Colourful Reads

Everyday in Art Explorers classes I am reminded how art is an essential tool in the development of early literacy skills.  From the smallest children who are just beginning to form words and identify colours to older children developing their expressive language skills by talking about how an art work makes them feel.  Art and literacy go hand in hand.  Of course, this means that literacy can also be used to support artistic development.  The early years is a time when picture books are key and it is often the pictures, rather than the story that draw little ones in.  I wanted to share with you today a few of my favourite books that little ones will love to read with you and which will also support their artistic development.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  (
Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle)


This was always a firm favourite in our house when my children were small and is a lovely rhythmic story that can not fail to reinforce colour knowledge through its lovely illustrations of animals.

Little Blue and Little Yellow  (Leo Lionni)


Another great one for very young children and a great introduction to colour theory. What happens when yellow and blue hug?  Lovely ‘torn paper’ style illustrations. Also has a nice friendship theme.

Mouse Paint (Ellen Stoll Walsh)


An engagingly messy tale of three mice jumping in three jars of paint and what happens when they come together.  Would be a great support to some practical colour mixing activities.

A Colour of His Own (Leo Lionni)


Another story that supports colour recognition.  A chameleon goes on a journey in search of a colour of his own and changes many different colours along the way, finally realising that no matter what colour his on the outside,  is he is the same on the inside.  More lovely illustrations here too.

Happy reading!

Next week…. great art books for primary aged children. x


Fluffy Paint


One of the great things about the job I do is that I am constantly discovering new things.  I love mixing and experimenting and seeing what happens!  In our mini classes this week we have been using fluffy paint to make ice-cream pictures.  I know that there are many fluffy paint products on the market but, as with lots of kids art and craft, it seems crazy to buy it when you can make it yourself.  This is such a simple and effective recipe I thought I should share.  It could be a fun activity to try over half term if you find yourself with an hour or so to spare.

You need:

  • PVA Glue
  • Shaving Foam
  • Food colouring

Mix together the glue and the shaving foam using a ratio of around 50:50.  It should still retain the frothy-ness of the foam.  Add a few drops of food colouring.  Make up a few colours.  You can then provide spoons, spreaders, brushes…whatever takes your fancy and let them get creative.   In our classes I provided cone shaped paper and various ‘sprinkles’ in the form of dried tapioca and pasta to add decorations.  You could even use glitter!  The great thing about this is once it is dry it stays fluffy, thanks to the glue.  This is a great activity for all ages.  Even babies will enjoy grabbing handfuls of this and watching the colours swirl together.  It would be lovely to see a few pictures of your creations on the facebook page.  Happy painting!

Exploration and Experimentation


A common misconception in children’s art is that there should be a finished product at the end of it.  It is easy to fall into this way of thinking. In my mini classes I sometimes worry that parents will feel in someway short-changed if their children don’t have something they have made to take home at the end of the session.  However, creative exploration is all about experimentation.  This is where the magic happens and the connections in learning start to be made.  It is about what it feels like to push your hand into a tub of paint; the sound made by beads as the clatter on the floor; the satisfaction of repeatedly stabbing a lump of play dough; the sticky glue between your fingers.  This kind of exploration builds early confidence that will stand children in good stead when they start to paint and make in a more structured way.

Often, as parents, we try to steer children away from these free-flow things toward more structured activities.   Partly because we get stressed out by mess and because we feel they should ‘make something’ (often driven by our own desire to have a finished product).  However, this kind of play is an  essential stage in their development and it can be an activity in itself.  It is also a great opportunity to develop key skills such as language and number (‘What does the paint feel like?’ ‘Count the beads back into the pot’).  So maybe next time you get the arty stuff out at home try to be a bit more hands-off and let the process unfold rather than aiming for a finished product and see what happens.

Here are a few ideas for you to try with things you probably already have at home:

  • Coloured rice in various containers – You can easy dye rice by putting it in a freezer bag with a couple of drops of food colouring and giving it a good shake to disperse. Little ones love pouring and sprinkling and this is perfect for that.
  • Shaving foam with a few drops of food colouring – let them swirl and squelch the foam and watch the colour spread.
  • Jelly in various colours and shapes – make large squares in old ice-cream tubs that can be chopped, stabbed and squished!
  • Cooked, coloured spaghetti – cook normally but add some food colouring to the water.  Great for cutting with plastic scissors to develop those scissor skills.
  • Flour with hidden objects – provide spoons to scoop the flour away and make new mounds.
  • Cornflour – this is fantastic mixed with water and some food colouring as it changes from liquid to solid before your very eyes.  Endless fascination!


