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Creating art and learning how to appreciate art take place at school, of course. Why not help children unleash their creative abilities at home?

Art is an important part of a child's world. Art is a way for children to express themselves and it also helps them develop their fine motor skills. Learning how to mix two colors to create another color is magic to them. As adults, we are product driven. Children are working to develop themselves and so the process is more important than the final product.

How to Set Up & Organize a Child's Art Area

Paint, clay, glue, pastels... Does the thought of having these art supplies near your just-mopped floor scare you? You're not an artist yourself? You don't have an extra room to devote to art? Have no fear. You don't need to be the next Andy Warhol or Georgia O'Keefe. All you need is a little time and effort.

You don't need an extra room in your home to set up an art "studio." Any small nook or cranny will do. Easy access, child-size tools and supplies, and well-organized materials are the key to success.

  • Find a location. Find a place in your home that your child can call her own. Perhaps a corner in the kitchen will work for you. Do you have space in the family room? Is there room in her bedroom? Let your child help in choosing the right spot.
  • Provide a child-size table and chair. Find a position for it. Is there a window he'd like to look out (great for inspiration)? Perhaps a view of you working in the kitchen will help your child feel secure.
  • Add a low bookshelf. Use it to store art supplies where your child will be able to see them and independently choose a material or activity.
  • Use baskets, boxes, and trays to store supplies. Small baskets keep pencils, crayons, etc. neat and tidy, yet visible. Boxes or tubs (with lids your child can open and close) will help contain small materials. Trays can store paper or hold a group of supplies for an activity. Place activities and supplies on the low bookshelf.

Supplies and materials lists

Group supplies children are likely to use together. Montessori teachers start with two or three options, then add new materials and supplies or rotate whole activities on and off the shelves often.

Paper and Collage Materials

  • Children's scissors that cut well; choose blunt tips for learners. Need a container to hold the scissors? Re-use a soup can.
  • Glue: A small container and a child-size glue brush will give children more control. A glue stick is also great.
  • Paper: Reclaim a variety of plain, fancy and colored paper from the waste bin, along with used greeting cards and magazines; newsprint; cardstock; construction paper; wallpaper samples.

Options for drawing and writing

  • Colored pencils and pencil sharpener
  • Crayons in different sizes and shapes
  • Pastels and/or colored chalk

Supplies for sculpture and three-dimensional collage

  • Modeling clay; choose a good quality non-toxic art clay or make your own from salt and flour (recipe.)
  • Utensils for clay: rolling pin; potato masher; cookie cutters
  • Collage materials: yarn; found objects (from nature or recycled containers); dry pasta and beans; small pieces of paper (save scraps from other projects!); clean milk cartons.

Painting Supplies

  • Paint (tempera or water colors): Three or four color choices are plenty for the youngest child.
  • Brushes: Good natural-fiber brushes that fit the child's hand are important; one brush per paint color works best. You'll need a place for brushes to dry after they're cleaned. Place them flat on a tray or keep them brush-side-up in a cylindrical container (another re-used soup can!).
  • Interesting tools to apply paint: Print with a potato masher or a whisk, or sponges. Paint with marbles!
  • An apron or artist's smock. Use an adult's old shirt!
  • Small drop cloth, old sheet, or butcher paper. Place under the easel to avoid messes on the floor.
  • A waterproof mat. Place the mat on the table. This defines the child's work space and protects the table.
  • A child-size drying rack (or accessible clothesline) with a basket of clothes pins for hanging artwork to dry.
  • A small bucket and sponges for clean-up. Cut large sponges into sizes that fit the child's hands, wet with water, place on a small tray, and place on the shelf, ready for the child to use.
  • A children's easel makes it easy to switch the paper (different sizes, shapes, and colors) or paint. The wipe-clean painting surface and a place for paint containers can save clean-up time.
Artists Take Care of Their Tools and Supplies.

Teach your children how to respect and care for theirs. In the Montessori environment, cleaning up and taking care of all classroom materials shows respect for the materials and ensures they will be ready for the next use.

  • Pencils: Keep a pencil sharpener handy for colored pencils that need sharpening.
  • Paint Brushes: When finished painting, artists carefully clean their brushes. Keep a small bucket in your child's studio. She can place the dirty brushes in this bucket, carry the bucket to the sink, fill the bucket with soapy water, and clean her brushes. The brushes will be ready for next time!
  • Tempera Paints: Clean excess paint off paint pot lids. Cover paint pots so unused paint won't dry out; plastic wrap works if paint pots have no lids.
  • Pastels: Carefully place back into their individual slots in their container to keep the colors from rubbing into each other.
  • Modeling clay: Keep it moist! Back into the container it goes.
Tips for Teaching Basic Skills

Before your artist begins expressing herself, she'll need to know basic skills. Teach each skill separately. For instance, one day start by helping your child properly hold a pencil. Another time, demonstrate how to safely use scissors. When it comes to using glue, a little daub will do you!

