Category Archives: Little Hands Art

Little Hands Art: Bubble Blowing

Painting with bubblesDiluting regular tempera paints with water and adding a little dish soap creates bubble paint. Blow bubbles, and when the bubbles pop against the paper, they leave a complex bubble shaped paint ring. The pictures don’t do a very good job of representing the results, since the bubble impression are rather faint as a rule.  The blue painting in the left of this picture, for instance, actually has a honeycomb of bubble rings in the center of what looks like an empty circle. In real life they are much more interesting.

There are two main ways of popping the bubbles against the paper. First, you can use a bubble wand (or a pipe cleaner bent to the proper shape) to blow a bubble directly onto the paper. This method produces an expanding circle of color as the bubble grows along the paper, with a darker outside ring when the bubble pops. That popping action also sends minute drops of bubble paint splattering to make teeny tiny drops on the paper (and sometimes on the face as well….)

Bubble paint in a bowlThe second method is to use a straw to blow bubbles into the bowl of bubble paint, and then lay the paper on top of the bubbles. This pops the bubbles onto the paper, leaving a complex honeycomb of multiple bubble rings with no splattering.

Both methods are fun. I personally found the bubble wand pictures to be my favorite mthod. This particular group of children, as well as my own preschooler when I tried this at home, heavily favored the blowing bubbles into the bowl method, likely because it’s fun to blow bubbles with a straw. As one of the children exclaimed, “I’m never allowed to blow bubbles in milk! And this is even messier!”

Painting with a pipe cleanerBecause this is process art and there is no wrong way to create art, we also had some children who used the pipe cleaners as paint brushes to paint pictures both abstract and representational.


Little Hands Art: Balloons and Yarn Painting

Painting with balloonsIt was a beautiful spring day today, so I was not terribly surprised when we had a much, much smaller crowd of children at this program. The few children who did attend were very young.

Theoretically we were going to be painting with balloons and yarn, two “paintbrushes” that are not normally used. The children were so young that they were mostly still at the stage where they are exploring the concept of paint, so there was a lot of finger painting and discovering what paint tasted like, rather than purposefully working with the balloons or yarn, but everyone had fun and it was still a productive activity in that the children were able to experience how paint interacts with the world and the ways in which they can manipulate it.

I played around with the supplies myself. The yarn did not work as well or as easily as I thought it would. Perhaps my tempera paints were too thick? Or perhaps the particular yarn I used was not good for the job? For whatever reason I found that the paint did not stick to it very well. Just dipping the yarn into the paint did not leave enough paint on the yarn to make more than a single faint line. I had to use my fingers to really push the yarn into the paint before I had any sort of useful amount of paint on the yarn, thus covering my fingers in paint.

The balloons were much more successful. They easily picked up the paint. The picture does not show it very well, but the final product has some very interesting textures to it, as the paint lifted off the balloon.

Little Hands Art: Water Colors

Coffee filters colored with watercolorsThis week featured two related projects. I have seen a lot of great feedback online about doing coffee filter art with markers. Basically, you draw on a coffee filter with a washable marker, and then get the filter wet, either with a brush or an eyedropper. The marker colors run and create an interesting and unpredictable color splash. However, I had noticed with my own son that very young children tend to make tenuous or thin lines with markers, and this is a project that works best with thick, strong lines. I also find that the washed colors show up better when the filter has dried, which means a level of delayed gratification that very young children don’t have yet.

Two young children play with water colorsSince I still wanted to work with the coffee filters, I decided to add to the project with water colors. I set up ice cube trays filled with washable water colors, and put eye droppers and brushes on the tables. Eye droppers can be tricky for little ones, both from a fine motor skill perspective and a developmental understanding that you have to squeeze, let go, and then squeeze again to make the liquid come out, which is one of the reasons I made sure brushes were available as well.

Two children play with water colorsAs expected, it was the older children who were more interested in drawing with the markers, though I did see some of the younger children experimenting with dipping the marker in the water before drawing. Several of the older children combined the two projects, dropping watercolors onto the coffee filter to create a colored background which they then drew on with darker markers. Since the paper was already wet, it blurred the markers lines slightly for an interesting effect.

I recognized from past experience that many of the children were going to be just as interested in mixing the colors together as they would be in using them on the paper, so I made sure to provide empty cups specifically for that purpose. Overall this was a very successful project, if only because many of the children were fascinated by the eyedroppers.



Little Hands Art: Easy Squeezy Painting

Boy squeezing paint from a bottleWorking on an idea I encountered first online here and here, and using the recipe for squeezing paint from MaryAnn Kohl’s book First Art, we had a blast exploring squeezing paint out of bottles and onto paper. The basic concept is as simple as it sounds: just squeeze paint. There’s a lot for young children to explore, however, from learning how to regulate how quickly the paint flows from the bottle to trying to moving the bottle around the paper while simultaneously squeezing. And of course there are all the funny noises the paint makes when the bottle is almost empty.


Boy squeezing paint from a bottleWe used the recipe from First Art, which calls for one part salt, one part flour, one part water and enough tempera paint to give it color. This made the paint thicker and grittier than regular paint, giving texture to the squeeze paintings. The texture of the paint itself was an object of fascination to many of the children, particularly the youngest participants who were the most likely to touch it in the first place. We had several children who were far more interested in simply touching the salty paint and playing with it on their fingers than they were in squeezing.


