Planning A Week of Art in Preschool
Updated: Aug 5
How do you set up and plan your art activities each week at school?
If you create lesson plans for your class following using a theme based approach, you might use your theme to come up with some ideas. But, if your focus is to provide open ended art activities, how do you begin to structure your art area? How do you plan art activities day after day and week after week?
I want to help you with that.
Over the years, with the help of co-workers and some "life-changing" workshops, I have honed much of what we do in the art area of our classroom. While I always try to learn more, and to reevaluate my practice, we have a pretty solid framework from which to work, making planning art for the week, the month, or the whole year, relatively streamlined, and meaningful.
What are the overarching goals when planning open ended art?
Though my co-teachers and I plan the art area each week, the fact is I have a very specific idea of what I want the results to be over the course of the year. And these are process oriented. I don't need my students to be able to name colors or shapes or to create representational artwork. I don't even need every child to try every activity.
I want to introduce children to the creative process.
And so, first:
1. We introduce them to a variety of media and tools for creating.
1) Paint- tempera, watercolor, liquid watercolor
2) Drawing- pencils, crayons, colored pencils, oil pastels (I also sometimes think of these as drawing tools.)
3) Glue and Collage
4) Found materials/loose parts
2) Tools for attaching
3) Hole punchers
4) Basic shape stencils
5) Painting tools- brushes of different sizes, rollers, found objects can be tools for painting and stamping
2. I want children to be able to access the materials they want on a regular basis. The point of introducing all these tools and media is so that the children learn to be makers. I want them to be able to say to themselves, "I want to use ______," or "I want to make ______." And they will know where to find what they need and how to use it all.
3. AND I want them to have the initiative to gather the materials they need on their own, and to have the perseverance to follow through with their plan.
As I write this it is the beginning of the school year, and I am just beginning to implement this with my students. At first everything they needed for art was set up by us. The goal a month ago was simply for them to be happy and engaged at school, and for them to learn the routines.
With a month and a half under our belt, so many transitions are now easier. (Some are still a work in progress.) And so, we have upped the bar a little bit at a time. When they head to the easel, we no longer place the brushes in the containers for them. They find them where they are stored, and bring them to the easel themselves.
First, we only placed the exact amount of brushes in their storage place; four brushes for four cups of paint. But now we have added some more choices. There are thick brushes, and thin brushes. They can choose. They can switch them out. In this way they are learning that they are the makers. They have authority over their work. Some children will start to notice that a thick paintbrush and a thin one will make different marks on their paper, and some will make intentional choices. What a great concept to learn as an artist and maker; different tools can help you in different ways.
When introducing a new material, the art table may look like this photo below. With all the materials laid out perfectly for each child:
But now, sometimes the trays are bare, and I ask them to get themselves some paper before they start to draw, paint, or create a collage. "You get it for me," I have been told. "No." I say. "At school I want that to be something that children know how to do." I do feel a little bad that I making their life more difficult. Getting in and out of a chair for some 2 and just 3 year olds is an activity in and of itself. I can usually reach the paper from where I am sitting, and so there is part of me that feels a little unkind when I won't hand them paper. But, I want them to reach goal number three ( to have the initiative to gather the materials they need on their own, and to have the perseverance to follow through). And so I (usually) stand pretty firm. Usually the intrinsic motivation of wanting to create makes it worth it for them to do the work.
So back to the original question.
How to plan a week's worth of open ended art at the art table.
(I will address the easel in another post.)
First, we choose from the list of tools and media above; Should we focus on painting, drawing, or introducing a new tool? What is a new kind of paint they can use? What is a new tool that they can use to spread the paint? What tools would we like them to learn how to use? How can we break a skill down into smaller steps? How can we extend something they have used before?
We repeat the same activity with some variation or extension on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. This gives the children 3 whole days during which they can try the new activity. Some like to observe first, some are busy doing other things, and so the might not even make it to the art table until Wednesday. Some children work there for 3 days in a row, and make the same thing over and over again. (They are becoming experts!)
On Thursday we create temporary "arrangements." On this day, the artwork is temporary. The children create a picture on their trays using a variety of found materials, and when it is done, they return the pieces to their containers. Some items that get used are buttons, corks, empty tape rolls, pieces of cardboard, bottlecaps, floor tile samples, etc. The sky is the limit, really.
It looks something like this:
Of course, sometimes it looks like this:
Friday is designated for "free art." When children arrive at school, the art table is empty. And they can choose what they like from the shelf. In this photo, there are just crayons, pencils, and paper from which to choose. The selection will grow as the year continues.
I can't wait to share what this looks like in practice, as the year goes on. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook to see how we continue to plan and to build our skills, with nary a worksheet or craft project in sight.