Using paint containers and tempera paint? Demonstrate how to get the drips off the paint brush: Dip brush into the paint and wipe excess paint on the paint container. "Dip. Dip. Wipe. Wipe." Ready to paint!

Using an easel? Before you start, remember to demonstrate clipping the paper to the easel. Also demonstrate how to carefully carry the paper to the drying rack. Practice with a blank piece of paper before your child paints on it.

As always, safety comes first. High-quality materials are so satisfying for children to use but many materials should be allowed only when children show you they are developmentally ready to work safely with them. To ensure your child's safety, adult supervision is always necessary.

Ready, Set, Create!

Once your child knows the basic skills, give him a chance to create on his own. The sky's the limit. Let your little artist go. As in all activities, make sure you give your child plenty of time to create and work at his own pace. Beginning an easel painting five minutes before it's time to run to big sister's piano lesson will put stress on the whole family.

Remember, give your child open-ended projects that don't require "copying." When your child shows you an artwork, respond by talking about the part that is important to your child—the process. "I can see you were really concentrating" "You mixed a beautiful shade of blue!" "It looked like you had fun rolling the clay!" "You made a lot of big circles."

Try not to guess the subject of the painting—you can be sure your child will share if it is important to him. Start a dialogue with "Tell me about your painting." Be as proud of his ability to create as you are of his creation; a few words of encouragement go a long way.

For activities, always demonstrate from beginning to end first (don't forget to tidy up at the end!). New materials that are really variations of familiar supplies (a different pasta shape or a new kind of paper) can be added for the children to find and explore independently.

3 Step-By-Step Art Activities for Children at Home

Marble Painting

Supplies: mat; one marble (in a small container); cake pan (or similar container); construction or bond paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan; paint (in a small container); water (in a small container); a small sponge.

  1. Place mat on table.
  2. Place a piece of paper in the pan.
  3. Dip the marble in the paint.
  4. Place the marble in the pan and tip the pan back and forth, causing the marble to roll.
  5. Remove marble and place in small container of water for cleaning.
  6. Return marble to its container.
  7. Take paper out of pan and place on drying rack.
  8. Use the sponge to wipe up any drips or spills.

Sponge Printing

Supplies: mat; sponges cut in different sizes and shapes; tempera paint (in a small, shallow container); paper; sponge for clean-up.

  1. Place mat on table.
  2. Place one piece of paper on the mat.
  3. Dip the sponge lightly in the paint.
  4. Press the sponge onto the paper.
  5. Lift.
  6. Start off with one color. As your child becomes proficient using the sponge, add additional colors (one container and one sponge per color).
  7. When finished, place paper on drying rack.
  8. Use sponge to wipe up any drips or spills.

Three-Dimensional Collage

Supplies: mat; yarn, string, or cord; found objects (from nature or recycled containers); dry pasta and beans; small pieces of paper (save scraps from other projects!); glue (in a squeeze dispenser); large piece of heavy paper or cardboard; sponge for clean-up.

  1. Place mat on table.
  2. Place one piece of the heavy paper or cardboard on the mat.
  3. Choose one item from the tray.
  4. Place a small amount of glue on the item.
  5. Place item on paper.
  6. Repeat.
  7. When finished, place paper on a flat surface until glue is dry.
  8. Use sponge to wipe up any drips or spills.
The Last Word

Art is a wonderful way for children to express themselves, to develop their fine motor skills, to increase their concentration, and to learn how to care for their materials. A Montessori-style art area stocked with related supplies gives them plenty of opportunities to explore—just add children! Who knows, watching your child create may even inspire you to pick up a brush or a pencil yourself!

—by Pamela Personette, M.Ed., Montessori Educational Consultant, for Montessori Services. Fully committed to Montessori education, Pamela earned an AMS Montessori Primary Credential and a Master's of Education in Early Childhood, Montessori Education, from Notre Dame de Namur University. Pam's passion for Montessori has taken her from head teacher for more than a decade to a unique consulting business that uses Montessori principles to teach the art of superior customer service to adults in the retail trade. Pamela continues to serve children by teaching at Montessori schools.

—Originally Published 2011