Making the art process easier isn’t always the right choice in preschool

As part of a transportation unit, the children in this class explored how the flow of wind helps a hot air balloon move across the sky. To build on the concept of wind, the children tried a little blow-painting on their hot air balloons…

The children put a spoonful of paint on their paper balloons then used a straw to blow the paint around the paper…

When the children started, they all struggled with their ability to blow through the straw to make the paint move. My initial reaction was to think of ways to make this process easier. I thought that perhaps we should water down the paint a bit or provide longer straws…

But then I began to notice how the children were not giving up. Instead they continued to work at positioning their straws, their bodies, and their paper until they found just the right combination to blow the paint across the paper…

Once the children would get a little bit of movement in the paint, they began to understand what they needed to do and they continued to add more paint and blow through the straws…

It was only after I stood back and just observed the children that I realized that this was not about making a pretty design on a hot air balloon. Instead, this was about conquering the process of moving that paint by blowing through a straw….

I was reminded how children are capable conquering challenging processes. I was reminded of how children just need time to explore the process so they can find their own path to success. As the children explored this process, their teacher provided a little guidance and some encouragement to keep trying. It wasn’t long before each of the children were quite proficient at making the paint move…

Sometimes, making the process easier isn’t what the children need. I am glad that I didn’t interfere…

By |2011-05-26T23:56:21+00:00May 26th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Lesley@early play May 27, 2011 at 1:00 am - Reply

    Yes I have really been going through this alot with myself lately – sit back and observe, don’t jump in and “fix” it even if it is just more paper we need don’t jump up and get it. After all aren’t we trying to encourage thinking skills, language skills etc
    Also when having time to sit and observe the kids i am trying to watch and wait. I am often amazed at where the kids take the activity.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2011 at 9:20 am - Reply

      I was never very good about watching and waiting until I got my camera. This made me slow down and see what happens – if I am lucky, I can take a photo too:)

  2. Lian May 27, 2011 at 2:12 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing that. It is good advice indeed. We should not be too quick to jump in to solve our children’s problems.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2011 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Lian!

  3. Michelle May 27, 2011 at 4:42 am - Reply

    This is so true! I was the MEAN MOM at the playground last week as my daughter yelled for me to push her on the swings. I explained what she needed to do to swing on her own and then gave her 1 big push. I told her I would stay near to watch, but would push her no more.

    A mother heard her and asked me if I wanted her to push my daughter and I told her no, she could handle it. My daughter struggled for about 10 minutes, every now and then asking for another push. I told her she could do it, reminded her of what she needed to do and then asked if she wanted a break to have a snack or go on the slide. The perfectionist in her wouldn’t let it go and as I ran to check on my boys who were playing nearby the next yell I heard was: MOM!!! I’M DOING IT AND I AM GOING TO TOUCH THE SKY!!!
    Her face was glorious and she was thrilled! Sometimes we just have to let them figure it out.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2011 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Oh the “Give me just one more push on the swing” dilemma! Haha – it is so tempting to give that push but when they learn to move the swing with their own legs – boy are they now having fun!

  4. Scott May 27, 2011 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Great, Deborah! I think you are exactly right. Another thing I’ve observed is that kids will begin to think of other ways to accomplish this, too. For example, they may begin to push the paint with the straw or dip the end of the straw in the paint and blow that out. They become creative problem-solvers – a great learning experience. (But it is hard sometimes not to jump in with solutions, isn’t it.)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2011 at 9:23 am - Reply

      Yes! We had several who decided just to print with the end of the straw. I had to laugh because a few children forgot which end of the straw had paint on it when they went to try blowing again! Ooops!

  5. Elizabeth May 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    My motto is teaching them (the children) HOW to think, not WHAT to think.

  6. jennifer May 27, 2011 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I haven’t attempted strawblowing this year but over the year I found that children ended up with more spit than paint on their paper, many also found it frustrating and would use the straw as a paint tool trying to push the paint around the page with the end…. As I often had children with additional needs I had to figure out a way to help make it more tempting for them to try and feel some success …..I found that using the thicker straws that you used to get for thickshakes made it easier as they didn’t bend as easily as the thinner straw as they were a stronger… and they also allowed more air to flow so some success eventually occurred……

  7. Leeanne A May 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Sometimes the best way to teach is to allow the childrn to follow their own path!

  8. Kara May 28, 2011 at 2:38 am - Reply

    That is exactly what ‘we’ must do ALL the time in ALL areas. We give ‘them’ (the kiddies) the tools; skills, knowledge and attitudes, and then we MUST stand back, watch and observe and be PATIENT, they will get it!

    If you give in and ‘help’, you are telling the child you do not trust him to be able to do it, and therefore you actually break down self-confidence and self-concept. Like Michele, be there, but do not ‘help’.

  9. Preschool lesson plans June 3, 2011 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Great article! I hope you don’t mind if I blog about it!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 4, 2011 at 1:33 am - Reply

      Sure – feel free to share more ideas on this topic!

  10. EdH September 17, 2011 at 11:12 am - Reply

    You, you are a brave soul. I have been leading Cub Scouts for 13 years (all three of our boys), and I wouldn’t dream of trying something like this – it would end in paint all over!

    But I love the idea of laying out the tools, giving them an objective, and watching them figure it out for themselves. My philosophy has always been, “Rather fail early and small, then late and big”.

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