Introducing Glue In Preschool
Updated: Jul 27
In about week three of our school year, when most of the children come to school happily, or at least they will let us teachers dry their goodbye tears, we can get down to the serious work of playing. It is when we will put out paint at the easel. It is when we begin our first "art activity at the art table. It is time to get out the glue.
And once we get out the glue, we have two weeks of art planned. One week to explore the glue, and one to create collages.
With glue, you can create collages, sculptures, and construct even larger designs. So, glue is integral to being a maker. I believe my own love of glue exists, because I personally have never perfected (or even somewhat improved) my ability to draw or paint representationally. But with glue, I can arrange colors and shapes and objects in a way that I find beautiful. In my life, it was only when I learned to use adhesives that I began to consider myself an artist.
Of course, glue can be messy. And sticky. Kids will use too much. So what is the best way to teach responsible and creative glue use?
Here is how I like to do it.
I like to do most of our artwork on trays. It gives children their own workspace on which to arrange their materials. It helps to contain the messes that we want children to make while making art. Sure, messes still make their way onto the table, but those can usually be wiped up when we are done playing. I used to have these multi color trays, but this year I bought these solid black ones. They come with a dozen trays. I love that these are all black, and a little larger and sturdier than the ones I used previously.
I used to use some small, plastic containers with lids. At some point I lost some of the lids, and I needed more lidded containers. My school had many small 4 oz. mason jars, and so now I use those. The essential piece for me is that leftover glue can be covered and used again another day. Glue does not get wasted, and I do not need to wash out the containers daily. Any small container with a lid will do.
I love these things. Over the years, I have used brushes, craft sticks, and q-tips for glue application. But, brushes would dry out. Popsicle sticks get glued onto the papers, or thrown out frequently. But with these plastic spreaders, I have been able to use the same set for 7 years and counting. Now, I have a set of white ones, that for the life of me, I cannot find sold by a US company. But these should do the trick. With these, the children can scoop up some glue, drip it onto their paper, and spread it where they need it to go.
The first time we use glue, scooping, dripping, spreading, and even pouring, is what it’s all about.
Introducing Glue Week One
As pictured above, on the first day of using glue, we put a half sheet of cardstock, white glue, and spreader.
Day two, we simply use a different color of paper.
3. Day three we add a little drop of paint inside the glue, and lo and behold the glue will change colors.
Yes, on the first day, when the glue dries, every single piece of artwork will be a crinkly, white piece of paper.
This is where it’s all about the process not the product.
Just watch the children. Look at their faces as they watch the glue drip. Small drips leave perfect dots on the paper. Moving the glue spreader back and forth held above the paper, drizzles lovely lines all over the page. Put the spreader on the page, and the glue gets spread around the paper.
Comment on what you see. “Look at that circle the glue made when it dropped on the paper!” “I see your glue making so many curvy lines.” “You are spreading the glue around, covering so much of the paper!” "I see you stirring the glue."
Why? What does using glue teach children?
You are teaching them their work is valuable. It's worth observing and commenting on.
Notice at all the language that can be used simply by observing and describing their actions. Circle, spread, curvy, line...Those are art words, and mathematical terms. Using new words in context is how to develop children's vocabulary.
We want children to increase their attention span. Sometimes they have to wait for that glue to drip down.
You are teaching them that art is about using different media, watching how it works, how they can manipulate their tools to create different effects.
Holding the glue spreader in their grasp, moving it around, sloshing glue across the page engages their body and their senses. Those things are still developing and growing, so the more they are stimulated, the stronger their muscles become, and the more connections created in their nervous system.
What do you do when children just pour the glue?
First, know this. They will do it. And, it simply makes sense that they will try it.
Second, I don't think there is one right answer here.
I like to plan for it by putting very small amounts of glue in each jar.
I allow it for a little while as part of the learning and exploration. Some children really have a method of pouring glue slowly across the paper, watching it ooze down. Many use the glue after they pour it out. That, to me is using the glue in a different way, rather than wasting glue.
If and when the pouring gets out of hand, (there is not an infinite amount of glue for us to use) I try to limit it by not refilling their glue containers right away. I might say, "If you pour it out, then you need to use the glue already on your paper." I could even add, "it's part of my job to make sure there is enough glue for everybody, and that it lasts a long time. "
Sometimes that limits the pouring enough. There have been years, because each group of children is different, where the children had many experiences exploring the glue, and they were still coming to the art table, dumping out the glue and quickly moving on. Then I said simply, "No more pouring." If your resources are limited, you can enforce the rule sooner. If reckless glue use drives you crazy, then you can enforce the rule sooner.
There is a fluid line sometimes between allowing free exploration and being wasteful. And the rule can be different depending on the needs of a particular class. I guess my goal is not to say no, just because pouring glue is wasteful from my grown up perspective. If you can, give a little space for excess. Because, who knows what those children, with their eyes intent on their work, might discover.