Creating a successful easel painting experience in preschool

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A wonderful way to foster creative expression in your classroom!

Easel painting is an amazing opportunity for children to express their perception, feelings, interests, and creativity through art.

And yet, easel painting is often not offered as an opportunity for many reasons which include, among others, the time and effort it takes to set up and the clean-up afterward.

Preparing the Environment

Setting up the easel and teaching kids to care for the easel is work for the adults but I think it is an investment that is worthwhile.

An Engaging and Inviting Process

These two year olds paint at the easel almost every day. As you can see in the photo above, these children are quite engaged in the process. In order to help children be more successful in the process, they need to have consistent opportunities and the freedom to explore the materials and tools.

Through practice, young children will learn how to manage the paint and they will go through a variety of stages in the process including…

  • Exploring: at this stage, they are not really interested in creating as much as they are interested in exploring the materials and tools.
  • Mixing: The children will want to mix the colors in the paint cups and on the painted canvas until it all turns to a muddy brown. Later the mixing may begin to be more purposeful but at first, it is just part of their need to explore.
  • Expression: The children will begin to express their feelings and interest through the painting process after they first have been allowed to explore and mix.
  • Creating: The children will begin to paint recognizable or explainable pieces of work. They will be able to share a story about their artwork or tell you what they have created.
  • Purposeful: The children will be purposeful in their use of the easel. They will begin to have a plan for what they want to create but will feel free to adapt their painting to what impresses them at the moment.

Role of the Teacher

There are many ways the teacher can be involved in sparking imagination and helping young children enjoy the easel painting experience. The child above is painting an elephant. The children were reading “Elmer the Elephant” and the teacher invited the children to try and make their own elephants on the easel. Other ways you can encourage positive and creative use of the easel include:

  • Change up the kinds of tools the children can paint with. Use other painting tools such as feathers, sponges, skinny brushes, fat brushes, finger paint, and so on.
  • Change up the texture and type of paint that is used.
  • Change up the kinds of paper the children paint on.
  • Changing the shape of the paper the children paint on.
  • Change up the location of the easel – put it by a window or near another easel.
  • Spark ideas for the children to consider as they paint by adding music in the background, placing a flower on a table nearby, making suggestions based on a book read, putting a small picture at the top of the easel or nearby for inspiration.
  • Let two children paint together.
  • Position the easels so children can see each other’s work.

AND add colors! I know this makes a mess but this is part of making easel painting fun and inviting – so add color!

A Helpful Tip

As for clean-up, this is one idea that may help. This teacher places the paint in a smaller plastic cup then puts the smaller cup inside the easel cup. When it is time to change out the paint, she simply throws the plastic cup away.

Do you have other helpful tips for easel painting? I’d love to hear them!

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Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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