Inspired by Kehinde Wiley

Materials: large decorative paper with patterns already printed on them, oil pastels, mixed media paper (any paper that works with acrylic, I like Canson), pencils, acrylic paint, paint trays, paint brushes, mirrors, sponge brushes/regular brushes with mod podge or school glue OR a glue stick, an iPad to view images of Kehinde Wiley’s work/ printouts of his work for showing the children

  1. add to the decorative paper’s pattern with oil pastels, making it the child’s own/enhancing the existing pattern (I did this with four and five year olds but with older children they could make the entire background on their own)
  2. model drawing the outline of your face, hair, ears, neck and shoulders for the children
  3. provide mirrors, and invite the children to use pencil to draw the same on their clean white paper (not the decorative background)
  4. provide premixed variety of skin tones and hair colors in acrylic paint, and emphasize the possibility to adjust them and make sure they match each child’s skin- children paint in skin, neck, and hair (no details on the face yet)
  5. when step four is dry, model how to draw the parts of the face and don’t forget to mention every detail (some children don’t realize they have white in their eyes, or eyelashes, or nostrils for example!)
  6. with pencil and mirror in hand, the children draw the parts of their face
  7. paint the parts of the face and shirt with acrylic (you could set out a variety of paint colors in paint trays, or set up a “paint store” of colors they will likely need in condiment cups and they can come get what they want)
  8. when the face is dry, cut it out for the children (don’t let them chop up their precious paintings!!! this is a painting lesson- they can practice cutting in a different project!), or if children are older they can do it
  9. children can glue the portrait to the background

Potato Printing

potatoes, paper, Speedball water soluble printmaking ink, brayer, surface to roll in on (plexi-glass, plastic plate)

  1. cut potatoes into desired shapes (an adult should do this)
  2. roll ink onto plexi-glass
  3. did potato in ink like a stamp
  4. stamp away!

Here are three examples of this art lesson.  The first is just potatoes, with lots of different colors available to the children.  I cut the potatoes into stars, circles, triangles, rectangles, and stripes.  I encouraged them to layer their stamping with a lighter colored circle (i.e. yellow) under a darker/brighter shape.

The second incorporates a children’s book, When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano.  (cutest book about the seasons ever!)  For this one, I added store-bought stamps for the flowers (you could carve them with potato though!).

And the third variation uses a combination of potatoes and Speedball’s Speedy-Cut blocks.  The children drew their stamp shapes with sharpie, and I carved around them.  This would be an awesome project for older kids who could carve safely.  For the moon and stars print, the shooting star is made with the help of two stripes carved from a potato plus one round potato!


Needle Felted Cats

wool roving, felting needles, chip board, tape, yarn, felt, scissors, clothespins

  1. unravel the wool but don’t let the children pinch it apart into bits of fuzz- ours came wrapped like a pretzel
  2. roll it up like a yoga mat
  3. place a clothespin somewhere on the rolled little ball of wool to act as a handle (and minimize the possibility of children poking their hands)
  4. poke the ball of wool several times so that it becomes stuck in the shape of a ball- you can help the child rotate the clothespin so that the ball rotates and they poke from different sides **IMPORTANT: The felting needles are very dangerous and sharp (I poked myself several times because I was going too fast), so I only let two children do this at a time while I was sitting with them so I could monitor their poking. I made sure they only held on by the clothespin (if they were holding the ball by the wool they would likely poke themselves), and that they were using the needles gently and with control.  I also taped three needles to a piece of chip board to make each poke count for three, and to make it easier to hold for the children.  I did this with 26 four and a half and five year olds and no one got poked at all!***
  5. once the ball seems like it will not come undone, wrap it in one more 2 oz piece of wool roving and repeat the poking to attach it
  6. the children can add the tail with a little piece of yarn (still holding by the clothespin), by placing the yarn on the ball and poking to attach it
  7. I folded the ears out of felt, and also attached them (with a teensy help from the kids), the nose (a little bit of wool folded into a triangle), and eyes (cut felt shapes) for the children.  For attaching the ears, I found it was the sturdiest when I cut a little crack in the ball where an ear would go, then placed the ear in the crack and poked where they join.

*** If you work with older kids you could possible let more than two do it at a time, but the needles truly are very sharp so be mindful.


In one of the above pictures, you can see a basket.  I just used a breaking basket to make the ears, but you could use some type of foam (there is a specific kind for felting, actually) or anything else that lets you poke through the felt.


