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Art Activities for Preschool: A Primer for Teachers

written by: Kara Bietz • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 4/5/2012

You don't have to be a trained artist to create beautiful two and three dimensional art projects with your preschoolers. Many simple activities, such as painting and coloring, can be modified to include sensory elements to increase learning. Try some of these easy activities with your class.

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    The Importance of Art

    Coloured Pencils 0721 (20) Sadly, art is one of the first subjects to be cut when school districts suffer budget cuts. Luckily, as an early childhood educator, you may not feel the same pinch and should always be able to plan and implement creative art activities for your students.

    When young children create or participate in art projects, they are first learning to discover an idea or create a plan. They then work to bring that idea to life, or execute that plan. Through art activities, children can learn problem solving, effective communication when working collaboratively, divergent thinking and will develop a sense of aesthetics.

    By adding art activities to your everyday curriculum, you will be helping children understand the process of having an idea and seeing it through from an idea, to a plan and finally to a finished creation. It is this kind of linear thinking that will help children later understand math, science, literature and other academic concepts.

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    Two Dimensional Art Activities

    kevinrosseel 092922 Two dimensional art activities are those that are created on paper or another flat surface. They can include any kind of picture making, whether through painting, coloring, ripped paper collage or chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Two dimensional artwork can easily be modified to include sensory elements and create a more rich art experience for children.

    Painting: While finger-painting and brush painting can be lots of fun for preschoolers, try switching it up and give children a new means to move paint around their paper. Try some of the following materials as a paintbrush, and compare and contrast the results with children when the project is finished:

    • Cotton swabs
    • Cotton balls
    • String
    • Drinking straws
    • Sponges
    • Fabric scraps
    • Wear rubber gloves while finger-painting
    • Toothbrush

    Add a few drops of condensed milk to the paint before a painting project. The paint will dry shiny and appear slick. Or, add sand or table salt to the paint to create a textured look. There is no end to the possibilities of painting projects for your preschool classroom.

    Ripped Paper Collage: Give students a chance to study the art of illustrator Eric Carle. Notice that his style of illustration includes ripped tissue paper collage, a style that can easily be copied by preschool children. Cut or rip tissue paper into small squares and separate the squares into containers by color. Allow students to use glue sticks to create their own Eric Carle styled artwork. Be sure children have access to Mr. Carle's books for reference while creating.

    Crumpled Paper Shapes: This is a good project to try as a large group art activity. Create a large shape on butcher paper. Some good ideas are a large sun, a Christmas tree, a star or a heart. Allow children to crumple newspaper into a tight ball and dip it into tempera paint. Allow the crumpled balls to dry and then glue them to your large shape. The result is a "3-D" wall decoration for your classroom. Allow children to vote on a shape they would like to create and work collaboratively to decide colors as well as placement in the classroom.

    Stamping: An easy to plan and sure to please art activity for preschoolers is stamping. Provide a few store bought stamps and washable ink pads for your class to enjoy, but also consider creating your own stamps. You can use sponges, potatoes, wooden blocks or even your fingers. Allow children to experiment with several different kinds of stamps and compare and contrast the results of each homemade stamp when the project is finished.

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    Three Dimensional Art Activities

    playdoh Three dimensional art activities include things such as sculpture and clay work. Three dimensional artwork is art that can be looked at from many different sides or angles. Many crafts can be included in three dimensional art activities.

    Potter's Clay: Stiffer and slightly harder to manipulate than play dough, potter's clay is an excellent medium for preschool children. Not only will it give your preschooler's fine motor skills a workout, but it will also dry into a sculpture that can be displayed or taken home and given as a gift. Try keeping a few books with pictures of famous sculptures on hand while children are creating with clay. Encourage children to examine the pictures of sculptures, but allow them to create in whatever way they are most comfortable.

    Salt Dough: Salt dough is super simple to make and is a bit easier to manipulate than potter's clay. Add one cup of salt to one cup of flour and slowly add water until the dough is manageable. Add a bit more flour for a softer dough. Salt dough can be painted when it dries; therefore, it is a good choice when creating ornaments or other sculptures that can be given as gifts. Allow children to use simple tools with the salt dough such as a rolling pin, cookie cutters or scissors. To create a larger sculpture, consider allowing children to use toothpicks to make the sculptures more sturdy.

    Found Object Sculpture: Consider placing a large bin in your classroom labeled "Found Objects." This can include anything from toilet paper and paper towel tubes, to pretty rocks and minerals, to fabric scraps or colorful paper. Allow children to place anything they wish in the found object bin, and ask parents for donations of unique items. When you have a large collection of items, encourage children to create something with the objects. Children can work collaboratively to come up with an idea and execute a plan for building their sculpture. Provide lots of masking, duct and scotch tape for children to secure their sculptures!

    Finger Weaving: This activity may be difficult for young preschoolers, but others may have the fine motor skills necessary for this intricate work. Tie a loose knot of yarn around your thumb. With your palm facing up, wrap a loose loop of yarn around each of your fingers. When you reach the pinky, wrap a loose loop and then lay the strand of yarn over your fingers going back towards your thumb. One finger at a time starting with the pinky, lift the loop up off of your finger and over the strand. This completes the first row of "knitting", and it will now be hanging from yhour index finger. Keep wrapping loops and pulling them over the strand until you create the length of knitted yarn you desire. This will be difficult for some preschoolers, but with practice, it is a great fine motor activity.

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