Simpler Hallowe’en projects include bat silhouettes on a deep blue sky background with a moon and stars, or a black card mask decorated with a spider-web pattern in glitter glue.
Christmas is the time when we go into overdrive on art projects, so much so that we make a special bag out of wallpaper offcuts for each child to take home, filled with their Christmas projects. These can include such easy ideas as ‘fake’ crackers, simply a toilet roll tube filled with chocolate coins and covered with gift wrap, tied at each end of the tube. One little girl said they looked just like the ones in Waitrose! We made felt Christmas stockings, punching holes round the outside so that the children could then thread ribbon through them. The stockings were decorated with felt motifs of either Christmas trees, Santas or snowmen which the children stuck on with PVA glue. Leftover felt could be used to make glove puppets of Father Christmas or a snowman, depending of course on the colour.
I’m now looking forward to the summer, when we can make mobiles of butterflies or birds, and then Pharaonic masks if we talk about hot countries such as Egypt. Before each topic change I am always desperately wondering if I can think of something new, but before I know it ideas come flooding in, and I love to see the input that the children themselves bring to each new project. It inspires me for the year ahead.