Scratch Foam Printing


scratch foam (can buy at art store/online, or use styrofoam trays/plates- here, I cut round paper plates into squares because of a shipping mistake- created a lot of trash but I was in a pinch!), speedball water soluble printing ink, brayers, plexi-glass or another smooth plastic surface to roll ink on (messy-mat, plastic cutting board/placemat), smooth papers to print on, wooden stylus (or dull pencil is fine too)

  1. with pencil and paper, practice the drawing/design that will become the print
  2. with the wooden stylus, make the drawing again on the styrofoam (make sure students know that any mark they make/scratch/poke on accident will show up in their prints)
  3. roll out desired ink color onto plexi-glass with the brayer
  4. add ink to the plate (make sure it is coated well or the print will be splotchy)- in the photo above, I had placed a piece of construction paper on the table to catch the extra ink as kids rolled
  5. place the paper on top of the inked styrofoam, and press hard with a clean brayer to print the ink onto the paper (you can also do this by flipping the styrofoam over onto the paper, adding a cover sheet to keep the final piece clean, and rolling the brayer over the cover sheet- that might help with centering the print on the paper, but it also may be tricky for younger children to pick up the inked styrofoam at the edges without smudging the ink…)
  6. peel the styrofoam and paper apart and voila! a relief print!
  7. the ink is super easy to wash, so you can rinse brayers, plates (the styrofoam), and plexi for fresh colors!



One thing I tried for the first time last school year was using sketchbooks for down time in my classroom.  I’ve used them in the museum setting during camps, but I had never incorporated them into my year-round classroom, and I really enjoyed how they turned out!  They function as a record of the child’s use of art materials throughout an entire school year, and they also feel special and maybe create a sense of excitement about exploring with a variety of drawing media.  Last year I ordered spiral bound notebooks (about 6×8 inches and a little over 100 pages).  My favorite thing about them was the blank cover, so the children could decorate the front. If I can find the exact book (hopefully I will because I need to order more next week!) I will link it here.

I had hoped they would be able to use the pages chronologically so that in May their families could see how their mark-making changed throughout the year.  Some of them did not quite understand that front of book/back of book concept of print yet, so this year I might number the first 20 pages and invite them to make bookmarks to help with that. Other than that, the sketchbooks were a hit and they kept the 2D choice-based work from ending up lost with no names or crumpled in the bottom of backpacks!  Here is a list of items I let the kids choose freely from (they are set up on low shelves the children can reach).  They use their sketchbooks when they finish the art history-inspired projects that we create throughout the year- each child finishes working at different paces with different projects, so their sketchbook is always an option.  Placing them somewhere the children can get and put away on their own is also key!

  1. Pencils, erasers, handheld sharpeners
  2. Colored pencils (include metallics and neons! and sharpen them every so often even though, yes, the children could do it on their own but you know what it’s a Montessori school and they get plenty of practical life practice in their classrooms and I want them to be art-making not sharpening during their ONE hour of art each week!)
  3. Crayons (keep the edges peeled)
  4. Markers – NOT dried out!!! you can soak the felt in water for a minute and they usually have another month or more of life.  I like to get a variety of thicknesses, and metallic markers are a hit as well.
  5. Oil pastels (also peeled neatly)
  6. Tempera paint sticks
  7. Dark black drawing media such as a sharpie or a china marker
  8. Collage/stickers (just make sure if you use glue to ask the child to leave the book open and let it dry)

My last tip is to make a list with the children of a variety of ideas that they could be inspired by.  Think rainbows, toys, mermaids, lions, friends, the school, etc.  You can sit with the children and draw in front of them, paying attention to what they are doing and offering technical help with something like opening a marker, or conceptual help/conversation if they aren’t inspired to continue drawing and are scribbling a heart on every page.  If there is a medium that no one ever picks, use it in front of them and I guarantee it will be taken from you shortly (and of course you will say yes!).  My favorite things to say in art conversations with kids are “I wonder… That reminds me of… I see… or Tell me about…”

Happy sketchbooking!!



Art Auction Projects

For seven years I’ve been helping the schools where I’ve taught with their annual auction fundraisers.  At my school in Nashville, we have an auction each spring and the highlight is the eight classes’ collaborative art pieces that are sold via live auction (very exciting).  Here are some of my favorite pieces from over the years, with a few steps for how to recreate them.  I think the best projects have an elegant color palette or composition, but show the mark of the child (i.e. they did more than just finger prints- however that’s pretty much unavoidable with infant – two year olds).  Another characteristic I love is when they incorporate elements from the Montessori curriculum.  ** Many of these were not my idea!  Some come from Pinterest or my colleagues’ brilliant imaginations- I just help the kids create them.

