Displaying children's art

Published by Lori Pickert on February 29, 2008 at 11:11 PM


My friend Jo asked me if I had anything to contribute to this delightful post at the Cookie Nesting blog on kids' art displays. I didn't manage to send her anything because I've been a little swamped.

(Also, when anyone asks me for something, instead of rifling through my photos and immediately sending something in, I tend to think "oh, that won't do .. I need to take new photos" and "I'll wait until the light is brighter" and etc. and etc.)

So, up above is my favorite way we displayed children's art at the T.P.S. — in a hanging room divider of plexiglass frames. These are two pieces of plexi sandwiched together with two pieces of art in the middle — so you can see something different on each side. We drilled holes in the corners and used circle clips to attach them together and make a huge display, but you could easily have the plexi cut smaller (they will cut it for you at the hardware store) and hang them singly or maybe three in a row vertically. A smaller version would look beautiful hanging in a window.

And here are some of my favorite kid art displays from my peeps:

Estea's houses on the windowsill, rickrack art line, and wire book/art display shelf.

Geninne's son Daniel's window art

Kajsa's beautiful kid art line in the kitchen

Eren's drying rack gallery display

And, technically this isn't kids' art, but what a great display idea:

Hannah's little brother's stop sign as magnet board (awesome!) (totally stealing this for the boys' rooms!)

Let me know if you have something cool to share!


Art lesson: Free exploration/ working purposefully

Published by Lori Pickert on February 24, 2008 at 07:41 PM


Imagine two children who are asked to paint a picture of their house. The first child hasn't used these paints before, or for a long time. The second child was given them to play with yesterday.

The first child is a bundle of frustration. The paint colors are running together! My house is beige, not brown, and I can't make the color I want! I used the black paint and now I've ruined the yellow paint. And now it's all dripping on the floor! I quit!

The second child learned a lot yesterday just by playing with the paints and painting several pictures. She waits for one area to dry before painting next to it with another color. She mixes new colors on a clean sheet of paper. She cleans her brush carefully between color changes. She is working intently. When she finishes her first painting, she talks about it and then asks for another piece of paper. She's ready to try another.

The child who was given time to play and explore can now work purposefully.

If you paint two big wet spots next to each other, the paint will run together. Imagine how interesting and fun this can be when you are just playing and experimenting — watching the yellow paint swirl with the blue, and then the center is turning green.

Imagine how disappointing and discouraging this same effect is when you really wanted a yellow dress covered in blue flowers.

The lessons we learn during play, we apply when we are working to create something important to us.

To work with a purpose is to choose deliberately, with a definite goal in mind.

Imagine two children sitting down to draw a bird with a collection of pencils. One child hasn't used these pencils before; one has. Who will be more successful? Even pencils have different personalities — hard and soft leads make different kinds of lines, we can apply too much pressure so they break or make a hole in the paper, color can be dragged across with the edge of our hand and spoil our work.

To work purposefully is to reach for a material or a tool confidently, choosing it because we know what it will do.

We cannot work purposefully until we have become familiar with the materials and tools.

Free exploration means we have no goal in mind, we're just seeing what this material can do and what we can do with it.

We learn through play, and what we learn, we can use when to create work that is important to us.

(W)ith a sense of certainty, play is almost always mindful. People take risks and involve themselves in their play. Imagine making play feel routine; it would not be playful. In play, there is no reason not to take some risks. In fact, without risk, the pleasures of mastery would disappear. … We tend to be more adventurous at play because it feels safe. — Roger Kelly, Leisure

(Did you figure out this was a lesson for you and not for the children? :^D)

Children Make Sculpture

Published by Lori Pickert on January 27, 2008 at 05:27 PM


I ordered this book after I saw Lena's copy.



“This book attempts to show children involved in making sculpture. Their work does not have to be good, finished or artistic. What matters is the activity itself and the knowledge gained by the child…”


This book was written in 1972. It is the work we did with children from 2000 to 2007, and it is the same message we tried to spread through our own work with children, workshops and conferences, and educational consulting.

It is not a new message. We are saying the same things that Elizabeth Leyh was saying in 1972; unfortunately they are still largely ignored. We were constantly having to explain to parents, education students, teachers, visiting administrators, etc., that what the children were doing was important and meaningful and a better use of their time than coloring in a mimeo book about apples or making a follow-the-directions craft.


