Tips for talking with your child about art

talking with kids about art

Creating art with your child should be a fun experience even if you’re not arty yourself. Keeping in mind that your child is making marks simply for the pure pleasure of it, and not worrying about the result, is an important part of sharing the experience with your tot. And understanding that things are going to get seriously messy is essential too. Along with remembering not to admonish kids for getting smeared while exploring art (which can result in concerns about getting dirty later in life), knowing how to talk with your kids about art is a great way to encourage creativity and the exploration of talents.

And you don’t need to know anything about art to pull off a creative conversation. Here’s what to keep in mind:

Keep it simple: Yeah, that’s right. Keep is seriously simple. Start by looking through art books with your child. You can find ones geared for kids or pick up big and colorful art books from the library to explore. You might be surprised at what your child is interested in. No need to start discussions about color theory or historical details, simply sit with your child and look at the art and let the conversation flow.

Ask basic questions: Initiate some discussion when your child finds an image she’s interested in, which also boosts basic skills. Does she see any shapes in the artwork? What colors did the artist use? What is the artwork depicting? What do you see? How does the artwork make you feel? This way your child relates to the artwork and feels comfortable looking at it from her perspective without being lead by an adult to think or see in a certain way.

Introduce beginning concepts: Now is not the time to discuss whether the painting falls into the category of Op art or Minimalism. Focus on introducing simple concepts, like if the painting is a portrait (of a person) or a landscape (of an outdoor scene). Is it a still-life or an abstract (non-representational). Introduce words to your child and encourage her to repeat them while looking at the artwork. Kids retain so much, which means she might remember later and totally surprise you.

Don’t be afraid: Here’s the thing — a lot of Renaissance art depicts naked ladies. They’re lounging, hanging out in totally absurd locations, and flocked by others. Your child may flip right past that page, or like mine, decided it’s the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen. Don’t be afraid. Ask your child about what she sees in the picture and you might be surprised at her thoughts. Mine told me it was the most beautiful picture of a princess and then decided she wanted to paint a picture of her. Don’t feel the need to explain everything. Really.

art with kids

Be silly: No one enjoys a stuffy lecture (really, they don’t). Art is awesome, so have fun while you’re exploring it with your child. Try to see things from your tot’s perspective, which might change how you see things too. Point out areas that are interesting in artworks, take your child on a field trip to look at art in real life, keep it loose and make learning about art a fun experience.

Talk about it: Use unique words, like gigantic, colorful, swirling, dark, crazy, or amazing when talking about artwork instead of opting for “pretty” or “neat”. Along with looking at art together, you’re encouraging her vocabulary, which is pretty cool too.

Just do it: Really. Instead of sitting here reading this, you should be sitting with your tot and a fun art book. Art is everywhere, even in nature. Go on a hunt for patterns, walk through town pointing out everything that’s blue, or take your child to an art opening.

We’re going to finish my tot’s beautiful princess painting with some glitter glue.

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Painting with pipe cleaners

pipecleaner prints

Instead of offering your tot the same paintbrush, hand her a pipe cleaner for a neat twist. Along with using it to create basic line paintings, your child can experiment with bending and forming unique shapes to press into paint and then stamp on her paper. While being creative, she’s also honing her fine-motor skills. And this easy art activity is totally appropriate for kids of all ages — and adults too.

All you need are a few pipe cleaners, some paint, paper, paper plates, and lots of patience and creativity.

Select a few colors of paint to use with your child and squirt on paper plates. I chose to use the primary colors for this project so we could do a bit of color theory exploration while creating. Now offer your child a pipe cleaner and invite her to bend and shape it, making sure to leave a short length of straight pipe cleaner for grasping while stamping.


Now invite your child to press the formed pipe cleaner in the paint and press on white paper, creating neat organic shapes. Your child can even use the pipe cleaner to create funky lines. Older kids can create patters or designs, while the younger set can simply stamp away.