PRO TIP: Have the auction pieces professionally framed!  Download my framing guide here!

Made by 3-6 year olds.  You can make up a composition or use any painting from history as a reference!  This is especially fun if the children have been learning about the artist.  Inspired by Matisse’s Still Life, Flowers and Fruit

  1. Lightly (very lightly) sketch the large shapes on a colored piece of pastel paper
  2. Working with one child at a time, show them the example and ask which part they’d like to do (until close to the end when only a few areas are left)
  3. Help them select the appropriate chalk pastel color, and remind them what part/how they will add color to the group drawing

This one was made by 2 year olds!  Our school had just made a beautiful vegetable garden, so we had some veggie themed pieces at the auction.

  1. Give children plenty of time to cut the mosaic pieces (in the Montessori classroom the teacher added paint chip cutting work to the art shelf about two weeks before we needed to glue these)
  2. Have children paint the background of a canvas panel (or four) and let it dry, then lightly draw the shape of the veggies so you’ll know what color to glue where
  3. Working with one or two children and a very small brush, let them paint a small section of mod podge (about the size of a quarter) and add a mosaic piece (or a few if there is still glue showing), then paint mod podge on top
  4. Once it is mostly finished, the teacher can cut some specific pieces to fill in the last empty cracks

Made by 3-6 year olds.  This one doesn’t necessarily have the “mark” of the child, but they sure made all of it and loved every minute.  It was one of my all time favorite processes because I brought the loom and yarn into the classroom each time we worked on it and kids would gather around and try to pet the soft yarn.  When I cut extra pieces off for trash they would ‘steal’ them and sneak them into their backpacks.  It was really fun to see this one come together and the colors were inspired by March Chagall’s stained glass windows.  I recommend choosing a color palette carefully!

  1. Use this video and maybe this loom (we loved it, especially the dowels that prevent the sides from being pulled to tight) to get started
  2. Continue adding yarn for what seems like forever 😉
  3. Use this video to learn how to finish/tie off yarn and add hanger (dowels are easy to find at Michael’s and cut with a little gardening saw- you can also order fancy ones from Etsy)

Inspired by the sun celebration mat in Montessori schools.

  1. Kids use acrylic paint to add color to the background (we used birch cradled canvas panels)
  2. With recycled paper, kids cut mosaic pieces, and since this one is made by 3-6 year olds, they were able to cut more specific shapes than the toddlers in the veggie collage
  3. Using mod podge, arrange and glue all the pieces down!

Inspired by the Montessori puzzle maps and pin punching works.

  1. Using canvas paper, kids paint whole sheets in colors that you like or that match the puzzle maps
  2. Either trace the continents from the puzzle onto the paper (with pencil), or use copies for pin punching and tape them over the painted paper
  3. Kids pin punch the continents
  4. Use yes paste to glue to a background (we used reclaimed wood)- if you use a more traditional background you could use mod podge instead

  1. Know someone in the tree business so you can get some great stumps 😉
  2. Mandala designs are the easiest with this round stump situation- you can draw something out or let the kids organically create one
  3. Use mosaic tiles and mosaic glue with a paintbrush as they work (it’s helpful to have the colors sorted) ** make sure they are gluing right side up (tiles have a back!)
  4. Add grout- this one is easy to work with, and then when it dries wipe up the tiles

Also inspired by our new (then) school garden.

  1. You need a simple white fabric and I recommend doing a small test of the whole process before having the kids begin- I bought just a simple cotton from Walmart…it may have been muslin (can’t remember- do a little test!)
  2. Teacher uses gel glue to draw the veggies (everywhere you see a white line or dot was gel glue)
  3. Once dry, kids can begin painting (one or a few at a time) with watered down acrylic paints
  4. Once all paint is totally dry, run under luke-warm water to dissolve glue
  5. Iron once it’s dry again

Paper Mache Animal Heads

Materials: pencil, paper, chip board or cardboard, wire, masking tape, bowl, water, flour, newspaper or recycled copy paper, tempera or acrylic paint, (I love these, especially if you can find the neon colors!)

