Build over-sized easels for group work.
Occupational therapists often recommend art easels because drawing or painting on a vertical surface builds fine motor muscle control. But preschoolers love easel projects because they provide an outlet for self-expression and creativity. Make easel art projects a part of your regular curriculum. Offer unstructured painting projects, as well as projects designed to complement other areas of your curriculum.
Ask children to paint or draw a self-portrait at the beginning of the year, mid-year and at the end of the year. Save these samples as documentation of the children’s growth and development. At a parent meeting, ask the parents to paint a picture of her child. Having parents participate in projects helps them understand the worth of art in the classroom. Display the pictures in the classroom. The children will be delighted by their parents’ efforts.
Complement a literacy unit with an art easel project. For example, after reading “The Little Red Hen,” paint with feather dusters instead of paint brushes. Read Susan Lowell’s western version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” — “Dusty Locks and the Three Bears” — and offer the children pine boughs to paint with. Mix two parts magnesium sulfate with one part hot water to make a thin paste. Paint this paste on blue or black paper. As the solution dries, it forms crystals on the paper that resemble ice or snow. Try this project after reading a story about snow, such as Ezra Jack Keats‘ classic story, “The Snowy Day.”
If you’re learning about physical properties — such as solids, gases and liquids — freeze tempera paint in ice cube trays. Insert craft sticks into the paint for handles. The frozen paint cubes create a look similar to pastels, until they begin to melt. Use items of various textures as paint tools when talking about the sense of touch. Try sand paper, sponges, kitchen tools or cotton balls.
Children at the Edinborough Preschool decided they needed more colors than the six or eight available in the classroom set; so they spent more than a week mixing colors in small glass jars to make new shades. The teacher encouraged the children to make names and labels for the paint colors. During this project, the children spent hours at the easel testing paint shades and making adjustments. Incorporate group easel art activities into your classroom occasionally. These projects encourage unity and problem solving skills.
Odds and Ends
Don’t limit easel art activities to drawing and painting. Take a multimedia approach. Instruct the children to draw or paint anything they like on the paper first. Layer the project, using collage materials or natural materials. Imitate artists such as Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle and Leo Lionni, who use collage and painting in their work.
Study the Masters
Bring in reproductions of works by various masters for the children to examine. Spend a few weeks imitating their styles. For example, Vincent Van Gogh used tiny paint strokes and painted many versions of sunflowers. Bring in a vase of sunflowers and allow the children to make their own paintings.