Set Up an Artist Environment
Young children are often inspired by and attracted to beautiful works of art. They also have a strong desire to create their own masterpieces. An introduction to an early childhood artist theme can be done simply in the way you set up your classroom environment.
Posters - Hang works of art on the walls at the children’s eye levels. Rotate these every couple of weeks to give them a chance to see a variety of styles and artists. Or, correlate the works of art to a particular unit being covered. You can purchase postcards and prints of various sizes from local museums. Some local libraries and museums have special educational kits available for teachers to borrow for a period of time.
Books - Include books in the reading corner for the kids. There are many books for young children that introduce famous works or art or artists. Mini Masters is a series of small board books that incorporates masterpieces with cute, rhyming text. Children can interact with the Touch the Art series, as they brush Mona Lisa’s hair, or pop the top from Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup. The Great Art for Kids series are board books that focus on one particular artist at a time. Put out coffee table art books and demonstrate to the children how to carefully turn the pages.
Games - You can purchase or create your own artwork matching games or bingo games. A great series to introduce works of art to children, with follow-up activities for an art shelf or art appreciation center, is the Child Size Art Masterpieces collection by Aline D. Wolf.
Open-ended art area - Keep children’s creative juices flowing by providing plenty of open-ended art materials available. As they learn about each artist or are inspired by a particular work of art, they can create their own masterpieces.
Focus on Artists Within a Movement
Pay attention to which artists your children seem to be most attracted as you introduce the artist theme by movement. Favorites are often Impressionists and Abstract. Pick those artists for a focused study. Introduce other similar artists for comparison. Start with a biographical sketch of the artist. Use bits of information from the Anholt’s Artists Books for Children or Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series of books. These books can be a little long for reading out loud to young children, so summarize the words and focus on the pictures.
Display works of art that are by each artist. Talk about what they see in those pictures, including colors and subject matter. Discuss the feelings evoked by each piece. Explain techniques and art media used. Then, give the children a chance to create their own project based on their favorite masterpiece. Find free printable coloring activities on Enchanted Learning, or purchase coloring books about the masters.
Use some of these quick activities to focus on particular artists.
Monet: Talk about how things look in real life and then compare them to some of the works of art. For example, a real tree is made up of greens and browns, but Monet liked to also use pinks, blues, purples, and yellows. Use sponges for dipping into paints to create a more textured effect on follow-up projects.
Van Gogh: Vincent Van Gogh liked to use a lot of swirls and had extremely tall trees. A classic activity is to paint a version of “Starry Night” with watercolors and then to sprinkle salt on it.
Seurat: Georges Seurat was the first to fill in pictures with dots. Show children how the dots are actually a bunch of different colors close up, that blend as you move far away. Start with bingo markers for making dots in coloring pages or blank paper and gradually decrease to simply filling in dots with markers or Q-tips dipped in paint.
Munsch: “The Scream” by Edvard Munsch is a great post-Impressionist painting to use to convey how feelings can be expressed through art. See if children can identify the lines as demonstrating the scream and then invite them to make their own version.
Mondrian: Piet Mondrian liked to use a few shapes in primary colors and a lot of black lines and white space. Children can use a ruler to draw their lines and then color in squares and rectangles. Or, pre-cut some squares and rectangles for them to glue on a white background.
Picasso: Pablo Picasso was famous for his cubist renditions of people, often with parts of the body in the wrong place. Cut out faces and body parts from magazines and let children make collages based on his style of painting.
Matisse: Henri Matisse eventually was unable to hold a paintbrush, so he started doing paper cuttings for his art. Children can get a lot of fine motor practice as they cut out their own creations.
Pay attention to some of the creative activities that the children develop on their own, as well. An early childhood artist theme should be guided, yet open to interpretation.
Merberg, Julie and Bober, Suzanne. Mini Masters (series). Chronicle Books, 2006.
Appel, Julie and Guglielmo, Amy. Touch the Art (series). Sterling, 2006.
Hyde, Margaret. Great Art for Kids (series). Pelican Publishing, 2003.
Wolf, Aline D. How to Use Child -size Masterpieces for Art Appreciation. Parent Child Press, 2010.