Many of the books that sustained me during the running-a-private-school years were written decades earlier. Yet the vast majority of the work with children that we observed in both public and private schools didn't reveal one one-hundredth of what we knew children were capable of doing, making, experiencing, and expressing.

That's not to say we shouldn't keep trying. What I'm trying to say is, we must keep trying.


In the studio: Works in progress

Published by Lori Pickert on January 10, 2008 at 10:11 PM


Wonderful reader Jill asks:

How do you corral the projects?? Do you let them sit out for an indefinite amount of time? When do the projects get thrown away, if ever? I want to encourage creativity, but it bugs me to have all the "pieces" spread out all over the place if making something takes longer than 5 minutes.

As Jill has already discovered, the only thing more beautiful than a basket of garbage is a room full of pieces of garbage taped to other pieces of garbage.

Of course, your child knows that the macaroni box taped to four soup cans is a turtle (or a lunar rover, or a brontosaurus, or a fax machine), and maybe even you know that (if s/he told you), but to everyone else, well, it's a look, yes, but maybe not the look you were going for.

How do you corral the projects? In the classroom, we had shelf space for ongoing projects, and we interspersed shelves filled with beautifully displayed art supplies with shelves filled with garbage, i mean ongoing projects.

At home, I have ongoing projects on top of the bookshelves, scattered across the table, and on the floor. SIGH.


At school, we dealt with ongoing work by sticking a Post-It note on it recording what it was (according to the maker) and their plans for it ("I will paint it", "Add eyes and nose", "Add Steering Wheel", etc.). We would reference those notes when reminding the child of the work they had planned to do and also when asking them if they were finished yet.

At home, with my two students, I don't usually have to put a Post-It on anything, but I do write down in my notebook anything they have planned so I can remind them later and also so I can make sure I get whatever they need from me to finish their project.

(I could never keep track of anything if I didn't have a designated homeschool journal/notebook.)

Do you let them sit out for an indefinite amount of time? Yes. The amount of time I let them sit out is definitely indefinite.

Let's talk ideal situation. Ideally, you are writing down what they are doing along with their requests for additional materials ("I need green and brown paint for the turtle's shell", "I need another soup can for my rover", "I need something silver for the top", etc.), their plans (see above), and their questions ("What goes on top of the rover?", "What does a turtle's tail look like?", "I need to look at the seatbelt in our car"). You use that information to keep things rolling:

"You said you wanted to see what was on top of the rover. Let's look on the internet."

"The green and brown paint you asked for is in the art studio. WEAR A SMOCK."

"Do you want to go look at the seatbelt in the car today?"

and etc. So, things are moving along. A project is done when the child says it is done. However, if it hangs around, the child may decide they want to do something more to it, which is a very good thing. In the classroom, children will copy each other's creations, which is an excellent thing. Child #1 makes something, child #2 copies it and adds something interesting, then child #1 goes back and wants to add it to his as well. It's all about extending the work. If you have more than one child, and they are close enough in age, maybe you can enjoy the same effect.


When do the projects get thrown away, if ever? Basically, things hang around until I'm sure the child is good and completely done with them or until I am convinced they have been completely abandoned or because I am in a bad mood and want the room to be clean.

(Guaranteed, if you throw something away, the child will ask for it the next day.)

(Buy black garbage bags for cleaning the studio. There is nothing like the face of a child who just found his or her beloved art project in the trash.)

I want to encourage creativity, but it bugs me to have all the "pieces" spread out all over the place if making something takes longer than 5 minutes. Ah, I feel for you, Jill. Rome wasn't built in a day, however, and neither is a lunar rover made from a macaroni box. It all takes time, and you just have to figure out a way to lessen the effects of helping your child become incredibly intelligent, creative, and expressive.

paint-turtle.jpgDesignate one shelf for ongoing projects. Make room for two or three things per child and that's it. If they want to make something new, they have to finish their old thing first.

Work with them, however, and facilitate their work by paying attention to what they say they want to do and supporting them (by reminding them of their plans, by giving them requested materials) so they can reach their goal. I repeat, it is all about extending the work. The more often they work on one particular thing, the deeper and more layered the knowledge will be.

