Category Archives: Art

Why do we think children have no opinions?

Crowds of People at Matterhorn at Stelli Lake, above Zermatt. Or is it?
Crowds of People at Matterhorn at Stelli Lake, above Zermatt. Or is it? See below to find out.

Danielle and I recently facilitated a four week course on re-imagining art with young children with a group of 20 educators. The discussions were wide ranging, sometime intense, sometimes funny. The educators shared many stories of children and art, how art was perceived in the places they worked, their struggles and their wonderings.  We challenged each other, argued about practice, and looked to the work of artists to inspire us.

We wondered about the conventional ideas around art in early years settings:

• Art happens at the art table.

• Materials are chosen by educators.

• Art is an individual endeavour. Keep your paint on your own painting.

• Art materials come from catalogues and include glitter, paint, pom-poms, stickers, and felt pens that smell like candy.

• The art materials offered are different every day.

• Children are never forced to do art, but are highly encouraged to visit the art table. There is value (pressure?) placed on having something to take home.

• The goal of art is to work on fine motor skills, follow instructions, and have a finished product, preferably a product that is representational, that looks like something.

All of this got me thinking…do we think children have no ideas? No opinions on what they like to work with? No inkling of what  inspires them and what doesn’t inspire them?

As we investigated what art means to ‘adult artists’ we found that art happens everywhere. It happens here . And here. And here.

We found that artists collaborate like this. And this.

We found that art doesn’t have to look like something to have value.

And that anything can be used as an art material.

So here is my challenge to you:

Ask children what they want to do with materials. Ask them where they would like to do art, what they like to do and what they don’t like to do. Take art to the sandbox, to the park, to the forest, to the block area, to a big empty space in the middle of the room. Give art time. Work with one material for weeks.  Be ok with mess. Bring in art books. Look online and bring crazy ideas to children. Listen to their crazy ideas….try crazy ideas.

Let children tell you what inspires them. Listen to their opinions.

Note: Thanks to the participants of the Re-Imagining Art Course for being open to the dialogue, and sharing the mundane and the marvellous of your practice.

Note on the above photo:

T^rash People. One of the largest displays of recycled art in the world, Trash People was created by HA Schult and features 1000 trash men constructed out of aluminum cans, computer parts and plastic. It took over six months to complete


I feel I owe Anna an apology.

Anna was in my preschool many years ago. She was a very focussed girl who took whatever she was doing very seriously. When she worked on an art project, she was entirely absorbed, oblivious to all else. When I gave her a five minute warning to end her project for group time, she paid me no heed and continuing working. But routines and group times were important to me then, so a battle of wills ensued….and of course I won. Anna stopped working on her project and came to group time.

I was reminded of Anna recently as I sat in an art studio with another educator and a group of children and clay. The clay, still in it’s plastic bag, had been placed on a tree round on the canvas floor.

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The children worked to get it out of the bag, scraping small bits with tools and fingers, working the small pieces, shaping them, pressing them.

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There was deep concentration, and very little talking. Gradually a few kids drifted to other areas, until one child remained.  She gathered the clay together and worked for a while on her own, then put it all back in the bag, and dragged the bag back to the tree round.

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Then she left.

 The other educator and I were left sitting in the studio, looking at the bag of clay.

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Endings, we said. We never see endings. We never see how children and materials come to an ending.  We adults instigate endings, telling children it is time to be finished, always dictated by our schedule. It was lovely to watch an ending dictated by children.

 I’m sorry Anna. I wish I had let you dictate your own ending.

You’re Too Young to Paint!

“Ohhh no! Come with me, you’re too young to paint! ” A toddler who has been dabbling his fingers in paint is whisked up and away by a parent and plopped down beside some cars.

Parents, grandparents and caregivers routinely move small children away from paint in this drop-in program. Whether it is paint on the table with brushes, paint on the floor or paint at the easel, all are out of bounds for some toddlers. The facilitator of this program would love to have toddlers paint, and has never imposed restrictions about an  appropriate age to paint. In fact there are photos around the room of children, small and big, with paint on their hands, faces and arms. Mess is acceptable here, there is a sink nearby, smocks are available. So why does there seem to be a ‘rule’ about the ‘right ‘ age to paint?