Arty Days Out


At this time of year, with the weather cold and wet, outdoor activities are often a bit limited.  What better time, then, to take a trip into London and make the most of all of the wonderful art on offer?  I love taking my children to art galleries.  They never fail to find inspiration and are always super keen to get out the paints when we get home.  It is also very refreshing to see familiar work through their eyes.  They often have a completely different take on it and express some strong opinions.  My daughter once declared Matisse to be ‘not a very good drawer’ – eight year olds are harsh critics!

There are some great activities in the London galleries aimed specifically at children and many of them are free.  I thought I’d share a few on here as I have often only found out about them accidentally.

National Portrait Gallery

I have taken part in these sessions before and would highly recommend them.  They have lots lined up for half term and it is all free.  Some of the sessions you do need to get a ticket to reserve a place so turn up a bit early, get your ticket and then have a wander around the galleries for a while.  Children find portraits fascinating and it is something they can directly relate to.  They have too many different sessions for me to list here so check out their website and see what takes your fancy.  They all look brilliant to me!

You can also get a family audio guide here which is very interesting for children and adults alike.  I have found that these help to keep little ones focused. They enjoy searching out the paintings and finding out about their background.  It also means that you can spend your time focusing properly on just a few pictures rather than trying to look at the whole Gallery (which is exhausting – I have tried!)

National Gallery

Loads of stuff going on for children here too.  They have sessions running every Sunday and also run a special programme of activities in the holidays.  Many are hands on drawing and making sessions inspired by the work in the gallery and most are free.  They even run sessions for under fives so everyone can get involved.  For slightly older children they do family walk and talk sessions which I have been on in the past and have found to be fab.  The people who run these sessions are so knowledgeable they really bring paintings to life for the children.  Again, too much for me to list but you can check it all out here

They also provide family trails for children to follow and answer questions about paintings.  There is usually an opportunity for children to draw their own versions of what they see in the gallery, which my children always enjoy.


Tate Modern

The Tate website is great for arty activities for kids.  Even if you can’t make it to the gallery, children can find out lots about art here and most of it is interactive.  Children can even upload their own art work to be displayed on their digital gallery.

The Tate Modern itself is a great venue to take children, even very small ones, as there is so much space for them to run around.  The Turbine Hall always seems to be full of small children rolling down the hill! You can also climb to the top and look out over London and see which landmarks you can spot.  They also provide child-specific audio guides and can give you suggestions of which work to look at.  Their Top Ten Tips for Children and Families is definitely worth a look before visiting to help you get the most out of the vast array of art on offer.  Again, the majority of this is completely free.

Tate Britain

Tate Britain runs family gallery exploring sessions which are suitable for ages five and up.  A guide will take you to paintings relevant to children and delve deeper into its background. You can also pick up a ‘family welcome card’ which will guide you to a specific painting and give you lots of information about it.  A handful of these could easily keep you busy for hours!

In February, Tate Britain is hosting the BP Family Festival which looks to be a great selection of really creative, fun activities for all ages.  You can find out more about it here.  These events are also free.

That is just a brief overview but I hope you’ll find it helpful.  We really are so lucky to have all of this free learning and inspiration so near by.

Other tips for a stress free (and cheap) day out

Take a picnic.

Avoid the hassle and expense of finding somewhere to eat. Most venues have somewhere to eat them.  If not, you can sit in Trafalgar Square (National Portrait and National Galleries) or by the river (Tate Modern and Tate Britain).  What could be better?

Take paper and pencils  

You don’t want to get caught short if inspiration strikes!  Speaking as someone who once had to buy a set of pencils in the National Gallery Shop, it is much more economical to take your own!


Musical Drawing


For me, creativity and music are inseparable.  I love nothing more than shutting myself away with a creative project and some good tunes! Music is inspirational and it can alter the way you see the world.  In this way, it is a fantastic tool to encourage self-expression in children.

Drawing to music is such a fun activity that you will find yourself wanting to join in too.  What better way to get rid of life’s stresses than going crazy with a crayon to your favourite piece of music?  I have found that the bigger the paper you can get hold of the better.  Big rolls of newsprint are ideal if you can hold of them.  Otherwise, just a big sheet is fine.  For little children, chunky crayons are best as they are easiest to hold.  Slightly older children my want to try a range of pencils or even paint and brushes (you might want to wait for warmer weather and do this in the garden!).

