What’s in your… art area?

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By Fe Luton

In this series Fe Luton explores the ways in which you can set up and run areas of continuous provision. Ideas for organisation, resources and planning are explored. This first article in the series focuses on the art area.

art area

How should my art area be arranged?

Some children will visit your art area on a daily basis – several will not want to leave! Other children, however, you will never find in this part of your classroom; this can be due to a lack of interest, or more often than not, lack of confidence. You need to address both extremes by ensuring those who love ‘arts and crafts’ to the extent that they practically live in your art area, can experience other areas through this passion (mobile art baskets is a great way to achieve this), while trying to bolster the confidence and interest of those children who rarely, if ever, visit. This can be done either by incorporating their passions into the area through themes or materials used (painting with cars, for example) or encouraging them to take the art to other areas that interest them. Also, by providing gentle self-serving forms of guidance or challenge, not only will children who lack confidence or skill feel supported, but more advanced guidance can ensure those children who have developed a high level of skill in this area are not just practising at a low level.

An art area will not only open up opportunities for artistic skills, but also those of language, communication, social interaction, mathematics, investigation, physical development, problem solving and exploration of the world.

Consider the following when organising your art area:
  • Make sure that there is plenty of natural light and enough space for multiple artists
  • Check that the area is not too busy with colour and visual ‘noise’ as this can be very distracting
  • Ensure that your storage is balanced and purposeful rather than chaotic and cluttered. And think about whether you can display your resources in a more thought provoking way such as by colour (eg red crayons with red pencils next to the red paint and red collage or embellishing materials etc.). Children should be able to see and access materials easily – they should also have a wide choice, not just a ‘this is what is out today’ approach
  • Remember that some children may prefer to work at a tables while others find easels more conducive
  • Involve children – encourage them to help organise the area
  • Be careful not to be too prescriptive and take over with a big focus on adult-led activities or prescribed instructions to create a given end product – there needs to be a lot of opportunity for independent explorations of self-expression
  • Do you have a transportable art cart or handled containers that can be filled with materials and moved around the setting to enable art in all areas including outside?
  • Do you have outside-specific art materials? Outdoor art will tend to use more natural materials and often be on a larger scale
  • Encourage children display their artwork using pegs and clips. You could have an organic art gallery that changes on a daily (hourly!) basis
  • Make sure there is somewhere to store completed work effectively (and remember not just flat pieces of paper – a clear window sill or surface are handy spaces for this)

What resources should I have in my art area?

In general your resources need to reflect the ages and stages of the children in your setting – a summer art area should develop more complex skills than an autumn one. Ask children what they would like – this is often overlooked, but children usually have great ideas for what they would like in an area and become frustrated or not interested if such things are never available.

Consider the following resources:

Paint – make sure that paint is made up and accessible on a daily basis. It can be in pots with lids, or palette trays. Also ensure that you have an array of paint types available – watercolours, poster paint, child-friendly acrylics etc. Encourage children to mix their own paint colours then store and label them in sealed jars for all to use – children could name their own paint colours.

Paint brushes – have a wide array available rather than the same size for everything.

Pencils, crayons and felt tips – have a wide array available (fat and thin as well as a good range of colours) and make sure they are always sharpened and not dried out. You could give this responsibility to ‘art monitors’ who can check and highlight any issues. It can be really disheartening for children keen to use these resources if they are not in a usable state. Also make sure that you have proper drawing pencils available (and that children know that is what they are), such has HB, B2 and B4.

Paper – make sure that you have various types, sizes and shapes of paper, card and fabric available for painting and drawing on.

Natural items to paint – painting nature items, (twigs, leaves, seashells, pebbles etc.) are very satisfying and links art to the outdoors.

Scissors – scissors should also be out daily; and offer a variety of types. Just ensure that children understand scissor safety.

Materials – ensure the materials you have in this area are interesting and draw children over to explore them. Remember, art doesn’t need to be on paper. Things like twigs, lollipop sticks, wooden spoons, paper plates, tin foil, newspaper, large flat stones, leaves, textured papers and fabrics, shiny objects, buttons, pipe cleaners etc. will all interest children. Try and add in ‘new’ materials on a regular basis, again to keep the area from stagnating.

Glue/tape – make sure there is plenty of glue available and that children know how to use it, store it and prevent wastage. Offer glue sticks as well as PVA glue. Also have plenty of tape available – make sure it can be dispensed easily to ensure children don’t have to keep asking for help.

Texture creating materials – make sure these are items that can be cleaned easily if covered in paint. Things like trains and cars create great textured tracks when dragged through paint, while leaves, bark, bubble wrap or fabrics make fantastic rubbings using crayons.

Colour charts and mixing guidance – have a wide range of colour charts available so that children can see that there is not just one red or one blue. Also have visual guidance cards for children’s reference when they want to create new colours. These could be in the form of a template as well so that if children create their own paints (which could be named and stored) they can create their own ‘guidance’ for others.

A provocation – always include something that provokes ideas and creativity; something that changes and keeps the area from stagnating. You might want to put, for example, a photo or real objects such as flowers or a large rock.

Photos of the children – have individual photos in a wallet for when children want to paint a portrait of themselves or a friend as it gives them an immediate reference.

Art examples – whether your own or famous art, it is important that children see what art is and the vast array of forms and styles that exist. You might have books, images or apps available for children to access.

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