When they are finished, help celebrate what they have accomplished. Take pictures of it. Show it to people: family members, friends, delivery people. Make a big deal about it; show them how impressed you are. (Don't be fake about it, though. Be sincere.) Kids see what is important to you and they want to impress you. Your attention is a powerful motivator.

In the studio: Storing recyclables

Published by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2008 at 02:57 PM


Deidre is doing a series of posts about her top things of 2007, and last week she mentioned that she was feeling some guilt about something I'd written:

"I have a friend who saves every paper towel roll, etc., for her boys' craft closet, and when she told me that, I did feel a pang of guilt. Then I read Camp Creek Press's post about creating a kid-friendly studio and felt even more guilt . Of course I also read Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much last year, so I've found a compromise. I've given Aidan some space, where he can "collect" all the household found objects he wants for his creations---until the designated space is filled. Then you gotta use some before you add more. Because space is limited, even if buttons are not:-)"


This made me laugh, because don't I know exactly what you mean, Deirdre! Frankly, all organization in the studio is a study in compromise, but recyclables are the worst. You may remember this picture.

It is easy to make most art supplies look beautiful: a clay mug filled with colored pencils, paint jars lined up in the sunshine, a wooden bowl filled with buttons. Ah, lovely.

It is much harder to make a pile of recycling look good. Also, it takes up an enormous amount of space in a classroom, where you are trying to keep enough materials on hand for more than a dozen children at a time. We solved that problem by filling an entire closet with recyclables on shelves.

In your home studio, you can keep less on hand at any one time. Honestly, any time you feel you are getting low on materials, you just have to save for a few days before you have a good pile going again. Unfortunately, it doesn't take much time at all to accumulate this much packaging.

The cabinet pictured up above is a holding area in the kitchen; we throw everything in there first. Later, we sort it out and carry it to the studio, where we try (I emphasize try) to keep it corralled in a couple of attractive baskets that, nevertheless, then look like attractive baskets filled with garbage.


You can try to hide these materials inside cabinets, but out of sight, out of mind, and if your child can't see them s/he probably won't make anything with them. This may put a gleam in your eye, thinking about opening the cabinet doors only on rainy Sundays, but I have to stand tall and represent for the kids: better to keep things out and visible for frequent making.

You can try to nest materials; I know I do. In fact, I would say I excel at recycling tetris. I know exactly which brownie mix box fits into which macaroni box which then fits into the ... you get the idea. And small things like bottle tops and cupcake papers can be thrown into a very large clear plastic jar, the better to see what's available and keep things from spilling across the floor.

Kids digging enthusiastically for a robot foot or a bulldozer part, however, will probably not adequately recognize or appreciate the methodical way you packed the materials to fit in the least amount of space. And so it expands and contracts. If you crave organization (and don't we all crave it? even if we never achieve it?), this may make you slightly insane.

In conclusion, it's not easy to keep just the right amount of things on hand. Variety is good — a variety of materials to choose from and a variety of activities that are available every day. Old macaroni boxes and egg cartons aren't particularly attractive, but they can inspire beautiful work.


In the studio: Free for the taking

Published by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2007 at 01:24 PM


As we discussed with clean recyclables, once you have begun to acquire items for your studio, you will develop a practiced eye.

You don't have to shop only in the arts and crafts aisle of your local department store.

Every time a piece of paper passes through your hands, think — is this something the kids could use? Tissue paper, bits of wrapping paper, cardboard inserts, the silver disc that seals your new tin of coffee.


When you open a new package, whether it's cookies or a kitchen appliance, take a second look at those pieces that hold everything inside for shipping. Whether it's hard plastic or soft foam, if it's clean with no sharp edges, if it has an interesting texture, set it aside.

In your office, think about file folders, binder clips, address labels, envelopes, tags, graph paper.

In your kitchen, think about paper plates, styrofoam bowls, plastic spoons, silver cupcake wrappers, leftover holiday napkins, empty spice tins.

In your garage, think about large flat washers, nuts, bolts, plastic garden pots, twine, empty spools.

At work, look at the things that are regularly thrown away. (Or at your friend's workplace. Or at the stores you frequent.) We've collected empty film canisters, bottle tops, cardboard squares, shredded paper, "mat middles" from the local framing place. ("Mat middles" are the squares of mat board that are left when a mat is cut — great for drawing, painting, or constructing.) We've been given plastic lids, linoleum squares, jewelry boxes, packing peanuts.


