Author Archives: Vicky Armstrong

Book cover image of a baby painting

New Art at the Start book!!!

We have been working with some amazing families to develop the ideas from our Home Art box project into a book, to encourage more families to try art making with their very young children. We have been testing and co-designing the activities with the families and a great photographer, David P Scott, has been capturing images. The first versions of the book are now ready and it’s looking amazing!

Photographed by David P Scott. All rights reserved.

We are going to be giving out 200 copies along with the art materials to get started to families across Dundee with our charity partners and through library book bug sessions and Dundee Botanic Garden open days. The Universities’ Festival of the Future has made this launch possible by funding bags of art materials.

art materials

We really hope this book will reassure parents that art is possible with even the tiniest babies and encourage them to have a shot. We are always emphasising that art making with wee ones is about the process of exploration not the final product and there are so many benefits from giving it a go. And it is really fun for the wee ones and the big people too!

Photographed by David P Scott. All rights reserved.

This book has been made possible with funding from the University of Dundee Impact and Development Fund and the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences Impact Award.

Flower Pressing

We were visiting the beautiful Dundee Botanic Gardens this week with a group of families from the International Women’s Centre. We did several outdoor art activities and here is a nice one to try in a garden at home or on a walk. This flower pressing is a good way of trying mark making for wee ones without traditional materials and with no skills required. You are making a print using the natural colours contained within the plants. They make nice cards afterwards and children will like the surprise of seeing what they get. Remember to only pick plants where you have permission and when you know they are safe. Pansies, marigolds and roses are a good place to start for taste safe petals.

You need:

  • Paper – thicker more absorbent paper works best
  • Flowers and leaves
  • Spoon for rubbing (or a rock to bash with)

Start by gathering some colourful flowers or leaves. Different petals will give different amounts of colour so experiment a bit. We found we got the brightest prints using pansies whereas tulips which looked very colourful didn’t give a nice strong colour once pressed.

Now fold a sheet of paper in half and help wee ones to lay out their flowers in a pattern.

Fold the paper over and show them how to rub over the paper with a spoon. You need to rub quite hard. If you were out and about with tools you can also get the same effect by bashing the flower between the paper with a stone. Some wee ones might find this even more fun!

Once they have rubbed all over the back you can open the paper and let them peel of the squished left overs of the flower to see the print beneath. They can keep going adding flowers till they are happy with the design.

If you want to turn the art works into a card you can just flip the paper fold the other way so the print is on the outside.

Eid Marbled Moon and Stars

Together with the Dundee International Women’s Centre Flourish group, we are using shaving foam marbling to make Eid decorations with moons and stars. Kids will love getting messy with the shaving foam and the whole family can get involved. Wee ones will need help when we get to the scissors.

If you want more help with marbling you can watch our youtube video here:

or the whole craft is here:

You need:

  • Thick paper or card
  • Water based paints
  • Glue stick and scissors (keep out of reach of little ones)
  • Plastic card (like a credit card)
  • Chopstick or lolly stick
  • Thread to hang
  • Baking tray
  • Template for moon and stars on this pdf

● Squeeze foam into a tray and spread it out with a plastic card. Now drip 2 or 3 colours of paint over the surface. We used orange paper in yellow and red marbled paint for stars and blue paper into navy and purple paint for our moon.

● Now use the chopstick to swirl the paint around into a marble pattern. Don’t over mix it so the colours stay bright. Gently press paper into the mixture to transfer the print, lift up and scrape off the extra foam using the plastic card again. You can do several prints from the foam if you spread it back out again. Leave these marbled papers to dry.

● Cut the templates from cereal box card and use them to cut out your marbled papers. Make 2 of every shape you want so you can glue them back to back for strength and to look nice from both sides. We made a moon, 2 big stars and 3 small stars.

● Now thread the stars below the moon. We used a hole punch but you could also use tape or glue. Now you can hang it up somewhere and enjoy.

Art Boxes

Over the Covid-19 restrictions Art at the Start have been sending out boxes of art materials and ideas to try at home to vulnerable families. The first 50 were funded by Vicky’s School of Social Sciences research budget and then we were lucky to win funding from the University’s Public Engagement Seed Fund to do 100 more. The boxes contained everything that families with young children would need to try 12 different creative activities and were designed to encourage positive interactions and help wellbeing during the pandemic.

A report looking at our preliminary findings from interviews with parents who received a Home Art Box has just been published. We saw several benefits including increased parental confidence to make art together and increasing connections between parent and child.

Our report – ‘Art boxes supporting parents and infants to share creative interactions at home: an art-based response to improve well-being during COVID-19 restrictions’ – is published open-access in Public Health and is free to read here:

We are really happy that the Art Boxes are continuing to develop and receive interest. We have done follow up packs with the International Women’s Centre and are now working with Amina, funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery so we can continue to reach local families. We are also looking at adapting boxes beyond the pandemic and creating a book resource based on all the ideas and the feedback from families.