As you listen, encourage the children to make marks in time to the music.  Show them how you would do this but explain that it is up to them to respond in their own way.  Explain that different types of marks can represent different sounds (dots, zig-zags, thick lines, fine lines, circles, spirals, scribbles etc).  Discuss the music as you do this and help them to differentiate between high and low sounds, fast and slow rhythms.  Ask them how the music makes them feel.  Is it happy, sad, exciting, scary?  How can they show this? Maybe they might like to choose colours that represent the mood.

This is an excellent way to help develop your child’s motor control.  If the paper is big enough, encourage large sweeping movements as well as smaller ones so that their shoulders and upper arms are really getting a work out.  Stress that the idea is not for them to draw ‘a thing’ or ‘a picture’ but to make marks that represent the music.  Some older children will find this tricky as they are already programmed to draw representationally.  Explain there is no right or wrong…the sole aim is to have fun and see what you make.  Draw alongside them at first to build their confidence and then draw back-to-back.  It will be fun to compare what you have done when the music finishes.  You can discuss the similarities and differences – this is also a fab language development opportunity.

I hope you give this a try.  It really is great fun.  I’d love to see some of the results! You can share them to our facebook page .  Don’t forget to tell us what music you were listening to!


Telling the time

I am always on the look out for new ways to use cardboard tubes.  As people who come to my classes will attest, they crop up in a myriad of different guises. This is a new one though.  I love it when making has a practical use and this really does!  Telling the time is something that children often struggle  with so anything that helps has got to be a good thing.  These watches could also be used for little ones who are worried about going to nursery for the first time.  Try setting the watch to the time they will be picked up as a way to reassure them that they are not being abandoned for ever!

It’s so easy to make.  All you need is a section of cardboard tube, some small scraps of card, a split pin, some pens and little sparkly bits to decorate.  There are lots of learning opportunities here:  You could start by looking carefully at a real clock face and ask what numbers they can see, are both hands the same etc.  You can talk about shape as you cut out the circular watch face.  If the numbers are too tricky for your little one to add, why not have them write the numbers in a tray filled with rice or salt while you write them on the watch?  Once the watch is assembled they can get creative and decorate it as they wish.

Draw like no-one’s watching

Happy New Year and welcome to my first blog post of 2017.

I wanted to start the new year off by sharing some ideas about childhood drawing I have come across recently.  In my pre-school and after school club classes I am privileged to see a broad range of developmental stages in drawing.  I absolutely love the freedom and creativity that comes from a child recording the world as they see it, free of inhibitions.  My own son has as very distinctive ‘style’ and while his drawings bear little resemblance to the actual thing from a technical perspective they capture the essence as he perceives it perfectly.  I thought you might like to see his shark drawings at this point as they are just about my favourite ever art work! I love the way he has tried to draw it from different perspectives despite the challenging nature of the subject matter.  I think a lot of adults would have a hard time drawing a shark head on!  The expressions are priceless but he has captured what, for him, makes a shark a shark (teeth, eyes and fins).


This is such a precious time and one that should be nurtured as it is often all too quickly gone.  Many famous artists have often sought to regain the spontaneity and freedom had as children. An article on the Tate website points out that artist John Ruskin, in the 1800’s encouraged artists to try to recover what he called the “innocence of the eye”, to represent nature with the freshness and vitality of a child, or of a blind person suddenly restored to sight.  Of course, many of the most successful artists of the 20th century struggled to revert to the naivety and freedom of childhood.  Paul Klee apparently found some of his childhood drawings in a box in his parents attic and described them as, “the most significant [I have made] until now”. He had just finished four years at art school but found that his formal training was nothing compared with the ’emotional rawness’ of his youth. In fact, he loved his early drawings so much that he later included them in an exhibition of his work!

So, here’s to our offspring’s fabulous, creative, individual and often crazy drawings.  And don’t forget to keep them – maybe one day they too will be included in an exhibition!


Let it snow!

Not long to go now!  I was told recently that it is going to be 16°C on Christmas Day so I think it’s fair to say that snow is not looking very likely.  Let’s not get downhearted though – we can make our own snow at home and have lots of creative fun along the way.


