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Out and About with Preschoolers: Visual Arts

Child using chalk on the sidewalk

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

Think BIG when you have a chance to do outdoor visual arts activities!

Sidewalk Art

Provide large pieces of chalk, dry or moistened with water, so children can make big drawings on sidewalks or playground surfaces. You might also set out buckets of water and paintbrushes in various sizes so children can “paint” with water. Or fill empty squeeze bottles with water and let children squeeze designs onto the sidewalk.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Provide chalk and a chalkboard surface for students with very limited mobility, or for more mobile children who use wheelchairs, secure a piece of chalk to an extender pole so the child can reach the ground to draw.
  • Sidewalk chalk holders are great for students who need assistance holding chalk or who have a sensitivity to the chalk’s texture.


Anchor a large piece of butcher paper or kraft paper to the ground. Provide a variety of tempera colors. Invite children to paint an abstract mural using drip or spatter techniques. Or fasten a long sheet of paper or fabric to a fence or wall. Offer crayons, markers, or paint, and ask each child to draw or paint something they see on the school grounds as part of a mural.

Clay Work

Cover work surfaces with a smooth, nonporous material such as plastic. Give children damp clay in fist-sized lumps and let them pound, pinch, roll, cut, coil, and press it. Invite them to make representations of things they see outdoors. For variety, offer nontoxic modeling clay or a large batch of play-dough.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Provide alternative “clay-like” materials such as Kinetic-Sand or Thera-putty. These items may be easier to manipulate into shapes.
  • Let children who don’t enjoy touching clay use sculpting tools or plastic silverware to make designs in their clay.

Sculpture and 3-D Design

Introduce children to the work of Andy Goldsworthy and other artists who create art in natural settings with leaves, twigs, mud, snow, dust, flowers, or rocks. Help them design and plan individual or group projects. “How will you stick the leaves together?” “What will keep your rock pile steady?” Photograph the children’s work so others can enjoy it even after nature reclaims it.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • For children that may easily become distracted while searching for nature items, provide photos of items to collect in a scavenger hunt.
  • Provide partners for children with mobility or fine motor challenges so they can help one another collect nature items.
  • Provide an outside art table that is wheelchair accessible. Sculptures can be created on the table.
  • Provide photos of sample completed art projects for children who have challenges in creating from their imagination.


Talk with the children about landscape paintings by artists from a variety of cultures. Ask, “What would you paint in landscapes we could see from our playground?” Let children take turns painting landscapes on easels set up outdoors.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Some students may struggle with the abstractness of a blank piece of paper. Provide outline-type drawings for students to paint.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017