Examples of the Squeeze Painting projectsWe had a wide age range, from toddler to about six or so, with the consequent range of ideas and abilities. The younger children were happy to just explore squeezing out the paint to see what would happen, while the older children wanted to “make something”. For some of the children five minutes was all the time they needed to experiment with squeezing. Other children were very intent and deliberate about trying every color of paint and every method of using it. One girl carefully filled several monochrome papers with each of the different colors before she was ready to put multiple colors on the same page. Another child immediately wanted to experiment with letting the thick paint mix with several colors, and was surprised when it did not mix very well. Some of the children remembered last week’s print making and wanted to see how the thicker paint reacted to the printing process. There was a lot of great exploration.

Little Hands Art: Printmaking

A little girl and her father paint

Our theme for this Little Hands Art was printmaking. The theory was that if you spread the paint fairly thickly and then scrape it with a fork, popsicle stick, or your fingers it will create spaces where there is no paint. If you then lay a piece of paper on top of the paint and press gently, lifting up the paper will reveal a reverse image, with the areas where the paint was scraped away a stark blank in contrast with the color of the painted areas. This is an activity that I do at home with my not-quite-three year old all the time. In fact, since I first introduced it about this time last year, pretty much all painting activities will inevitably turn into print making. He is fascinated by lifting the paper and seeing his designs in reverse. So I know that this is a successful activity with the age group.

A small boy mixes paint colorsHowever, this cohort of kids was far more interested in just painting, rather than making prints. I stressed to the parents that this is process art, and therefore it didn’t matter if the children made prints or not, so it didn’t seem to matter. “Just” painting was enough to entertain the younger children on its own. There was a lot of experimenting with painting with the forks and popsicle sticks, so it was still an exploratory process. One boy was far more interested in mixing the paints together to see what colors he could produce than he was in painting with them, but, again, I reassured his mother that at this age exploring the materials is an appropriate response to the program.

There were a few older siblings in the group this week, and they all experimented with the printing with various degrees of success. I think the brand of paint makes a bit of a difference, because I noticed that even the ones that I made to demonstrate the technique did not come out as crisp as the ones I make at home with my son. Also, forks (which I’ve never tried at home) did not work nearly as well as I was expecting. The popsicle sticks were a much better choice and gave a clearer line.

Painted pictures hanging up to dryThis week I created a drying station with yarn and some clothespins.  I strung it fairly low so that the children could help to hang up their work if they wanted to do so. This worked mostly well, except that there wasn’t enough space for all the artwork. I also set up the clotheslines right in front of the trash can, so that we couldn’t get to the can without climbing over the ropes, which I will makes sure to fix next time.

Little Hands Art: Chalk and water

A little girl works with chalk and water

Water, brushes, chalk, and black paper were all that we needed for this week’s Little Hands Art. The ideas was to explore how water, chalk, and black paper interact.

Last week I had a lot of parents come in late, and wished I had a made a sign explaining what we were doing, and that it was okay for their children to do something completely different. For this second week of the program I used our library’s very large whiteboard to write down some “possibilities” for what children might do including:

  • draw with the chalk, then brush water on it
  • brush water on the paper, then draw with the chalk
  • dip the chalk into the water and use it to draw with
  • “just” paint with the water

A child draws with chalk and waterThe children were unexpectedly enthralled with the idea of “painting” with the water. I have read in several places that water painting is a surprisingly popular activity with young children, but I was still skeptical. Which only goes to show you what I know, because the level of enthusiasm was extremely high. In fact, I would guess that about 75% of the children wouldn’t even have bothered to touch the chalk at all if their parents hadn’t been encouraging it.

A family works with chalk and waterThe soaking wet paper provided an extra challenge that had not occurred to me ahead of time. I thought that this would be a relatively clean project with very little cleanup. I almost didn’t even put down tablecloths, since I figured that plain water would be easy enough to clean up. Luckily it only takes a few seconds to throw down tablecloths and I figured it couldn’t hurt, because what a mess! It turns out that whatever dye they use to make the paper black runs when it gets wet. So everything was covered with purpley-black water. I had taped the cups of water to the table to keep them from being tipped over accidentally, but one enterprising young lad managed to pry his off the table and promptly spill it on the rug, where it stained. (Of course the tables covered in colored water was an art opportunity in itself. I had some coffee filters ready for a different program later in the day, and we had some fun putting the coffee filters over puddles of black water and watching the filters soak up the dye.)

Little Hands Art: Painting with Cars

Children paint with carsWe are starting a new program that will run on Saturdays at 10:30. Little Hands Art is a process art program for toddlers and preschoolers. The intention is to explore the art materials, rather than making a specific craft.

For our first program I decided to start with the popular-on-Pinterest activity of painting with cars. Instead of brushes, we used matchbox cars to move the paint around on the paper. I had tried it out with my two year old the week before, to rave reviews, so I was confident that the children would have a lot of fun with it, and I was right. The combination of movement and paint was a bit hit.

A child paints with a carTo start I set up several low tables. I have read that young children are best able to manipulate art materials if they are standing or kneeling, rather than trying to sit in a chair. To create some low tables, I took an idea from the library makers toddler art class tables and used delivery tubs and our regular folding tables. I flipped two delivery tubs upside down (since they have a textured bottom that would provide more friction), one for each end of the table, then put a folded table on the top. It was the perfect height for the little ones, yet not so low that parents willing to sit on the floor were uncomfortable.

Takeaways: since the point was to play with the materials rather than create a careful masterpiece, each child produced many, many pictures, and we quickly ran out of flat surfaces to place them. Next time we paint I need to have some sort of clothesline drying rack or other means to dry the pictures.