I couldn’t resist getting in on the pipe cleaner action and had to experiment making my own unique shapes to stamp into the pant and on my own paper, which enticed my daughter to give my twisted pipe cleaners a try too.


Along with creating fun shapes with the pipe cleaners, we noticed how the paint colors changed when mixed together, making this a great project for introducing and exploring color theory. We found red, yellow, ogarange (or orange), purple, blue, geen (or green), and brown in my daughter’s artwork.


And older kids can really put their fine motor skills to the test by bending and forming really fun shapes to press in paint and then stamp. Here’s my finished creation…




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Fine Art for Kids: Staying in the lines with Robert Delaunay

It’s been raining for days, and today we all got a bit stir crazy. While the husband busied himself cleaning the garage, the tot and I sat down with an art book she had pulled off the shelf and looked at the colorful pages. When we found Robert Delaunay’s page, she couldn’t stop talking about all those shapes — and the colors! I asked if she’d be interested in making her own circle-filled artwork and she was so excited she started pulling out all the art supplies.

The artwork in question that caught my daughter’s attention was Hommage à Blériot, 1914, filled with repeated circles interrupted with diagonal and vertical lines. The painting is Delaunay’s abstract interpretation of the first flight across the English Channel by Louis Blériot and is playful and vibrant.

After my tot gave me her input on the painting, she was ready to get started.

I gathered several circular-shaped items, along with a sheet of paper and a pencil, for my tot to position and trace around for creating the outline for the creation. I helped with first two and then allowed her to continue to work on her own.

Next I offered a ruler for creating the long vertical and horizontal lines. She did a great job using the ruler to focus on drawing lines. If you’ve got an older tot, this is a great opportunity to discuss overlapping shapes and how to divide them with the lines to create an abstract design, just like Delaunay.

Next I offered my daughter a set of watercolors and encouraged her to paint within the lines — and fill the entire paper with color, just like the painting. I offered a bit of assistance, and lots of motivation, and she continued working until the creation was finished.

As soon as I removed the painting, she found another sheet of paper and started drawing circles for another creation…

This is a great art activity for encouraging fine motor skills and concentration, as well as introducing color theory and composition. Younger kids can explore the challenge of tracing around the circular objects while older ones can focus on creating an abstract artwork using circles and lines while balancing the color within the painting.

My tot is almost four and she spent just about an hour focused and entertained with the project.

It was awesome.

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Fine art for kids: Overlapping with Hofmann

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Hans Hofmann loved bright and exciting rectangles and squares and transformed them into vibrant compositions. Many of his paintings include repeated shapes in their own spaces, but sometime they overlapped and blended into each other.

But who the heck is Hans Hofmann? Along with being a celebrated American artist, he was a big player in the world of Abstract Expressionism. And he was also a teacher to many students, furthering the exploration and development of art in the mid 1900’s. His loose brush strokes contrasted with sharp edges and forms creating somewhat simple and even childish paintings that are so interesting.

Perfect for kids as inspiration for making art!

Take a closer look at examples of Hans Hofmann’s art and notice how he wasn’t always an abstract painter. He began his career creating realistic paintings and eventually evolved into his shape paintings, which made him quite famous. Invite your child to name the colors she sees in Hofmann’s paintings as well as the shapes. This is an excellent opportunity to hone color and shape recognition!

Some of Hofmann’s paintings showcase shapes shining on their own while others show shapes overlapping, or placed on top of each other, cutting the forms or blending them together. This created texture and movement within his paintings.

Offer your child a collection of colors of tissue paper and a scissors. If your child is a bit young to yield scissors, you can help by doing this step. But, if you’ve got a scissors-happy kiddo, she can cut lots and lots of squares and rectangles from various colors of tissue. Cutting is great exercise for all those itty-bitty hand muscles in your child’s hands, which benefits handwriting skills and hand-eye coordination.