It doesn't take many helpers to get a good supply of materials coming in — a couple friends, some grandparents, and you're well on your way to a stocked studio. Once people have an idea of what you're looking for, they will delight in bringing you odd bits and treasures.

These things you gather aren't only pieces of future constructions (bird eyes, alligator tails, robot arms, race-car wheels) but also things to cut up and collage and even exciting new things to paint with or paint on.

Any type of fabric (old sheets, cut-up burlap, etc.) can be an intriguing new surface to paint on at the easel, as well as any sort of odd paper or cardboard or even wood. Old plastic kitchen tools, fake plastic credit cards that come in junk mail, old plastic coils, etc., make great painting tools. Anything with an interesting texture can be pressed into clay or playdough.

Only your imagination limits the things you can bring into the studio, and once you've limbered up those thinking muscles, you'll be surprised by how much raw creative material is sitting around, just waiting for you to pick it up.


In the studio: Advanced inventory

Published by Lori Pickert on November 21, 2007 at 02:36 PM


Most of the items on the basic inventory list are familiar enough that your children (or students) won’t get overly excited and start burning through your supplies.

If you create a special place in your home or classroom just for making art, you may find them so charmed by the idea that they are intensely interested in these old, familiar objects.

If you already have an art area or studio, you may find that simply rearranging the materials and presenting them thoughtfully (and beautifully) re-energizes their art-making.

(Have you ever tried to clean out your child’s room, with the goal of getting rid of some old toys that are no longer played with, only to find that simply by pulling them out and dusting them off, you’ve made them intensely interesting again?)

As you build your studio, you can take your children’s art making to the next level. Remember, the more variety in materials, the better their representations will be. Their choices are limited by what you have available. Everything you do to enhance their choices increases their learning opportunities.


Advanced Inventory:

oil pastels (brighter, more intense colors than crayons, blendable, can use with watercolors to make a resist)


• specialty papers (tracing paper, watercolor paper, etc.)

hole punch

Cellophane tape (warning: the average four-year-old uses 10,000 miles of cellophane tape per year, if allowed)

stapler (swim at your own risk — always supervise small children)

• acrylic paints (for painting structures) (beware: not washable — wear old clothes and smocks)

beads, plastic lacing (beads can also be strung on yarn, string, pipe cleaners, wire, etc.)

buttons et al.

cotton balls

pipe cleaners

wire (ends can be sharp and poky — always supervise)

• large selection of tapes: duct tape (in different colors including metallic), electrical tape (colors), packing tape — all of these are great for making paper and Tyvex costumes and decorating cardboard structures and models

• fabric (cut into random squares and rectangles of different sizes for dress-up/costume and model making; smaller scraps for the art studio)


There’s almost no limit to the things you can add to your studio, many of them from other areas of your home. Take a look through your garage and junk drawers for leftover bits and knobs off things that you can offer them. Found papers, odd pieces of cardboard and styrofoam, old padded envelopes, and so on — all of it can become something amazing when combined with a child’s imagination.


The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.
— Loris Malaguzzi

In the studio: Basic inventory

Published by Lori Pickert on November 21, 2007 at 02:24 AM


A reader asked

Okay, so if you had to give a list, for a mama of say, three young boys. A list of great art materials that one must have (in addition to all the great stuff you listed in your last post) What would it be? We have a few oil pastels, some chalk pastels. Some watercolor and tracing papers. Some acrylics and watercolors, a BIG chunky pad of drawing paper.

But here I am with THREE 40% off coupons from [a big-box art store], and I really want to get some good quality stuff for creating and hide it away for Christmas. Ideas?

Great question! To review, we talked here about starting the year with some basics, which you can offer in large supply:

coloredpencildraw.jpg• pencils

• pencil sharpener and white vinyl eraser

• paper (copy paper is great for everyday drawing: bright white, nice texture, and 500 sheets to a package!)

markers (various colors, thin and thick)

clipboards (one per kid, for taking drawing materials on field trips, in the car, on the couch, in the yard, etc.)

• kid scissors

• white school-type glue

• old magazines, maps, found paper, leftover gift wrap — anything collage-able

• clean recyclables (boxes, cardboard tubes, plastic lids, etc.)

popsicle sticks

• yarn (cheap stuff)

paint-1.jpg • masking tape

• natural items: leaves, twigs, pinecones, acorns, shells, etc.

