Art at the Start and Dundee Science Centre

All this week Art at the Start, DCA and Dundee Science Centre have teamed up to do science and art activities, all themed on art and looking. You can find them all on the science centre’s home learning portal here

You’ll find some colour theory, optical illusions, remembering games and more. There are also links to older ones activities that connect with previous exhibitions at DCA.

Lights and Shadows

This week we are making art from light and shadows. This activity is very easy, needs only things you will have at home and makes no mess. It is also a really nice direct way for little ones to see how their actions have immediate effects; as they move about, their shadows move. This is a way to help them learn that they can take actions which do the things they want and that they have control over events or actions, what we call ‘self efficacy’ and ‘agency’. Both of these can help build their sense of self. This game is also nice for relationships as you can make up stories together and have each others shadows interact. For babies the high contrast of black and white is engaging. As always this activity is designed to be done together so don’t leave unsupervised children with lights.

you need:

  • some white fabric like a sheet or a table cloth spread out between 2 chairs so there is a space where you can go behind the sheet.
  • a spotlight, table lamp or torch aimed at the sheet
  • a darkened room
  • hands for making puppets and maybe some toys that will cast good shadows or card fro your recycling to cut out your own.

Start by shining the light onto the front of the sheet and then you can sit in front and show wee ones how they can use their hands to cast shadows onto the fabric. You can play about at trying to make your hands look like animals. The easiest is to use your fingers to make some kind of beak or mouth and then your puppets can talk to each other. Or just see what different effects you can create together.  Show them how putting their hands nearer or further from the light can change the size of the shadow. Babies especially will be happy to just look at the high contrast visuals they are getting from the shadows whereas toddlers and pre-schoolers might want to develop more of a story or ‘show’.

Once wee ones understand how it is working you could move the light behind the sheet to make it into more of a puppet theatre if you like.  You could take turns showing each other an idea or get siblings involved in putting together a story for you to watch. Our pre-school aged tester really liked to have his ‘show’ filmed on a phone so he could then watch it back but sometimes you might prefer to just stay in the moment and focus on the game together.

You might like to add to your range of puppets. What about making some extra features from card to hold in their hands like we make an extra snake tongue here. Or you can add in some of their own toys to hold up and see what they create as a shadow. We are using play mobile figures and trees here. If you want to be really fancy you can use sticky tape to tape some toys to chop sticks so there is a handle to hold and it’s easier for them to keep their own shadow out of the way.

There are lots of different possibilities so have fun experimenting and seeing what engages little ones’ imaginations.

Footprint trails

When painting with wee ones we seem to make a lot of footprints. This is great as they like the feel of the paint on their feet and it’s also a quick way for them to see their impact in the world through mark making when they stamp down their print. It’s also nice to keep prints to see how they are growing. If you are looking for something else to do with all those footprints then try this trail idea to turn them into a game.


You need:

  • Paper
  • Paint (or you could draw round feet in pen and cut out instead)
  • scissors
  • covered floor


Start by painting wee ones feet or having them step into a tray of paint and then pressing their feet down onto paper. It’s a good idea to have an old towel ready to wipe off on or a bowl of water ready so it doesn’t get spread through your house. You can make as many footprints as you can, the more you have the better.

Once they have dried you can now cut out the footprints. If you have toddlers or pre-schoolers they could help you with this but it’s also fun to do it secretly after bed time so you can set up the trail as a surprise. If you don’t have enough footprints you can also cut round some to create extra. Once you have a big handful lay them out round your house or garden as a trail for them to follow. At the end you might want to hide a toy animal or have a little treat to find.

Children will enjoy recognising that it’s their own prints which have made the trail. You can play at having them jump from print to print or you can space them out a bit further so they have to hunt. If you ask them to do the trail backwards after they’ve found the end then you can keep the prints for another day. We’ve done this trail every day this week so far in different places as it was very popular. I had to stop leaving jaffa cakes at the end and switch to cuddly toys!


Colourful foam

This idea came from our friend Laura and my Art at the Start guinea pigs have been loving it! It’s a really nice way to get super messy with lots of lovely sensory experiences of foamy sloppiness for wee ones but it is still easy to clear up because it’s mostly soap.

You need:

  • water based, non-toxic paints (you could also use a drop of food colour but remember it stains if you’re letting wee ones help you mix)
  • something soapy – we used washing up liquid here but you’d be better to use your child’s normal bubbly bath as then you know it won’t irritate their skin and will be safe if they lick it
  • a blender

Just put a cup of water, a squirt of paint and a squirt of your chosen soap into a blender. Put the lid on and wizz it up. It will grow to fill the jug. Toddlers can help with the measuring and wizzing and will enjoy seeing the mixture instantly go from tiny to massive! With babies you can make it yourself in advance.

