Outdoor Art Ideas


It’s been pretty chilly here recently and with the bank holiday on the horizon, I think it’s fair to say that we are all praying for some warmer weather.  Thankfully, it does look like things will be looking up at the weekend which is great, as it means the children can get outdoors and get creative.  Here are a few ideas of fun arty activities that should keep your little ones busy whilst you start to tackle to gardening (or enjoy a quiet cup of tea!).

1.Trampoline Art

I love this idea.  So many people have trampolines in their gardens and they take up so much space.  Why not put them to good use and deploy them as a canvas?  Large, playground chalks would be great for this – they can just draw directly onto the trampoline and then, once they are done, they can have fun rinsing it all off with the hose pipe.  Double the fun!

2.  Decorate Leaves

My children love making ‘families’ of various objects so this is perfect for them.  Send them on a mission to find a family set of leaves – Mummy, Daddy, Baby etc.  The give them pens (sharpies would be best) and let them add faces and clothes.  They could then use them in a story (maybe add sticks to make puppets) or stick them down to make a picture.

3. Mud Art

Children love mixing things so they’ll love this one!  Give them a couple of bowls and spoons and a jug of water.  Let them scoop soil into the bowls and add water to make ‘paint’ .   They can then use an old paint brush to spread the ‘paint’ onto a piece of card. Challenge them to find mark making equipment in the garden such as sticks or feathers. They can use these to add marks and pictures to their muddy sheet – maybe even decorate with some leaves!  Lots of squelchy fun!

mud art


An Inspiring Visit


With a growing number of classes to plan for, I am always in search of inspiration, and the David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain certainly came up trumps when I visited recently.  I have long been a fan of his work and knew I would enjoy it but it far surpassed my expectations.  It is one of the best retrospective shows I have ever seen and provides a wealth of inspiration for young and old alike.  The shows walks us thorough Hockney’s career to date and in doing this demonstrates how the artist has developed over the years and how, even now, he is experimenting and trying new techniques.  I think that is is a great message for any child interested in art.  Learning to paint or draw is by no means a finite process.  It is something that is constantly evolving; the key is not to be scared to try something new and to look for subject matter to which you have a personal connection.


Children will love the huge landscapes and this is certainly something that can provide a starting point for their own art.  They will be interested to see how these paintings started their journey as charcoal sketches before becoming vast, colourful works.  They will also love the ipad part of the exhibition which allows visitors to see how Hockney created his most recent work, step by step.  Usually I would advise avoiding the shop when gallery visiting with children but in this case I would make as exception as there is a fabulous children’s activity book available which is full of inspirational activities based on the work in the exhibition.  It covers all of Hockney’s themes from creating photo montages to thinking about the link between colours and emotions.  My children have really enjoyed working through this and we now have a very ‘interesting’ photo montage of a pet guinea pig as a result!  (A good example of a personal connection, albeit not necessarily what I would have chosen for my wall!)

The exhibition is open until 29th May.

Egg-citing Eggs


With Easter fast approaching it seems about time to start thinking of some fun arty activities to keep the little ones entertained during the school holidays.  This is a great time of year for art and craft and the possibilities are endless.  I have noticed over the last few years that shops seem to have cottoned on to this and are now selling lots of ‘Easter Craft’ packs.  These are not only often very over-priced but I have also found that they can limit creativity.  My children would really rather be given a few basics and set off to do their own thing rather than following instructions to create a finished product.

Good news though -the great thing about art and craft with children is that it really doesn’t have to cost a lot.  In fact, some of the most fun activities use only a few materials, most of which can be found around the home.  Take these marbled Easter eggs, for example.  Who doesn’t have a few eggs, some shaving foam and a bit of food colouring?  This is all you will need for a good half hour or so of messy, sensory, colour mixing fun and I guarantee that it will be much more of a hit than a ‘craft pack’.

You need:

  • Shaving Foam
  • Food Colouring
  • Eggs (with the inside blown out – you can watch how to do it here)

Squirt shaving foam into a tub or cake tin.  Add a few drops of food colouring (gel colouring is best) in a couple of different colours.  Allow your child to use their fingers or a selection of tools such as straws to swirl it around.  Drop in an egg and cover it with the swirly shaving foam.  Lift out and allow it to sit for around half an hour before scraping off the shaving foam. You should have a beautifully patterned egg! Children of all ages will enjoy getting stuck in with this – it could even create a short window of sibling harmony!  You could hang them to make Easter decorations if you wish.