Paints on snow

Snow Painting

The snow is providing lots of opportunities for wee ones to have creative fun outside. If you are bored of snowmen try some snow painting. This is relaxed as a parent as you don’t need to worry about mess outside and it’s so simple to set up. This activity is nice for babies and toddlers as the colours look extra vibrant on the snow and they don’t need to press hard to get a strong mark. It’s also a sensory experience to feel the snow and see it melt in the paint. Just wrap up warm!

painting onto snow

You need:

  • Water based paints (or you could use food colouring)
  • Brushes or spoons
  • trays or bowls
  • Snow!

Chose some brightly coloured paints and mix them with the same amount again of water as they will be easier to play with if they are runny. Make sure paints are water based. Now set them up on the snow with either brushes or spoons and invite wee ones to explore them and see what marks they can make.

You could try showing them how to brush it on gently, or dab and make coloured holes in the snow, or splatter it from a height.

splatting paint into snow
coloured paint poured onto snow

We also tried adding the snow into the paint pots once there was enough space and this worked well to mix up and make coloured snow castles or to roll into a ball for coloured snow balls.

With some extra bowls and toy cooking sets this could become a fun ‘snow kitchen’ activity mixing up pretend food or potions.

Have fun experimenting together!

Folded Robin Decorations

This activity can be made very cheaply using regular paper or any leftover wrapping paper or other recycling paper you have around the house. You can also try musical paper, like we have, or old book pages. Wee ones can use their imagination to add some colour and then practice their fine motor skills by helping you to fold the wings.

You need:

  • Paper – you can use recycled papers or some from your pack
  • Scissors (keep away from young children)
  • Some string or ribbon to hang
  • Paint to decorate (or could use pens, crayons etc if you don’t have paint)


You need to cut out a robin body from paper or card. There is a template below that you can use. You might like to do this before wee ones start helping if they are too young for scissors. Now little ones can help you to add some colour using the paint pad or any other colouring materials you have. Here the baby did a handprint tummy using the paint pad and the older one painted freehand. You can go traditional and add a red tummy or just let them use their imagination. Making fingerprints using the pad looks cute for feathers.

While the bird dries fold the wings. You need a bit roughly A4 sized and any paper you like will work. Show little ones how to fold this into a concertina like a fan by folding first one way then the other and repeating till you reach the end.

Now fold the concertina in half and feed the folded concertina through the slit in the body and then open it out to make wings. You can staple or glue a piece of string or ribbon where the two wings meet at the top to make a loop. Hang and enjoy.




Painted Paper Chains

Traditional paper chains make lovely decorations and they are really easy to do with children. We’ve added some extra colour and fun for wee ones by decorating them first. Follow your babies lead in the decorating and let them enjoy the feel of the paint and the different colours. Whatever they do will look beautiful once it’s all put together.

You need:

  • Paper – any colours you have, scrap is fine
  • Scissors (keep away from young children)
  • Glue stick
  • Something to decorate with – can be paints, or any crayons, pencils etc you have at home


Start by decorating your sheets of coloured paper to add even more colour. You can let wee ones do this however they chose as long as they are having fun. Our baby is using her feet but you could try hand prints with the paint pad or finger print dots. Or let older ones design a pattern. Do about 5-10 sheets depending on how long you want your chain and then leave these to dry

Once dry you need to cut each bit of paper longwise into strips roughly the width of a ruler.

Now roll the first strip into a ring and hold in place with a dot of glue. Take the next strip, feed it through the first ring then roll it into a ring as well and glue. Toddlers and up will be able to help you do this bit. Now keep going until you have a beautiful garland to hang up in your house.

Moon Dust and Rockets

We are staying with the moon theme of this years Being Human Festival in Dundee and creating a lunar landscape with a sensory tray for wee ones. Then you could also try to create a rocket to use in the play from cardboard tubes.

You can watch a video with instructions for making the moon dust here

moon dust sensory tray       

Sensory trays are a great way to let wee ones try out new textures and if you add toys they can use their imagination to create small worlds. This moonscape for them to play in uses kitchen ingredients so it’s taste safe for the smallest babies but as always this is designed to be played together with a grown up.

  • Mix together cornflour and oil in these proportions. You can double up the recipe to get the amount you need. Mix with your hands till it is soft and crumbly. It should be possible to squeeze it into a ball and it will hold its shape, but then it will go soft again if you crumble it.



  • You can add other ingredients if you want it to be grey instead of white but this isn’t necessary. We blitzed up some oreo cookies in a blender or you could try cocoa, powdered paint, or edible glitter.


