We had a lovely session this month with the Guide Dogs Children and Young People Service joining families in Edinburgh for their My Time to Play Group. This got us thinking about art making ideas that are tactile and use lots of different senses. The ideas would be ideal for wee ones with visual impairment but also bring some nice sensory experiences to art making for everyone.
We tried some of our favourite activities from the website like coloured rice trays and you can find a recipe for that here. We also tried printing using paint and different textures like corrugated card and bubble wrap. The feeling of sliding the paint over the bubble wrap is really nice. You can find instructions for the bubble wrap printing here.
We tried a new way of using our collage materials that allowed wee ones to feel all the different textures of the materials and then really easily and immediately (without much mess) stick them onto their art work. You need a square or rectangle of thick card which you then wrap with wide sticky tape or parcel tape, using the tape inside out so you are creating a sticky outside surface. You could also use a sheet of sticky backed plastic for this but tape is easy to find. This creates a surface that is tacky to touch that wee ones can explore and anything they add to it will easily stick on.
Offer wee ones a range of interesting different textures. We used things like feathers, snipped up wool, cotton balls, tinfoil, tissue paper and pompoms. You can see some of our materials in the image at the top of the page. If your baby is still putting things in their mouth make sure everything is safe and too large to swallow. Let them explore all the different feelings and then choose what they woudl like to stick on. We used a shake of coloured sand at the end to fill in any sticky gaps and add another texture. The final art works were interesting to explore with fingers.
Art making together can bring so much joy to very young children and their grown-ups. And while you make art together, you and your baby are also sharing something important. Making art together builds wonderful moments of connection between babies and their grown-ups – these moments are the key building blocks of strong relationships and self-esteem. By responding positively, your baby learns that the ‘mark’ they make on the world will be positively received. Playing with art materials also gives young children new and stimulating sensory experiences. By helping your baby enjoy these experiences, you are teaching them not to be afraid to explore the world.
It can be hard to know where to start making art with very small children so here are some suggestions on how to get going making your first paintings together. Don’t worry about how it looks and just enjoy the process of exploring the paint together.
All art materials need supervision – never leave young children alone with art materials – our activities are for doing TOGETHER
Get everything out that you might want before you begin – baby wipes, old towel, art materials, extra paper. Cover the surface you are using with a plastic mat, oil cloth, or newspaper.
Use the floor or table, wherever you will be most comfy together. We like to work on the floor, all of us at baby level, so they can use hands and feet, but it can also work well to sit at a table with a baby on your lap, or with them in a high chair. Painting out in the garden is perfect in the summer and you won’t have to worry about mess.
Remember to put wee ones in old clothes or just a nappy (babies are much easier to wash than their clothes!). Put something old on yourself so you can still cuddle a painty baby.
Tip: Run a bath that’s a bit too hot before you start so it will be perfect by the time you finish, and they can just go straight in.
Paint is best for easy mark making and versatility. Go for thick water-based paint, usually called ‘ready mix’, ‘poster paint’ or gouache.
Hands are all you need for painting.
If you want to try brushes, make sure they are chunky to be easy to hold and won’t fall apart. We pop our brushes in bottle steriliser between sessions or you can run them through a dishwasher, as they often get sucked on.
Other fun ways to spread paint are rollers or sponges.
Plastic plates or cupcake tins make great paint trays
You can also try home made paints based from food stuff. You can find some ideas here.
Paper which is thick enough not to fall apart when wet, and absorbent enough to take paint easily is best – like paper called cartridge or sugar paper rather than thin photocopier paper. You can add in some recycled drawing surfaces. Try opening out cardboard boxes or using newspaper or old book pages for a fun effect.
Tip: As lots of wee ones are going to put everything in their mouth, make sure materials are baby safe by choosing non-toxic products. If you are unsure about what you are using, you can always email the company to ask. Lots of paint manufacturers say 3+ on their paint due to the small parts in the lid, but if you check with them, the paint is non-toxic and safe to go in their mouth, keep the bottle up high and put paint out in trays or on plates for them. We use companies like Baker Ross, Hope Education and Specialist Crafts and these all allow online ordering.
Making their first marks
Little ones will enjoy exploring the texture of the paint and seeing what they can do with it. If they have never felt paint before they might be surprised and take a little while to warm up to it so allow them to explore it in their own time.
The easiest way to get started painting depends a bit on age.
For small babies try letting them lie on their tummy and put a sheet of paper where you have already put out a few blobs of paint in front of them. This will let them reach out and feel the paint and then start to move it about on the paper. You often end up with rainbow shaped paintings as they sweep the paint with their arms.
Older babies might like to paint this way too, or they might like to sit between your legs so you are propping them up to explore with hands and feet. Or they can sit on your lap at a table. You could try helping them to dangle their feet into the paint.
Toddlers might like to see the paint all laid out in the paint tray for them and they can be offered brushes or just their fingers to put it on the paper.
Have a shot yourself to show little ones the idea of making a mark on the paper. Let them explore and see what they come up with. And if they are not a fan today, don’t worry, just try again another time. Follow their lead for when they have had enough (tiny ones will not last long) and then move to bath time. If you can pin up their paintings, they might like to look at them and talk about what they made.
Hand and Foot Prints
There is no more direct way for wee ones to make their mark than with handprints or footprints. It’s nice doing prints like this together as the brushing on of the paint is a nice sensory experience for little ones, as well as seeing the impact of the mark they can make when they stamp it down.
If you spread some paint over the large tray or a plate, that will let little ones put their hands or feet right in. Or you can paint onto their hands or feet with a brush then let them print it onto the paper.
We had families back in DCA this week with their little ones and we were trying lots of different process art ideas – where the final result is a bit of an experiment using spinning or gravity to help us. These are lots of fun for big and small as everyone can enjoy the un controlled outcome. It does get a bit messy though so put plenty of paper down (or even try it in the shower!)
We used salad spinners to create these spin paintings. You need an old fashioned salad spinner (available in charity shops or cheap online) or you can also try with a record player or a ‘lazy susan’. Cut a circle of paper that fits into the base. You now need to help your little ones to drip paint onto the paper. Mix water based paint 50/50 with water to make them runnier. We put out paint into little mustard bottles so wee ones could squeeze them out themselves. Or you could put the paint in trays and use a dripper or medicine syringe to suck up the paint and let them drip it.
Now put on the lid and spin!
We had some amazing results
We also had lots of fun testing out different ways of dripping the paint. We had hung sheets of white fabric ready to drip onto but you could also tape paper to the side of the shower or to an outside wall.
Have some different methods of dripping the paint. We used drippers and medicine syringes again with our paint watered down 50/50. We also tried painting on thicker blobs of paint and then spraying them with water from a spray bottle till it ran down the fabric. This gave a really nice effect and is good for letting little ones experiment and see cause and effect. It’s also a bit safer in the house as they are only ever spraying water. If your wee one enjoys this they might also like to try our rainy paintings.
We tried putting large sheets of paper onto the floor and using the same drippers and syringes to squirt the paint from a height to get a fantastic splatting effect.
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.
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.
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.
● 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.
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.
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.
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.
Paper – any colours you have, scrap is fine
Scissors (keep away from young children)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A sheet of normal paper to make a stencil and a sheet in a dark colour like black or navy
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.
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.
Large sheet of dark paper or card – navy or black
A selection of coins
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
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.