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 Do we think a toddler is going to go wild? Throw paint at the ceiling? Toss a brush at a bystander? Pour it on someone’s head?

 Do we think that because a toddler isn’t making marks on paper that are representational they are

therefore unable to use paint ‘properly’?

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Does making marks with hands or fingers, or pushing the brush around in circles not count as painting?

What role do clothes play? Has keeping clothing clean become a value of childhood?

 Do we think toddlers are not capable of experimenting with texture, colour, brush, paper?

 Do we think toddlers are too young to make their own choices about what materials they would like to explore?

Are toddlers simply not trustworthy?

 Is there too much unpredictability giving paint to a toddler? Does it mean we will lose control?

 When is the right age to paint? Would we ever tell someone they were too old to paint?

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 What are we afraid of?


I wonder why?

WP_20130402_017Watching children’s creative processes always amazes me. You really get to know children through the way they create. Their work tells you something, even random paint splotches tell you something.  You get to know the children through their art and the process in which they engage with the materials. I know that Eunice is about to get serious about her painting if she kneels to paint. I know that Lily is going to start planning if she asks for a really large paper. I know that Brendan will create city plans if he grabs the masking tape.  Sometimes though something happens at the easel or art table that makes me wonder why?

 This morning when I was prepping the easels I was short one metal cup for paint. So one easel had only two choices of paint instead of three, I didn’t think much of it beyond being annoyed that I couldn’t locate the third cup. I went about my morning with the children engaging in dialogue, listening and documenting our learning.

 I would change the paper at the easel from time to time, as one does in a preschool.  The more I removed the children’s work from the easels the more I noticed a pattern emerging.  At the easels that had three cups of paint I was seeing very representational paintings; trees, suns, flowers, crosses, roads, etc. I was noticing in these images the colours were not mixing. If an object was painted in green it didn’t have any other colour on it.

A painting from an easel with three colours.
A painting from an easel with three colours.

On the other hand what I was noticing at the easel with two colours was experimenting with mixing colours and paper being covered in colour. I noticed children experimenting with painting with two brushes at once, using circular motions to mix the colours and large strokes of paint.

A painting from an easel with two colours.
A painting from an easel with two colours.

I started to watch the children painting.  Why? I kept asking myself, I contemplated all the possibilities. Could it be the colour choices at the easels? Was it the way I presented them? Was the other provocation I had set up in the room with the rainforest book and drawing influencing the children’s use of the colour green? Do pink and yellow just beckon to be mixed? Was it the brushes?

 Wanting to explore this further and see what was causing this pattern, I set up the easels the exact same way, right down to the brushes I provided. You know what it didn’t happen again and again I ask why?

 What are your thoughts? Why do you think this pattern emerged?



A Kick in the Pants

Kids and cameras…  I just can’t tell you how much I love kids and cameras.


This week I sat with six 3 year olds and watched as they took photos. Each child took photos from the chair in which he or she sat, but you’d never know it from the resulting pictures. What each child ‘saw’ from their chair is so distinct, so interesting, so not what an adult would see.


The medium of the camera lens inspired them to look at surfaces of carpet, floor, legs, ceiling, blankets and dolls. They held the camera in many different ways inviting many different viewpoints: tops of heads, close ups, (very close photos of my mouth, teeth and chin…all of which I deleted!)


And that is the fascinating thing, kids see things differently. And I need to be constantly reminded of that, because all I see are things the way I alway see them….The photos make me consider multiple ways of seeing, to remind me of the many possible viewpoints. They inspire me to consider “seeing the known” in new ways, and open questions about my ways of seeing and understanding.


 So it’s not just that I love the photos, it’s also a kick in the pants …to try things, go upside down, lie on the floor, put my feet in the clay, taste the paint, shake the plastic red teapot with the plastic lemon inside (a shout out to Fort St John educators!) shoot the toy cars down the ramp, bang the drum as hard as I can… see, feel, hear and touch in ways outside my adult ways.