Out and About with Preschoolers: Close Up with Visual Arts

It’s a beautiful day to be outdoors with the children. But is there a way to help them meet fine arts benchmarks while outdoors? Yes, there is! So go ahead—take the visual arts outside! (See Illinois Early Learning and Development Benchmarks 25.A.ECd, 25.B.ECa, and 26.B.ECa.)

Children notice beauty around them. The world outdoors is the perfect setting for hands-on visual arts activities that bring them close to nature!

Beauty on a Small Scale

  • When the class is sitting outside, ask, “What makes something seem beautiful to you?” “What are some very small things that you would call beautiful?”
  • Invite children to collect several small items that they feel are beautiful or appealing: pebbles, acorns, leaves, twigs, pieces of bark. (NOTE: Be sure no noxious plants are nearby.) Indoors, the children can arrange their collections in ways that they think are beautiful. Photograph the arrangements. Later, the class can return the items to where they were found.

Sketches Revisited

  • This project is best done over two or more days. Show the children a book, such as Thomas Locker’s Sky Tree, in which the artist focuses on changes in a single object. Invite children to make observational drawings of objects that they select outdoors. Provide drawing pencils, paper, and clipboards or other portable hard flat surfaces.
  • Make two photocopies of each drawing. Give each child one of her copies. (Keep the original and the other copy.) Provide crayons, pastels, chalk, colored pencils, and watercolors. Invite children to “revisit’ their copies to add color and other details that they saw but did not put in their original drawings.
  • Give children their second copies. This time, let them add details that they imagine but did not see.
  • Display each set of three pictures together, and ask each child to dictate captions.

Photograms (“Fade Pictures”)

  • Give each child a piece of light-sensitive paper or construction paper that fades in sunlight. Help them anchor the papers on a flat surface in direct sunlight. Children can arrange flowers, twigs, rocks, and other collected items on their papers. (Do this activity on a day without much wind!)
  • After several hours, ask the children to check the progress of their photograms. (NOTE: Some colors of paper fade more readily than others. Test the paper ahead of time to see how long it takes to fade.)