Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Falling into Art

This fall for programming, I decided I wanted to reach out to a new group that wasn't being reached as much as I'd like -- the preschool to 2nd grade demographic. This is a fun age to work with, as these kids love trying new things. I thought long and hard about what sort of programming would work well for this group; I'd had luck with our stand alone programming, such as our Princess Tea and our Superhero Party, but I wanted something more regular.

Then it hit me: art! We're not talking about crafts here. We're talking art. The kind parents hate doing at home because it's so messy. Since we're a library, and we're used to messes, this seemed like the perfect outlet for these kids to express their creative urges. I wanted more than simply projects, though. I wanted this program to be about tactile experience, too. I wanted to give kids a ton of different options for creating and I wanted it to be done through means that would be unique and develop some of those fine motor skills that are so important at that age. Of course, these programs translate well for older kids, too, and at my library, sometimes big brothers or sisters have stopped in with their younger siblings, and they've found making art just as fun as the little ones.

I bought a few key supplies before fall and winter programming began to prepare for this program, and I made sure on all of our advertising that it mentioned these art projects can get messy and to dress for it. I've had no complaints about that, and by purchasing large, pump-lidded paints (pictured above and purchased through Discount School Supply), as well as large plastic lunch trays (also through Discount School Supply), I've ensured that what could turn into a very messy project is actually very manageable. Washable trays keep tables from becoming makeshift art pieces quite nicely.

In the program, I like offering more than one project, allowing kids to do any of them they like or all of them, too. If you're looking for a fall project, here's what we did earlier this month!

I focused all of my ideas on leaves this month, and the day of the program, I went for a walk up and down the street where my library was, picking up leaves in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Though I felt a little like a crazy lady picking up leaves from people's yards, no one looked at me twice. Perhaps I've a reputation. Alas, as you can see above, I filled a small storage tub with them. Cost? $0.

Then I set up two of the three projects at one table:

I spread a pile of leaves down the center of the tables, with a project on either side. On the right, this:

Leaf rubbing! I pulled out a box of our crayons and made an example of what leaf rubbings looked like. This is a satisfying project for kids because they get to be a little messy with coloring and still enjoy seeing something that looks like a leaf. It's one they can make into something really artistic and it's one that they can simply enjoy doing without a plan in mind. We had a little of both.

On the left side of the table, this project:

Leaf collages. The kids were able to put leaves into any shape or design they wished to (and some simply piled them one on top of another) and then I put down a piece of contact paper to keep them in place. The nice thing about this project is that the leaves will stay nice for a long time, making it a piece of art they can hold on to for a long time. Supplies needed? Scissors, contact paper, and construction paper. All of those are things probably hanging out on a shelf in your supply area for free.

On the other side of the room, I set up our other project -- one that required the lunch trays, clothes that can get messy, and ample paper towels and hand wipes for the kids (and parents, too):

I pulled out a pile of paper plates, some paint brushes, a couple cups of water, and, as you can see on the far right, the remaining box of leaves. The third project was making these:

Leaf prints! For this project, the kids pulled out leaves, painted them however they wanted to (yes, right on the leaf) and then pressed them down on the paper. While the kids were doing this, I kept trying my hand at it, as my example didn't seem to do much to show the veins of the leaves. I eventually found -- thanks to the help of kids who were much smarter than me -- that painting the back side of the leave would highlight the veins a lot more. Lesson learned.

This simple-to-assemble program was a big hit, and even after some of the kids finished all of the projects, they went back and made second and thirds of some of them. The cost is little more than picking up the leaves, and we probably have plenty of those to spare this time of year.

These programs are great for the family, as often this age group wants a little help from mom and dad. But what I think is important to remember in doing a program like this is less about making the right kind of art piece and more about experiencing the process of making art. As you can see, my examples are extremely simple and even, if you will, lazy. I don't want the kids or parents to feel like they need to make things the way I do. Art is about expressing as you want to, and while kids are usually so eager to do that, it's often parents who insist on making things like examples (storytime crafters are probably familiar with this phenomenon). In these projects specifically, there are so many sensory elements to the art, and I think it's important to step back and let the art come to the kids. If they want to just paint a leaf and not press it, let it happen. If they want to just paint and not bother with the leaves? Let it happen.


  1. Awesome!! I love all these ideas and I'll be using them if we do an Open Art Studio in the fall! We have a supply of old button-down shirts that were donated by a local Goodwill that we use for paint smocks (because even when I publicize that our art studios will be messy, we always get a few that did not dress appropriately...).

    And we collect egg cartons to use for paint holders. :)

  2. Great ideas! I like how you tied in all three crafts with a leaf theme. I also like Abby's idea of using egg cartons as paint holders-Michelle.