Teaching children to draw


I have recently come across a method of teaching children to draw which has caught my attention.  In the past it is something that I might have shied away from on the grounds that it is quite prescriptive.  It follows a set approach and claims that it can help anyone (including adults) to draw better.  In the past I have been more of the ‘happy-clappy’ mindset that drawing comes from within and that it should be a free medium in which children can express themselves.  While I still very much believe this and definitely think that no child should ever be told that what they have drawn is ‘wrong’ I am being slowly won over by this more steps-driven approach.

 There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The creator of this method (Mona Brookes)makes the point that if a child is learning a musical instrument, we do not expect them just to pick it up and get on with it.  I can imagine that this would be very demoralising for the child and any potential self-expression would be hindered greatly by not being able to technically operate the instrument.  In the same way, drawing is a technical skill that needs to be learnt before it can be adapted and used creatively.
  2. I have seen in my after-school clubs how children, particularly as they get a bit older, start to feel unable to draw certain things.  This is not down to a lack of ability but more down to not having ever been taught the skills required.  Once they are shown (often with a few simple tips) a whole world is opened up to them and their confidence soars.

The more I think about it, the more odd it seems that Art is just about the only subject in which children often don’t get any clear direction (certainly in the primary years).  No wonder so many are put off art as they get older and say they can’t draw.  If they had been left to figure out Maths or English by themselves I imagine they would feel much the same about that!

So, with this is mind, I intend to alter my approach and see what happens.  I look on it as giving the children a ‘toolkit’ of skills that they can adapt and use in their own way.  I am going to  break down drawing into its basic elements of line and shape through a series of fun exercises and help the children to deploy this knowledge to tackle challenging subject matter.  My hope is that this will put them on the right track to being able to draw how they would like to and give them a sense of achievement. Watch this space to see how it goes.  I will come back to this in a few weeks with an update!

(The book I am reading is called ‘Drawing with Children’ by Mona Brookes)

Mind the Mess


I was recently chatting to some parents in one of my mini classes and we all agreed that children seem to fall into two distinct categories when it comes to getting messy: Those who love it and dive straight in, happily spreading paint all over their hands (and arms) and taking great delight in it; and those who become tense at the very thought of putting their fingers in paint and endlessly worry about the smallest paint blob on a finger.  Often it is assumed that mess-averse children have mess-averse parents but in my experience this is rarely the case.  It seems that some children naturally enjoy this kind of play and others are much more cautious.

As I am sure I have previously mentioned, messy play is important to the development of young children.  It has so many benefits.  It can help with language skills, mathematical development, motor skills development to name but a few.  Don’t worry if you have a little one who isn’t keen on mess but it is worth persisting and encouraging them to get involved.  Here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Try to tap into what your child really enjoys.  For example, if they love cars but are wary of paint, why not let them drive their cars through some paint and make tyre tracks on paper?
  • Make sure that you continue to offer messy options even if they don’t seem keen.  Just popping a squirt of shaving foam on a tray may be enough to trigger their curiosity.
  • Let them see you getting messy.  Modelling is so important with little ones and they need reassurance that it is o.k (and even fun) to get messy.
  • Avoid negative language when doing messy activities such as ‘dirty’.   This can be off-putting and create negative associations.
  • Let them see other children getting messy and enjoying it.  In our classes this has really helped some children come around to the joy of mess!
  • Keep wipes at hand so that they can see nearly all mess is easily remedied.  Don’t over-use though as this can compound the problem.
  • Offer lots of different activities so that they can find one they enjoy.  Some children don’t like glue but are happy with paint.  It is worth experimenting.
  • Play-dough is great way in to messy play as it is feels odd but doesn’t leave any mess behind.
  • Don’t force it.  Gentle encouragement will help them find their own way.

Happy creating! x


Can They Cut It?


One of the favourite aspects of our classes for many of our Mini Explorers is the chance to use scissors.  They often disregard other activities on offer in favour of cutting small triangles out of a sheet of paper.   While I understand that this can be annoying at home and result in a lot of cleaning up, this is a stage that nearly all children go through and one that should be encouraged.  It is a significant stage in the development of fine motor skills that will not only make them better at cutting out but also improve their hand-writing and other skills that involve coordinating the fingers and the muscles of the hand.

Lots of parents, quite reasonably, worry about their little ones using scissors but I would argue that it is important for them to be exposed to them so that they can learn to use them properly, under one-to-one supervision.  After all, when children start nursery they will have scissors and won’t always be supervised quite so closely.

So, if you have a child who is going through the ‘scissor phase’ don’t discourage it but make sure that you give them guidance and support, showing them how to use them properly and safely.  Their nursery teachers will certainly thank you for it!

Here are a few templates that I have found which could be helpful for you to try out at home.  They include cutting simple straight lines, cutting around corners and cutting curves.  If you have a scissor fan in your house they should enjoy these!





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!