Now you can do a few different colours and pour them one at a time into a tray in a rainbow effect. Or you can let your wee one do it and end up with a crazy pattern like we did! You could make up a smaller amount of this foam and put it in a baking tray or shallow dish to play with from a high chair or we put several colours together into an under-bed storage tray to get right in. It is fun mixing the different colours up with your hands although this does often result in it ultimately turning mudgy beige! If you wanted to introduce some learning about colours why not try making just a couple of colours like yellow and red or yellow and blue so wee ones can see what new colour is made when they mix.

Some explorations with clay

In this activity we want to allow little ones to explore clay; how it feels and what it can do. So we are setting up a couple of invitations for them to explore it and trying to follow their lead rather than giving them a set idea of what they have to produce. It can be tricky for parents to go with the flow like that but even young children enjoy directing their own ideas and you may be surprised by what they come up with. If you provide interesting materials and a little demo of ways they might work together and then just support them in what they come up with it will be really fun for you both.

Some ideas of materials to use:

  • Clay – air dry clay from the craft shop or you could use salt dough like this recipe
  • interesting objects that leave a mark when pressed in – we have used shells here but you could try a fork, sticks, toy figures, just make sure anything you use is safe for your age of wee one
  • some stick materials for construction – we used lolly sticks but you could also use actual sticks or straws or pencils
  • some water for smoothing clay or helping it stick
  • rolling pin if you have one or a can or bottle can work to roll out if you don’t

Our first clay exploration idea is to show little ones how objects can leave a mark in the clay. Help them to roll out a piece of clay to about a cm thick and offer them a selection of interesting objects. You might show them how an object can be pressed in to make a mark yourself and then see what they chose to do. They may want to make impressions or they may like to leave the objects embedded. Do they make a pattern or do it randomly. Even babies will like to see the park they can make as it lets them see how they can have an impact on the world. You can leave their creations to dry on a sunny windowsill if they are clay or in a low oven if they are salt dough. (If they are full of bits and can’t go in the oven salt dough will also eventually dry out on a window). On another day wee ones might like to come back and paint these.

Our next exploration is using clay to build a construction by combining it with some sticks like lolly sticks or twigs. Help little ones to create a base and show them how the sticks will hold upright if you put them in the clay. Then they can get started exploring the possibilities. Some may like to make something that looks a bit like a stick hedgehog or a Stonehenge. If you see that toddlers might like to build something higher, show them that clay can be used as a joining material by placing a ball where sticks meet. You can also show how a little bit of clay dipped in water can be smoothed over to hold pieces together. Sometimes things will fall down but that is OK, most children will enjoy the process of experimenting and you can let them try out different ideas and support them when they need it or have an idea they need help to realise. Ours ended up looking a little bit like an Eiffel Tower. You can let wee ones decide if they want to keep their creation and let it dry on a window or take it apart and save the clay in something airtight for another day.

Flower patterns

We are continuing with the Children’s Art Week theme of nature and trying out some flower patterns. If you have older children then DCA have put up an activity for making nature inspired wallpaper here but this is a slightly simpler version for little ones. It’s a really nice way to connect little ones to nature through something creative and explore colours, textures and shapes. You will need to start by exploring the garden or a local green space to collect some interesting flowers and leaves. Make sure you have permission to pick and if wee ones are still putting things in their mouths make sure plants are non toxic. Good edible flowers are rose petals, pansies or violas, borage or calendula but always be careful and if you are not sure give it a miss. You could chat with wee ones about how you just take one flower from each plant so that the plant will still be happy to introduce some thinking about the environment. Talk about how the different plants feel, look and smell.

When you get home get wee ones to help you spread all the finds out and you could see if they can play at sorting them into colours or size or into number of petals if they are big enough. Then give them some paper and let them experiment with making patterns. If they are small they might want to lay out their favourites but toddlers might start making repeat patterns or trying some symmetry. You could demonstrate some patterns yourself.


These are transitory art works but if you would like to keep them, take a photo or you could try pressing the flowers. To do this put another sheet of paper on top and put them in the pages of a book with lots more heavy books on top. After a week or so flowers should be pressed and could be glued down to keep or put onto cards. Or you could use the flowers in our ice stained glass activity here.


Leaf Printing for children’s Art Week

This week we are celebrating Children’s Art Week. Try this activity designed for 0-3 year olds on the CAW20 theme of nature. You will need to take your wee one outside to the garden or for a wander in a park so you can collect some interesting leaves to print with. Talk about the different shapes, textures and colours you are finding. 