Next create a glue and water wash by inviting your child to squeeze about 1 tablespoon of glue into a small container and then adding about the same amount of water.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now your child can begin layering on the tissue paper squares and rectangles, securing them to the paper with the water-downed glue. While creating, the tissue paper will blend together, creating a textured look, just like in Hofmann’s paintings!

Encourage your child to continue working and overlapping the tissue until her whole paper is covered.

Once the artwork is dry, pop it on the fridge for the whole family to enjoy!


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Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors


My child loves to invent, explore, and create and we’ve been doing fun activities together since she was just a wee tot. Now that she’s a little older, she is starting to experiment on her own. I love watching her make connections and try new things — and then taking pride in the results. But we sometimes get a bit stuck, searching for new adventures and activities to explore together.

If you’re not sure where to start or how to get the creative juices flowing (because it can totally be a challenge!), I have the book for you. Rachelle Doorley, the smart and super-talented mama over at Tinkerlab, shares everything you need in her new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors. And what I love about Doorley’s book is it’s so easy to read, motivating you to start creating right away.

Along with sharing ideas for exciting activities you can do with your child, Rachelle shares tips for starting the process, creating the right space for your child’s tinkering, and ideas for getting kids involved — even with the clean-up process. Doorley also includes interviews with experts, such as education professors and nursery school directors, sharing personal stories and experiences that add just the right touch of guidance and coaching throughout the book.


This book? It’s awesome. It’s motivating. It’s encouraging, smart, exciting, fun, silly, and also simple. Make your own paste and mix with paint for creating textured designs? Yes. Construct structures with gumdrops and toothpicks? Of course. Take apart an old computer? Sure! You don’t have to be an expert to do these activities with your child — just a willing participant in the journey of discovery. You might find yourself learning something new too.

Buy your copy here.

Just so you know, I wasn’t asked by anyone or compensated in any way to write this post. I purchased the book all on my own because I knew it would be beneficial — and read from cover to cover. OH and I knew I would USE the information in the book with my child. (And I have.)

Foam sticker letter and number prints

foam letter print

We’re really working on thinking about numbers and letters at our house. And it’s been exciting to see our tot starting to pick up on it. The other day we had a great time reading a book and checking out the letters that form the words and all that kind of stuff. I love this age and how the brain starts making sense of things. Along with all that development, honing fine-motor skills ensures she’ll be able to write those letters once she figures them out.

So I got out a container of foam letters and numbers and dug out a piece of tagboard. Then I dumped the foam stickers out on our work table and invited my daughter to peel the backs from the stickers, guess the letter or number, and then position on the board. Along with building those small muscles in her hands, and encouraging her creativity, this fun art activity also builds letter recognition skills. Sure, she didn’t get half of the letters or numbers correct on the first guess, but did the second or third time around.

letter prints

Once our tagboard was covered with foam stickers, we spent a few minutes going over the numbers and letters one more time and then selected a color of paint for the next step (which of course was red). Offer your child her favorite color and a foam brush and then coat each and every number and letter with paint.

painting foam letters

Place a sheet of white paper over the painted letters and press, making sure that all areas of the tagboard have been covered. Then lift the paper to reveal the print of the letters and numbers.


My daughter was in awe of the results, checking first the tagboard and then the paper to see the resemblance.

letter printmaking

It was pretty darn cute.

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Transform a cardboard box into a fun word game

This last week I received several boxes of wonderful things in the mail. Instead of breaking them down and adding to the recycling, I decided to have some fun and create an easy word game for the tot. She’s right at the point where encouraging letter recognition would be a really good thing, and instead of heading to the store and paying big bucks on some plastic game, or one that she’d only play with for a week and then toss aside, I upcycled one of those cardboard boxes into a fun and interactive game that could be enjoyed — and then eventually recycled.