The first idea I wanted to share with you is actually an activity I used at our After School Club this week courtesy of a fab website called It’s Always Autumn.  It was very popular and was a great exercise in cutting and accuracy for older children (these children were aged 6 – 8).  Following the templates takes the old cut out snowflake idea to another level and I guarantee they will be very pleased with the results.   I would encourage them to try the templates provided and then use this as a platform for designing their own.  Drawing around a medium sized plate on a sheet of A4 gave us a manageable size for cutting.

The other idea is a bit more gloopy but no less fun.  Littler ones will also enjoy getting stuck in with this.  PVA glue is always a big favourite in our mini classes! You will need a sheet of plastic (I used plastic wallets for clip files cut open), pva glue and glitter.  If you can get hold of pva glue in a small squirty bottle, this willl be easier but a spreader will also work. Older children will enjoy following a snowflate template placed under the plastic – you can find loads to download and print online.  Younger ones may prefer to just freestyle. Apply the glue in your snowflake shape (or maybe just a simple swirl!) . While the glue is still wet, sprinkle liberally with glitter and shake off the excess.  Leave it to dry completely.  You should then be able to carefully peel the design off the plastic.  These snowflakes look great on a window and should stick by themselves or you could use them as part of a winter picture.


No excuse for boring windows now! Enjoy x

Creating a space for creating

Phew! I have just returned from my garage where I have been attempting to get everything ready for classes next week.  This is no mean feat at the moment as the garage has been plunged into utter chaos.  My normally organised art materials are buried under piles of things normally stored in the shed.  The reason?  The shed is no more.  It was torn down last week to make space for a brand new shiny one (aka ‘log cabin’) that will be my new Art Explorers HQ.  Obviously this is all very exciting. It is no exaggeration to say that I am immensely looking forward to organising all of my lovely art materials in my lovely new shed, sorry, log cabin.  Sad, I know, but there it is.

All this upheaval has made me realise how important it is to have materials ready to use without having to search for them.  This is also the case for children. When the creative impulse strikes they need to be able to access what they need to make it happen.  I have always made sure that my own children have a ready supply of pens, pencils, paper, glue, selloptape etc and have tried my best to keep it arranged in a tidy, organised fashion.  This isn’t always easy but clearly labelled containers (with lids) make it slightly more achievable.  In an ideal world, we would all love to have a table and shelves devoted to the artistic endevours of our little ones but for many people this isn’t a possibility. If you don’t have the space for shelves, a transparent shoe organiser such as the one below, makes a great place to keep bits and pieces.


And if you find that you can’t devote an area of your house solely to your crafty little one, why not try a trolley like the one below?  It can be moved to where ever you need it and keep things neatly arranged and easily accessible.


Art storage doesn’t have to be expensive either.  I love these ideas of recycling milk containers or tins (I would use electricians tape around the top of the tins to keep them safe).

I’d love to know how you store your art materials, I’m sure there are some inventive ideas out there.  Use the comments section below to share! I think I will be utilising some of these ideas in my lovely new art space once it is up. Watch this space for pictures… I can’t wait! Happy organising! x



It seems like winter has finally arrived.  Time to dig out hats and gloves and spend a good fifteen minutes getting ready to leave the house! On a positive note, we have had some beautiful frosty mornings here over the last few days.  Even our bike shed was transformed in to a work of art with beautiful ice-crystal patterns snaking all over it.   Of course, if you are small, this kind of weather brings hopes of snow.  My son proclaimed that he is certain it will snow on Christmas Day.  I didn’t like to dash his hopes but it has been a good few years since we had anything resembling proper so here in sunny Hertfordshire!

Anyway, all of this frostiness has brought to mind a wonderful sensory, colour mixing activity that we have enjoyed in the past at Art Explorers.  It’s so easy – all you need is water, food colouring, ice-cube trays and paper.  Mix up some different colours using the food colouring and water (a few drops of food colouring is enough) and fill ice-cube trays.  Pop them in the freezer.  You could put lolly sticks in each one so that there is a ‘handle’ to hold onto but this isn’t essential. Once they are frozen place a selection on a sheet of white paper and let your little on push them around, watching the trail of colour behind them as they melt. (It’s a good idea to do this in a baking tray so that the ice-cubes don’t fly off all over the floor!) If you make red, blue, and yellow ice-cubes, children can get a hands on experience of colour theory as the secondary colours start to appear.  This is great fun and is even suitable for very little ones. They will be intrigued by the feel of the ice.  Happy exploring! x