Using Art to Encourage Thinking

Using Art to Encourage Thinking

Everybody knows that art should be an integral part of early childhood education. However, a
survey of teachers in most schools is sure to find that the majority will say, “It’s too messy,” “We
just don’t have time,” or “I’m not an artist.” Banish these excuses with “Smart Art”… ideas that
won’t take away from instruction, aren’t too messy, and don’t require an art degree. Of course,
The K-Crew will also offer ideas that are messy, will take some time, and might even require some
flexible thinking. Discover ways to teach curriculum content using art as a tool.
Extend that favorite shared reading book or read aloud. Use art in your math curriculum.
Science becomes a masterpiece each time students use art to explore a new concept. Want to let
your students’ creative abilities shine through? Then, this is the workshop for you!


Drawing is simply noticing the lines with which an object is formed. If students know how to
draw basic lines (straight, broken, bumpy, wavy, zigzag, castle top, looping) and perceive which
lines to use, they will be able to draw most anything.
Picture Starters: Students transform a given line or shape into a picture (e.g. a zigzag line can
be transformed into the top of a picket fence).

“Name Train”: This is a great activity for teaching students to notice details in people. A
student becomes the name train person by process of elimination… “This person is a boy.”
“This person is a boy, wearing something blue.” “This person is a boy, wearing something blue,
who is 5 years old.” Then the teacher draws a picture of the student as the class describes each
feature. Classmates then compile a book with their own pictures of the name train student.

Smart Art- Using Art as a Tool to Learn!


Sock Puppets: Add craft materials to socks to create stuffed or hand puppets.
Puppets on a Stick/Tube: Use child-drawn pictures and/or craft materials (stickers, fabric,
trim, wiggle eyes, pipe cleaners, yearn, etc.) to create puppet personas. Attach the personas to
craft sticks or cardboard toilet paper tubes

Die-cut Puppets: Glue, sew, or tape 2 large paper die-cuts along the edges to create a hand

Puppet Tube Theater: Push straws up through the bottom of a small Pringles can or
disposable cup. Attach mini-puppets to the tops of these straws. Retell the tale by pushing
puppets up for speaking parts/appearances and pulling puppets down into the cup when not in a
scene (or backstage).

Salt Dough Puppets: Use salt dough to mold puppet bodies. Dress the puppets using old doll
clothes, fabric scraps, and craft materials.

Scroll Stories 

Story events are written and illustrated sequentially on a long strip of paper, rolled around a
cardboard tube inside the can, and pulled through a narrow opening in the side of a can with the
aid of a “story starter stick”.

Stick Stories

Students use puppets (stick puppets, die-cut puppets, etc.) and a setting (created out of shoe
boxes, paper, cans, etc.) to retell stories or act out new ones.

Masks and Costumes 

Stock up on lots of fabric scraps, yarn, and craft materials for students to create their own
costumes. Brown paper grocery sacks and newspapers can be transformed into vests, hats, skirts,
pants, shawls, wigs, and more!
Masks can be made using paper plates, old sunglasses, and even transparency film attached to
sentence strip headbands.

Slip ‘N Slot Sculptures 

Sculptures are created using simply slotted shapes. The shapes are cut from sturdy paper (tag
board, manila folders, or cardstock), colored, and given a few snips along the edge to create
“slots.” These slots help attach the shapes together without glue or tape.


Use papier-mâché to create dimensional art.


Sculptures may be created using dough, papier-mâché, craft materials, Styrofoam pieces, and
even old junk.


Maps can be used to teach more than simple geography. They can be used to show what
students know about… setting, plot, and contents of a place or object. Create maps using craft
materials, salt dough, or by simply drawing.


Finger Painting: Students use their fingers to “brush” and slide this medium over finger paint
paper, freezer paper, or even the tabletop. Tabletop paintings make great prints. Simply press a
clean page on top of the table. Lift to reveal the impression.

Watercolor Painting: Students use liquid watercolors (or dry palettes, if you must) to create
vivid paintings on a variety of surfaces.

Foam Painting: Use a combination of shaving cream and foam paint to create masterpieces
ranging from marbleized paper to batik.

Fluff Painting: Use this puffy textured paint whenever a dimensional effect is desired.

Tempera Painting: Don’t forget this old standby. Nothing beats tempera’s opaque coloring.
Remember to add a little dish soap to the paint as an extender.

Smart Art- Using Art as a Tool to Learn!

Wax Resist

Any porous object (paper, fabric, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) can be transformed using wax resist.
Use crayons (Crayola Construction Paper crayons are fabulous for this, but even old unscented
candle tapers will work) to write secret messages, draw pictures, or create designs. Next use a
wash of watercolors to reveal the wax markings. We recommend Colorations Liquid
Watercolors from Discount School Supply. These are so much more vivid than the dry palette
kits you buy at the grocery store.

Stamps Stamps

Supply a variety of stamping tools (stamps, thumbprints, Q-tips, bingo dotters, precut sponge
shapes, ink pads, paint, etc.). Students use stamping techniques in response to writing, science,
and math lessons.


Prints can be made from most anything… bubbles blown in a bowl of tempera, finger painting
on a tabletop, scratched designs on foam board, dried glue designs, feet, bubble wrap, nature
objects, etc.

Torn Paper

Use those fingers to tear instead of cut shapes and designs.

Murals Murals

Now use any combination of these art techniques to create a mural.


Step out of the box and allow your students to use a camera. Their photographs can be used as a
springboard for investigating and writing.

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