Simply cut away the sides from the cardboard box using a scissors or paper cutter. You probably won’t be able to cut completely through if using a cutter, but it does help create nice, straight scored lines, which can then be cut with the help of a scissors. I created four squares to use for creating matching letter and number games.

cardboard game

Now use the trimmings to create the squares for the letters and numbers. I found around a one inch square was the perfect size.

cardboard game2

Use a black marker to write letters and numbers on the squares. You could do all capital letters, lower case letters for encouraging advanced learners, and numbers up to 100 — or even higher! I kept it simple and wrote out the alphabet in block letters along with numbers 1 to 20, reserving any blank squares for replacing lost numbers and letters later.

cardboard game3

To create the game grids, use a ruler to mark each side of the cardboard squares and one inch intervals and then draw straight lines to create boxes. Now you can fill each box with a number or letter, create words, or even number combinations. Because my little one is just starting to figure things out, I kept things pretty simple. You can even have a theme for each square, such as one for only numbers, and others for letters, or short words.

cardboard game4

I helped my daughter spread the letters and numbers on her work table and offered her a square to fill in. I was amazed as she found the first match and stayed engaged while filling in the rest. We spent over an hour going over the numbers and letters and finding their matching spots on the game cards and exploring number and letter recognition.

cardboard game5

I was so excited my daughter loved her new game, but loved even more that it was made from a recycled cardboard box, which basically cost nothing to make.

Looking for another fun way to repurpose your cardboard boxes? Make a cardboard box oven for hours of pretend play….



Celebrate National Pi Day with, um, well, PIE!

Marie Callender's

In celebration of National Pi Day, which falls on March 14th, why not celebrate with the kind you can eat – pie from Marie Callender’s! I love pie, and realized my tot hasn’t experienced the wonders of slicing a fresh piece from a perfectly round perfection. And because Pi is all about numbers, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to learn about basic math while eating something delicious. And sweet pies from Marie Callender’s are made from real ingredients. Really. I had my eye on a chocolate satin mini pie, which was the perfect size for the delicious math activity I had in mind. And if you’re looking for other party ideas, recipes, or how-to’s, check out Marie Callender’s blog.

-keep reading for our tasty math activity and how to get our Marie Callender’s coupon!

Look what I made! The (what is that?) preschematic stage of art

preschematic stage of art

At some point your tot’s scribbles turn into something more. They aren’t totally random loops and marks that mix together into a crazed collection of who knows what. My daughter just turned four and she’s finally making the progression into the preschematic stage of art. Emerging from that scribbling during her first few years of art creation are forms, somewhat realistic images, and stuff that actually makes sense when she tells me about her pictures. Yes, there are still going to be delicate moments when you have no idea what is on your child’s paper, but, before you know it, she’ll be seriously focused on details and recreating what she sees around her, also known as the schematic stage of art — or the “dramatic” stage of art. Kids sometimes get a bit frustrated during this time in their budding lives when things don’t turn out exactly how they would like it. But that is a post for the future.

The minute my daughter started actually drawing stuff, I new it was time to offer her lots of praise and encourage her creativity without any judgement. This is an exciting time for little ones, and allowing for exploration is essential. Instead of trying to corral the new talent, take a step back, asking questions later. Leading art activities offers your child new ways of looking at creating, but remember to keep your hands off — and your comments to yourself. I remember a kindergarten student of the past whom had spent a whole class period drawing a picture of a vase of flowers, very loosely based on a Van Gough art lesson. He was so excited about his very colorful collection of buds at the end of the lesson. Sure, there wasn’t much there other than several random circles and lots and lots of green and brown vertical lines, but he was PROUD of it. While beaming and showing it to his classroom teacher at the end of art class, she commented that it “needed a bit of work,” and that, “maybe next time it would turn out better.”

I was crushed.

I’m sure he was too.

This is a precious time for little kids, and most hit this sweet spot around three to four years of age. This creative stage of art lasts until kids turn seven, or even eight, or nine. There’s no definite timeline, and each kid is different. But it’s a great opportunity to do some encouraging preschematic art activities with your child that will hone her budding skills while giving her the opportunity to be creative.