  1. have pictures available of a variety of animals or an ipad/printer for viewing them as children decide which animal to be inspired by (you could also tie this in to a culture or geography-inspired unit and study specific animals)
  2. draw animal face/head with pencil- think about all the parts of the face and details for each part
  3. using the cardboard as a base (I cut the pieces into about 5 inch rectangles (you could also do ovals, or U shapes kind of like little shields) crumble newspaper to create the head form and any snout/ears/etc.
  4. tape the pieces together, and use wire as needed. make sure all is securely taped to your base
  5. trim any extra cardboard (especially if you have corners sticking out) from the base
  6. add paper mache (aboouuut 1 tablespoon of flour to 1/2 cup of water) all over the newspaper/wire form by dipping 1 inch (doesn’t need to be exact) strips of copy or newspaper into flour+water mixture, sliding fingers down the strip to get excess water off, and draping+pressing onto the form
  7. repeat until front, sides, and back of form are covered in paper mache
  8. when dry, you can add paint
  9. add a small screw eye to a discrete place near the base so that you can hang the animal flush with the wall

*I also showed the children examples of Abigail Brown’s paper mache animal heads

Toy Drawings from Life

Materials: toys, white paper (9×12 or so), colored pencils, black drawing tool such as a china marker

  1. set toys out at each spot along with paper and pencils
  2. model the elements of a drawing as well as drawing one of the toys using those elements (straight line, angled line, curved line, closed dot, opened dot)
  3. call children one by one to choose a toy (have extras in case the last few children don’t like the last available toys)
  4. begin observational drawings of the toys with black pencil, then add color- children can have their toys be sitting on the table like a still life or can include an imagined setting

Salt Drawings

Materials: chipboard or cardboard (I use the back of art paper pads), chalk pastels, white glue, salt, liquid droppers, liquid watercolors, cups or muffin/paint tray

  1. color chip board with chalk pastels, just to add background color!  could plan something fancy like using only cool colors with chalk and warm with watercolors, but I just let them choose from all
  2. drip glue designs (older kids could make shapes/pictures) on chip board
  3. sprinkle salt all over glue, then shake excess in trash
  4. drip liquid watercolors carefully onto salt, and watch it spread along the salt trail magically 🙂

Hot Air Balloons

So, I’m obsessed with the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.  My husband and I went in October (book yourself a ticket for next year ASAP), and absolutely loved it- the festival, and New Mexico in general.  We also went to Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe visited and painted (and eventually bought a home near), so stay tuned for a few O’Keeffe-inspired lessons too.  Here is a paper mache hot air balloon lesson, complete with pics from our trip to show your students!  I can’t figure out how to upload a video I created, so contact me through my site if you’d like me to send it to you (it shows the balloons in action, being inflated, and landing).


bowl, water, flour, balloon, tempera paint, (I love these, especially if you can find the neon colors!), newspaper or recycled copy paper, string, berry basket (I bought these), OPTIONAL–> masking tape, cup, fishing wire, brad

  1. mix flour and water in a bowl- I have never measured this and it has always worked (sorry!), but it’s aboouut 1 tablespoon of flour to 1/2 cup of water
  2. cut papers into about one inch strips (can be any length, for little hands I wouldn’t do larger than 12 inches)
  3. blow up balloon as big as you want! and if you need to keep it still and from rolling, tape it to a disposable (or not) cup or bowl as a stand
  4. dip a strip into the mixture, scoot extra mixture down off of strip so that it drips back into bowl, and drape the wet strip onto the balloon
  5. repeat until the whole balloon is covered (maybe even twice, definitely some parts overlapping)
  6. let it dry! should take about 8 hours or overnight
  7. paint, and let that dry
  8. attach the basket – I wrapped the string around masking tape, taped that inside the ballon, then covered the masking tape with duct tape and tied the loose end to the basket
  9. if you want to hang them from the ceiling, you can push a brad through the top and use fishing wire (tied around the brad) so it looks like it’s floating

*Neon tempera paints make this really cute.  You can talk with the children about different designs and patterns ahead of time, using my pictures (scroll down) as inspiration.  Also, when I used newspaper I actually painted them with a coat of white chalk paint so the temperas would have a fresh bright base.  With the white recycled copy paper, there was no need so that saved some time and paint.


The fiesta lasts a whole week and starts each day with “Dawn Patrol,” where the first balloons take off before sunrise and they GLOW.  It’s … so beautiful.


My kids loved seeing the different kinds of balloons, as well as learning about the gondolas (the baskets hanging from each balloon).  There is so much you could do with this lesson- the gondolas are hand-woven with wicker so you could also incorporate weaving.

It was wild watching so many trucks just drive through the open field (which was full of festival-goers), unload, ask people to scoot back, and inflate their balloons!  Balloon Fiesta forever!