If you have a baby putting things in their mouth then make sure any plant you pick is non-toxic. 

When you get home you need:

  • A baking tray
  • Green paint
  • A brush or roller
  • Paper
  • Their leaf collection

Start by helping your wee one to spread the green paint over the back of the baking tray using brushes, roller or hands. Once the tray is covered they can choose the leaf shapes they like and lay these out in a pattern.

Lay on a sheet of paper and help them to rub all over the back of it. When you peel it off you should have a print with the negative shapes of the leaves.

Now if you carefully remove the leaves and press on another sheet of paper and rub over the back you will make a print with the leaf textures on it so you get a pair of images.


Really long brushes

This is a fun way to add interest and a new way of painting for toddlers. It is good for their motor skills as they try and use the long brushes and it also lets them paint really big and with lots of expression so it’s nice to see what they come up with. This is easiest done outside so you don’t need to worry about mess so it’s good in this nice weather. You obviously need to be able to stand and hold the brushes for this one so it doesn’t work so well for teeny ones. If you want to do something similar with babies you could try holding them over big paper on the floor and letting them use their feet or letting them crawl on top of the paper and through the paint and use their whole bodies like we did here

You need:

  • water based paint in trays 
  • Paint brushes
  • Long sticks – we used bamboo canes, the handle of a broom and a mop pole but anything long will do. If the ends seem sharp you could make them safer by putting a ball of blue tack or some tape over them
  • Tape or string to tie on the brushes
  • A big painting surface like a roll of paper, an unfolded cardboard box or some fabric like a sheet or old curtains

Help your children to attach brushes to the end of the long sticks by wrapping them on with tape or tying with string. Then lay out something big to paint on to and let them experiment with standing up and trying to dip the brushes into paint trays on the floor and then making marks on the paper. You could do a demo if they are not sure what to do but most will pick it up quickly and enjoy being given this freedom to experiment and go big. This one even looked fun enough for big brother to join in!



Father’s day shirts

Father’s day is nearly here so we thought we’d put up a wee ones craft that could make a good gift. Or this would be fun for Dads and wee ones to make together. An adult or older sibling will probably need to help do most of the folding of the actual shirt but then babies can have fun decorating. It’s actually simpler than it looks though so you can definitely get toddlers helping with creasing down folds and then designing their tie. It might be funny to see the kind of design they think their Dad should be wearing!

You need:

  • A sheet of paper, we used A4 but any will do as long as it’s a rectangle, and a spare bit to make a tie
  • Something to decorate with, like paints or crayons or pencils

Start by folding both long edges in to the centre line.

At one end fold the top cm over to the back and crease.

Now bring each side back round in a triangle so the points meet the centre line and crease down. This makes a collar.

At the other end fold each side out in a triangle and crease down to make the sleeves.

Now bring up the sleeve side and tuck it in under the collar. Crease the fold in the centre.

Then cut out a tie shape.

Your wee one can decorate to make a jazzy tie before you stick it on. Or if their dad is not a shirt and tie wearer you could decorate the whole thing to make a cool Hawaiian style shirt.

These would also be nice to send to any Grandads that they are missing during social distancing.


Textured brushes

This is one of our favourite activities in the art boxes we’ve been giving out so we thought it would be fun to try this week. We are using materials from around the house to make interesting ‘brushes’. It is fun to add some variety to what we use to make marks with the paint. This will keep it new and interesting for wee ones and also gives nice new textures for sensory exploration.

You need:

  • Paint in trays or on a plate
  • Paper
  • Pegs if you have them (sticks and tape if you don’t)
  • Interesting scavenged materials like cotton wool balls,  kitchen towel, tin foil, packing card, bubble wrap, dish cloths, feathers, leaves etc
  • Covered floor or table

This one is about trying out lots of different tools for getting paint onto the paper but it’s a fun treasure hunt and sensory exploration on the way. Your wee one can help you look for different textures and materials around the house. Let your wee one feel them all and talk about how they feel and what they might look like on the paper.

If you have babies still putting things in their mouths then make sure everything is large enough to be safe and that you know any plants are non toxic. As with all activities this needs to be supervised by a grown up.


Now you can make a ‘brush’ by pinching some of your finds into the end of a peg. Favourites of ours for making brushes are a feather, a bit of old dish cloth cut into strips so the end is raggy, a cotton ball, a bunch of leaves, some shredded bubble wrap and bit of dish sponge folded a couple of times. If you don’t have pegs you can also just tape your materials to the end of a twig or chop stick.


And then have fun testing them! They will get some interesting different results.