One of my favorites is drawing flowers in a vase. We happened to have several bouquets around the house that were ready for the trash. I popped a few blossoms in a small vase alongside a small potted plant for inspiration. Then I offered my tot a selection of oil pastels. Using oil pastels instead of crayons allows your child to explore using something other than crayons or markers, and they make really vivid dark lines that work perfect for the next step. Without offering your child too much direction, talk about the parts of the flower and what shapes they resemble, while encouraging your child to just draw the outlines of the flowers.

preschematic art activity1

preschematic art2

Once your little one is happy with her flowers (and vase if she’s interested), swap the oil pastels for watercolor paints. If your child is still getting used to dipping and painting, run a drizzle of water over the paints, which will wet them slightly, making it easier to paint. Now your child can start painting the flowers, staying in — or out — of the lines. Let your child make the decisions when selecting the colors for the flowers, if there’s a background, or any other details for finishing the painting.

preschematic art3

When your child is finished, ask her if she would like to tell you anything about her creation. Hey, she might just tell you that it’s a vase of pretty flowers. But if she goes into detail, take a few notes and later, once the paint has dried, you can write all the special things she had to say on the back of her artwork.

Find the perfect spot to display your child’s artwork so she knows you think she’s a fantastic artist.

preschematic art


Fine art for kids: It’s a wash with Sam Francis

Fine art for kids-Sam Francis

It was a bit rainy here the other day, making it the perfect opportunity for a messy art activity. Because the rain was washing down around us, I decided a wet and wonderful painting was a good idea. We’ve already poured paint with Helen Frankenthaler, so I was on the hunt for a fresh artist to share with the tot. Then I remember Sam Francis and his dripped, splotched, and flicked paintings that he created on canvases. After getting out our handy art book, I located his painting, Around the Blues, 1957/62, and we had a great time checking out all the shades of blue and other colors that were mixed in. And my tot had several interesting ideas on what the painting was depicting — a ring of flowers, a couple of elephants, or, wait, maybe that’s just a bunch of blobs.

Sam Francis1

A celebrated American painter from California, Francis explored painting after being injured during World War II, studying art at Berkeley. Influenced by abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko, Francis’ works are bright, vibrant, full of moving line and washed colors, similar in style with the Color Field movement.

After selecting colors of tempera paint we found in Francis’ painting, I got out an old baking tray and a sheet of white drawing paper. This is a really fun art activity for little ones and older kids, but things can get messy. Thus, the baking tray. Run the white paper under running water and then place in the baking pan. Once the paper is wet, it becomes the base for this art activity. Adding paint to a wet work surface is an art technique call a “wash,”  which creates a smooth or washed out look.

Now squeeze a dab of each color of paint on a folded sheet of paper towel, offer your child a few paintbrushes, and invite her to dab the paper with the paint, watching as it moves and blends with the water. Older kids can experiment with creating abstract forms while younger tots can explore color theory — and simply making a colorful mess.

Sam Francis2

Offer your child a spray bottle filled with fresh water to spritz the paper when it starts to dry out. Squeezing that spray bottle also does wonders for budding fine motor skills.

Sam Francis3

Encourage your child to tilt and move the tray, watching as the paint swirls and washes with the other colors on the paper.

Sam Francis4

Now your child can continue painting, spraying, and tilting the paper until she’s happy with her finished creations. And if you’re feeling really creative, encourage your little one to drip or gently splatter the paint to add extra texture and detail to the artwork. Maybe take things outdoors for this step if the weather is cooperating… We skipped the splattering due to the rain.

Sam Francis5

Once the finished Sam Francis’ influenced creation is finished, find the perfect spot for displaying the artwork. We find the fridge to be the perfect spot for our constantly evolving art show.

Sam Francis end