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Mila Paints the Fence

girl paints

About this video

This video clip shows a preschool-age child engaged in a painting activity outdoors. It illustrates some of the ways that children can meet early learning benchmarks while exploring art materials outdoors.

Mila, the 3-year-old girl shown in the video, was one of the youngest children in a “summer camp” program for children ages 3-8. The teachers periodically offered painting as a choice during outdoor activity time. On the day this video was made, children could choose to paint on acrylic panels secured to the chain link fence in a shaded area of the playground. The teachers did not provide additional directions such as “Paint what you see” or “Make a picture.” The teachers set out containers of tempera paint (one color per panel), an assortment of paintbrushes, a basket of paint shirts, a container of water, and a sponge for rinsing the panels. This kind of non-permanent painting allows children to use the medium without being concerned about creating a finished product. This approach can be especially helpful to children who are just learning to control a paintbrush or to apply paint to a surface. (As can be seen in the background during part of the clip, wiping the panels with a wet sponge is also both challenging and engaging for some children.)

In this clip, Mila experiments with purple paint, talks with the videographer about her explorations, and reacts to the presence of an insect in her work space. Other children enter and leave the painting area throughout the clip. Mila’s classmates and teachers talk to each other off camera about a variety of activities, including painting. This video and the transcript below focus on what Mila does and says.

As the first part of the clip begins, Mila crouches by her paint jar. She holds a brush in her left hand and applies paint to the center left portion of the acrylic panel. She stands and makes a backhand stroke across the top of the panel. She appears to accidentally touch the chain link fence with the wet brush. She looks briefly at the accidental mark, then switches the brush into her right hand as she bends down to dip into the paint jar. She stands again, touches the brush to the chain link, and purposefully moves it along the wires.

During Part 2, Mila reacts to the presence of a stinkbug-type insect crawling across the top of her acrylic panel. She initially says that this is “okay” but soon changes her mind, and she asks the visitor to “get him avay.” She continues to paint the fence.

In Part 3, Mila pauses in her painting and uses the brush to pick up a small object from the fence behind the acrylic panel. She mentions the insect’s presence again. (Mila later calmly but firmly demanded that the visitor remove the insect completely, but this interaction is not shown on camera.)

In Part 4, Mila’s attention returns to the acrylic panel; she talks about the “drops” that have formed and asserts that it is “okay” for them to be there so that “they can dry.”

At no time during the video does Mila seem to be trying to represent something she sees or imagines. Instead, she seems to explore physical properties of the medium and the surfaces she paints. If she were painting indoors, the teachers might consider painting on anything other than a piece of paper to be “too messy.” However, the painted fence can be easily rinsed off with a hose. Painting it does not cause them any concern.

During each part of the video, Mila converses with the visitor. (Perhaps she might have talked with her peers more if the visitor had not interacted with her.) Mila’s use of language shows some speech patterns that are fairly typical of children her age. For example, she says “acuzz” instead of “because” and sometimes (but not always) substitutes “d” for the “th” sound in words such as “there.” She uses some unconventional syntax: “I don’t know what is dat.” She also pronounces “away” as “avay.” On the other hand, she uses conventional pronunciations of many words, and she speaks slowly and distinctly enough to be understood.

When children explore art outdoors, they may encounter insects or other creatures, as Mila does. Some children, like Mila, may feel ambivalent about the creatures. She expresses her changing attitude about the insect clearly, shifting from “It’s okay” to asking to have it removed. Another child might have simply ignored the insect. Some would have expressed distress immediately, while others might set aside painting to interact with it. Still others might have made it the subject of a painting. A teacher can find out a great deal by observing children’s reactions to their experiences in an outdoor environment.

If an adult had insisted that Mila paint only on the panel, or that she “paint a picture,” the child might have missed the challenge of painting the wires on the fence, which requires skills that are different from those needed for painting a flat surface. Mila’s movements as she paints are relatively slow and careful during all parts of the video. Covering the wire with paint requires deliberate movements of her forearm, wrist, and hand. She seems to watch the brush as she applies the paint. She seems to vary her pressure on the brush as she moves it along the wire to distribute the paint. At times, she turns the brush so that the bristles can get inside a bend in the wire. At one point, she reaches behind the panel with the brush, using it to pick up a piece of a leaf stuck to the fence. Her movements are not always smooth, however, which suggests that her coordination is still developing.



Part 1

Mila paints for several seconds before making eye contact with the visitor.

Mila: Look, some on here (points to fence, then rubs fingers together—she has paint on them).

Visitor: Oh, can I look up close at that? How did it get on there?