• large pad of easel paper (I like the double pack they sell at Staples)

watercolors (I prefer Prang; they are more expensive but last a long time)

tempera paint (you can get by with just primary colors plus white to start)

• good drip-proof paint cups with lids (if you put a different brush in each cup it will minimize mixing/dirtying the paint — although that is inevitable, so give them a small amount to start ;o)

With these items, you've got the basics for drawing, painting, collage, and building structures.

Tomorrow I’ll give an advanced list.

In the meantime, with your 40% coupons burning a hole in your pocket, my suggestions for enhancing your studio (thinking of getting the most out of your coupon) would be:

• large set of high-quality brand colored pencils (they offer much better and more varied colors than the basic Crayola set)

• very good-quality electric pencil sharpener (when you use a lot of pencils, this is a blessing to get them all back into shape again quickly)

easel-1.jpg• set of Derwent or similar drawing pencils of different weights — excellent for observational drawing and encouraging drawing in general

easel if you don’t already have one (preferably two-sided with a shelf — i’ve found these on sale at school-supply stores and big-box stores)


• large pads of nice drawing paper

• perhaps a large pack of tempera paints, if they sell them bundled (maximizing the coupon!)

It's difficult to think of pricier items for stocking the art studio, since most things are fairly inexpensive! The above are more long-term investments. For more of a short-term thrill, check out my Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Child Artist.

Finally, one of the most important things you need for your basic art studio is a place to make art. This isn't necessarily something you can buy at a store.

You need to have a space where your children can work and you won’t be a nervous wreck about them destroying the table, the floor, the walls, etc. Maybe all you need is a plastic tablecloth to throw down under the easel, and you're fine. Or maybe you need a table where you won’t have to worry about glue or paint leaving its mark.


This problem extends to the co-op and classroom as well, where some groups have carpeted rooms (!) and no safe place to paint.

We have had great success with garage-sale wooden tables, sawing the tables off to make them the appropriate height for the children who will work there.

Plastic tablecloths can be used to protect floors but they can be slippery — I like good old-fashioned canvas dropcloths. You can buy them at any hardware store or big-box lumber or home renovation store.

Whatever your solution, it’s no use stocking up on great supplies if you’ll hesitate before saying yes, we’ll make some art today. Ideally, art supplies are always available and there’s always a place to work.


Holiday gift ideas for your child artist

Published by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2007 at 03:05 PM


In the coming week, I'm going to focus on the art studio, our basic inventory, more advanced inventory, and how to store and display your materials.

Most of the large art-supply stores offer weekly coupons in the newspaper and online; they also honor each other's coupons! Tomorrow, my post will be about some nicer items you can add to your studio when you can take advantage of a sale or coupon.

Today, I have some suggestions for holiday gift ideas for your young artists. Another great use for the coupon!

sketchbooks (small for field work, larger sizes for working at home)

Bundle with a small field bag (you can sew yourself if you are handy), a plastic enclosed pencil sharpener, pencil case with pencils, small magnifying glass, a couple of small guide books, and you have one of my favorite presents of all time.

high-quality markers/marker sets

These markers will make everyone who sees them want to sit down and draw. They’re brighter and have more varied colors than typical children’s markers.

scratch-board kits with tools included

My sons love to do scratch art; the boards are kind of pricey and fall into special gift territory for us. You can also make your own boards once you have the tools.

small canvases with a set of acrylic paints

Canvases are available in every possible size and in bundled packages. Inexpensive craft-store acrylic paint sold in small bottles is fine for painting on these.

Stocking stuffer ideas:

multicoloredpencils.jpgmetallic pencils (for the best Star Wars drawings, robots, machine designs) (great on black construction paper)

glitter glue (a favorite of kids everywhere)

fat multicolored pencils

tiny sketchbooks

mini staplers with colored staples (great for tiny book-making)

fancy-edge scissors

Finally, here are some of my favorite children's books about art and artists:

The Yellow House

The Boy Who Drew Birds: The Story of John James Audubon

My Name is Georgia


Degas and the Little Dancer (and the others from the Anholt’s Artists series)

Story Painter

Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors

A Bird or Two

Tar Beach


Artist to Artist: 23 Illustrators Talk to Children about their Art

Leonardo da Vinci

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of our favorites!