  • Tip it into a large tray like an under-bed storage drawer or a baking tray. Put a mat underneath as it gets messy. We used a foil space blanket to fit the moon theme.


  • Add some space themed toys or a cardboard rocket like below and then let wee ones play and explore. Balls of tinfoil make good asteroids.


  • Older children might like to experiment and see how craters are made on the moon by dropping in a heavy ball or a stone.

Rocket build 

Try this activity with your mini humans to create a rocket to visit the moon with. They could also use it to play in our moon sensory tray. Babies will enjoy painting if you make the rocket for them, but older toddlers will enjoy helping you to build it too. Always supervise when using scissors etc.

You need:

  • A cardboard tube
  • Some recycled cardboard
  • Glue or tape
  • Colourful water-based, baby safe paints




  • Use the templates here rocket template to cut out a nose cone and 3 or 4 fins from thin card. Cereal box card is ideal. Roll the cone and glue the tab to hold it in place.


  • Now use the tabs on the cone to stick it to the top of your tube. Then stick on the fins using their tabs. You can use glue or tape – masking or parcel tape is perfect because it is easy to paint over.


  • Now let wee ones decorate it with paint. Then allow to dry before playing






Enjoy your lunar explorations. You can share any art work you make with the festival using #BeingHuman2020


Moon Art

This year Dundee is part of the Being Human festival and the theme is the moon. So we are doing lots of moon themed art works for our mini humans! You can see what else is on for the festival here or follow Dundee Being Human on twitter for more info @HumanDundee. You can also watch a how to video for this activity on our facebook page here

Moon Paintings

This activity to make a moon will allow wee ones to enjoy the contrast of light and dark colours, to explore painting with sponges and their hands and the use of the stencil means whatever they do will magically make a good moon shape at the end. This will work for any age from 0 up, just make sure pencils and scissors stay out of reach of small babies, while bigger children can help you with the drawing and cutting out.

You need:

  • A sheet of normal paper to make a stencil and a sheet in a dark colour like black or navy
  • White paint
  • An old sponge
  • A tray or plate


  • Draw round a plate on the plane sheet of paper to make a moon stencil. Cut out the center and then use a couple of dots of glue to hold it in place on top of the dark sheet.





  • Put some white paint on a tray or plate and show wee ones how to use a sponge to put paint on the moon shape. If you tear the sponge in half it will get a nice texture that looks like craters. They can also use their hands to spread the paint.




  • Once the center is covered and looks nice and textured, you can gently peel off the paper stencil to reveal a nice moon shape.





  • You can help wee ones to finish off the picture by adding dots of white chalk and then smudging it to make stars.





Tinfoil Moon

This activity is an easy way to add interesting textures to a moon picture. It is suitable for ages 2 and up, as long as they are safe with the small coins, although wee ones will need help to cut out.

You need:

  • Tinfoil
  • Large sheet of dark paper or card – navy or black
  • Glue
  • A selection of coins
  • Optional chalk


  • Draw round a plate onto tinfoil and then cut out



  • Put coins under the moon shape and then rub over the top to create craters




  • You could draw round the moon onto dark paper in white chalk and then smudge it to create a glow



  • Now stick on the moon shape





Muddy play

This week we are inspired by our collaboration with the Botanic Gardens and the amazing mud play area they’ve build us. You don’t need a giant area like this though, just some mud in a tray or storage drawer or an empty area of the garden to dig in will be enjoyed by children. Try to dress them so the play won’t be spoiled by either of you worrying about mess. It is fun to have some art materials like paper but also some toys for imaginative play and water to add to make it sensory. Give them lots of tools for mixing and bowls for holding it in. Try to follow the lead from wee ones and what they are interested in exploring as much as possible. Here are some ideas:


Have some bowls and scoops (just old kitchen ones are fine) for mixing and dishing out. A toy tea set would be amazing or some old pots.


Having some water for pouring will let them make foods and potions, mix paint or create a volcano like ours.


Add in some toys for imaginative play, like toy animals or dinosaurs or diggers and trucks. Children will enjoy creating small worlds in their mud area

You could try some muddy art work. The artist Richard Long used mud collected on walks to create art  works. In these he has made a huge mud painting on a gallery wall and a small work on paper with a pattern of mud finger prints.

If you show your wee ones that mixing water with the mud will make a paint you can let them experiment. It helps to have the biggest paper you can find. Even an old white sheet would do and give them lots of scope for some big splatters. Like us they could try making marks by splatting from a height, using a brush or just their hands.

    Or even their feet!

The important thing is to have fun getting a bit messy in this sensory and creative play and to enjoy watching how wee ones can experiment and test out a material. You may come up with lots of other ideas that we haven’t included.