Mila: I paint it on dere.

Visitor: Oh, what made you decide to do that?

Mila: Acuzz, acuzz, acuzz, I thought I’d get a paint offa dere (indicates acrylic sheet) then put it a there (indicates wires at top of fence).

Visitor: On there, okay….

Mila: That is—a thing. But first I got a get a little more paint of, den… then I can do it (continues to paint the fence).

Visitor: It is turning it all purple, isn’t it?

Mila continues to paint the chain links, getting a small amount of paint on the horizontal bar.

Visitor: Can you tell me about what you painted? On your piece of Plexiglas?

Mila: (Gestures to chain links she has painted.) I put it dere so, so everybody can put their hands on there and—

Visitor: Oh, on here? (Gestures to the painted chain links.) On here, you mean?

Mila: Yeh.

Visitor: Oh. And then, then will their hands be purple?

Mila: Yes. Dat why I’m doing— (continues to paint the fence).

Part 2

Visitor: Oh! (Points to an insect crawling across the upper part of the painting.) Somebody’s coming to look at your painting.

Mila: (Pauses to watch the insect.) It’s okay (pauses). Will you get him avay?

Visitor: Come here, little bug. (Guides the insect off the front of the panel.) Will you get away? (To Mila) He’s on the other side now.

Mila: Hey! It’s okay he goes on dere.

Visitor: It’s okay if he goes on the other side?

Mila: Yes.

Visitor: Okay. Now what? (Mila bends to get more paint on her brush.)

Mila: (Applies paint to wire.) Now he’s on that…other…side.

Visitor: What do you think that thing is? What is that guy?

Mila: That is the bug guy.

Part 3

Mila: Here. Look at that.

Visitor: Oh!

Mila: (Pokes the paintbrush down behind the acrylic sheet, bringing a small piece of debris forward.) I don’t know what is dat. What is he going—?

Visitor: You’re looking for the bug? He’s right there (points).

Mila: He’s right there.

Visitor: Yeah (points).

Part 4

Mila: Mm. Looka dat.

Visitor: Mm! Tell me about it!

(Mila covers yet another section of wire with purple paint, pushing and turning the brush.)

Mila: I was getting a drops.

Visitor: You were getting a drop? (Mila moves the brush upward, tracing a drip on her panel.) It did drip down there, didn’t it? (Mila steps back.) You made a special move.

Mila: Oh, no, they are getting down dere (indicates lower portion of acrylic panel). It’s okay.

Visitor: Oh, lots of drips? (Points to an area of the acrylic where several streaks have formed as the paint dripped.) Is that what you’re thinking about there?

Mila: Mm-hm. But it’s okay.

Visitor: It’s okay, you wanted it to do that?

Mila: Mm-hm.

Visitor: Okay.

Mila: So it can dry.

Visitor: Okay.

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.B.ECa: Use language for a variety of purposes.
Mila initiated conversations with the visitor using simple statements such as “Look, some on here” and “Mm. Looka dat.” She responded to the visitor’s questions about what she was doing. She asked the visitor to remove the insect.
Language Arts
1.B.ECc: Continue a conversation through two or more exchanges.
Mila’s conversation about painting the fence involved multiple exchanges.
9.B.ECb: Use appropriate vocabulary for identifying location and ordinal position.
Mila used the phrases “on dere (on there), “other side,” “down dere” and “right there” to indicate location.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECa: Engage in active play using gross- and fine-motor skills.
Mila held and manipulated the paintbrush to paint the acrylic panel and the fence.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
Mila closely watched her paintbrush as she moved it.
Physical Development and Health
19.B.ECa: Coordinate movements to perform complex tasks.
Mila stooped, bent, and stood up to get paint from the jar to her brush and then to the surfaces she painted. She coordinated movements of her upper arms, forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers to move the brush up and down, from side to side, and around the wire of the fence while painting. She switched from using the left hand to the right hand early on.
The Arts
25.A.ECd: Visual Arts: Investigate and participate in activities using visual arts materials.
Mila explored the uses of visual arts equipment (the brush, the acrylic panel) and media (the tempera paint). She worked on two painting surfaces (the acrylic panel and the chain link fence), focusing for several minutes on the more challenging surface—the fence. She observed and commented on how the paint on the acrylic panel had dripped.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECb: Use appropriate communication skills when expressing needs, wants, and feelings.
Mila asked the visitor directly and politely to remove the insect.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECc: Show some initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions.
Mila selected painting as her activity for outdoor “choice time.” She independently used the art materials that the teachers set out. She decided to paint the fence as well as the panel.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

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