A Future Artist May Be in Your Preschool Classroom

The art area in a preschool child care center can be one of a child’s favorite spaces. Just imagine, mounds of crayons, boxes of colored pencils, markers in every color, plain paper, glue, plastic scissors, magazines for cutting or tearing, construction paper, examples of 3D creations, art displayed, paints of all kinds, clay, easels, smocks, photos, and many other selections. All the items are an invitation to create.

Let Children Explore

Children love to experiment with colors and textures. It is not just about the final product to them. Just as you are ready to display one of their paintings, you discover that the child has painted over the picture to see what the color red looks like painted over white. “Look! I have a pink picture,” a child might say.

Provide Plain Paper and Paint

Young children have a natural gift to design. I once walked by a child who was swirling her paint around and around on the paper. I could see multiple colors going in a vivid circle. “Would you like to tell me about your art?” I asked. She shared that it was the way she felt when she rode the carousel. After she talked about her experience, I understood her art.

Free Choice Experiences

At the art center, children enjoy being self-directed not teacher directed. After reading, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, you might make some suggestions for the art area. “Would someone like to paint a picture about Peter’s next adventure? I have added some magazines with vegetable gardens, Easter grass, and photos of rabbits to the art center this week. At least this way, you have given the children a “new” idea about what to do at the art center. But, it should not be restricted to that one plan. Remember, it is important to give children control over their creations.

My Mistake

Patterned Rabbit
Patterned Rabbit

As a young teacher, I use to provide step-by-step directions on making something such as the rabbit on the left.

Children feel comfortable looking at a view outside of their window and trying to draw it. But, caregivers that provide a pattern will dampen creativity and cause stress.

In my early years as an educator, art time for me was to provide the children with patterns. I instructed them on every step. I then displayed all the projects around the room. The only development areas that were enhanced were perhaps fine motor skills and following directions.

Through Research and Observations

I read research papers and articles and listened to many lectures from professors and speakers on the subject of art for young children. While believing the experts, it took my observations with groups of children to convince me that children need the opportunity to explore at the art center. At first, children may make messes. But, creativity begins to explode when they realize that they are in the driver’s seat. Therefore, my philosophy is strongly in favor of the process versus product.

What Does the Art Space Look Like?

The art center can include shelves for holding items and an easel for painting larger pictures. There should be plastic bins for holding markers, colored pencils, etc. You will need also a more controlled storage space for scissors, paper, etc. The art space should be attractive with good lighting. Make it a wonderful place that elicits creativity. Children love beautiful spaces filled with color. Add fresh flowers, pine cones, sea shells, and other objects in nature to add to the area. It is important to change the natural items often because children love novelty. The space should be in close proximity to water for cleaning up spills and washing out brushes.

Some Supplies…

Some suggestions for art materials are:

  • White drawing paper
  • Ribbons
  • Pieces of cloth
  • Finger paints
  • Crayons (a huge assortment)
  • Hole punches
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Paper doilies
  • Peel-off shapes
  • Markers
  • Yarn
  • Pom-poms
  • Craft buttons
  • Paste
  • Glue
  • Construction paper
  • Tissue paper
  • Newsprint
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape
  • Sponges
  • Stamps and stamp pads
  • Rolling pins
  • Play dough
  • Cookie cutters
  • Drying rack
  • Painting aprons
  • Mixing jars

…and anything else you can think of!

Many Developmental Domains are Enhanced in the Art Space

  • Physical development:
    Children develop fine and large motor skills. This includes the development of eye-hand coordination, and arm, hand and finger muscles.
  • Cognitive development:
    Through visual judgment, children will learn to identify colors. Also, it takes a mental plan to design their picture or art project.
  • Language development:
    Children love to talk. Encourage multiple children to share the space to enhance language development. As the teacher, walk around and invite the child to discuss their project. “Would you like to tell me about your art?” You can add vocabulary by making statements like, “I love those purple lines that you added. I like those circles that you placed on the page.”
  •  Emotional Development:
    Children will feel happy about their art projects in a classroom where the teacher doesn’t put restrictions on their work. Many of the art activities are therapeutic. Think about pounding clay as a way to get-out hostility.
  • Social Development:
    It is important to encourage conversation and have multiple children in the space together.
  • Creative Development:
    Encourage children to create. It is fine to give them ideas. But, don’t provide examples of things that have been made from patterns. For example, you could provide several snow scenes photos. But, it will stop their creativity when the teacher posts several snow scenes that she made with blue paper and glitter or a snow man that has been made by the teacher.

Planning Your Art Center

Art Center for Preschoolers
Art Storage

1. Decide on the Size and Location of Your Art Center

It is important to set-up the center based on the size and location. Try to accommodate two or more children to ensure that language skills are developed. It is important to plan the center near a water source for easy clean-up. It can get noisy; therefore it would not work near the book center or other quiet areas.

2. Pick out the Appropriate Furniture for Your Space

It is important to have areas for easy clean-up. Double-sided easels take up less room than two easels. You will need shelves and cabinets to hold paints and tables for making projects. Add a drying rack and bulletin boards for displaying art.

3. Facilitate Easy Clean Up with Splash Mats and Aprons

Make sure that floor services are easy to clean. You may want a splash mat. Have art smocks or aprons to protect children’s clothing.

4. Find Convenient Art Storage Solutions

There are a variety of art supplies available, so it’s important that the materials you choose for your art center are organized and placed in appropriate storage containers. Art caddies, scissor racks, and art tubs are great storage solutions for materials that children need to easily access.

5. Choose a Variety of Art Materials and Tools for Children to Use

You should offer a variety of diverse art materials based on different levels of ability in your classroom’s art center.


I hope this article on the art center for preschoolers has been helpful. I would love to hear from you with your added experiences and ideas.


Feature image courtesy of Unsplash, Ricardo Viana.

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