Around the Nursery, Part 6 - A rich palette?

Penny Tassoni
Monday, February 17, 2020

Painting, collage and junk modelling have many benefits for children beyond self-expression and creativity, finds Penny Tassoni

Give children tools and materials that are age-appropriate
Give children tools and materials that are age-appropriate

A few years ago, children emerging from a playgroup or nursery would have a dripping painting or toppling model in their hands. It was almost obligatory for every child, every day to ‘produce’ something. While this was not necessarily the best approach to fostering a love of creativity, it did at least mean that children had opportunities to paint, make collages and construct models.

Today, with an emphasis on early literacy and mathematics, there is a danger that parents and others may not see the value in supporting children’s creativity. With Ofsted focusing on the quality of education and expecting to see an enriching curriculum, it is worth revisiting your provision in this area.


While self-expression and creativity are a significant aspect of painting, collage and junk modelling, there are many other benefits for children, which need to be recognised. Here are just a few.


Some projects or ideas that children have may not work out. Eyes may not stick onto the shiny cardboard that has been selected and paint may run down a surface. Some projects may also need to take place in stages. One colour may need to dry before another is added, for example. Learning to cope with setbacks and also to be a little patient are skills that transfer to other areas of a child’s life.

Competence and joy

Making something, discovering something new and choosing resources can help children develop feelings of competence and so contribute to their confidence. Children also have a sense of achievement and even joy if they are satisfied with a finished article.

Early science

When children are engaged in painting, there are opportunities for them to learn about colour and how it can be modified or changed. When junk modelling, children can see at first hand what makes some structures stable and how they can be strengthened.

Physical skills

There is a physical side to painting, collage and junk modelling that can be overlooked. First, children need to have some core strength in order to stand or sit still. Children can also develop precise hand-eye co-ordination as they learn to paint, glue or position things. Some projects that children embark on will also require children to use tools such as scissors and staplers, as well as techniques such as printing. The use of tools and techniques develops children’s fine manipulative skills and also co-ordination.


While you could put painting, collage and junk modelling in three separate areas, it is worth trying to find ways of integrating them into one area so that everything children may need is in place. The space also needs to be large enough so that children can work alongside or with each other. Having a mixed space also works well in encouraging children to see how things can be revisited. The painting from Wednesday can be reworked with collage materials on Thursday.


You should create opportunities for children to paint both indoors and outdoors, and make sure they can paint on horizontal surfaces as well as vertical ones. As for resources, aim to provide:

  • plenty of paper and, if possible, space so that children and adults can paint side by side. Consider creating a painting wall, if possible
  • palettes, paper plates or small trays so that children can mix paints to make shades rather than single pots of paint
  • different sizes and thicknesses of brushes
  • easy-to-dispense paint for self-service – primary colours plus white and black
  • resources for printing and experimenting – for example, lace, lids and bottle brushes
  • pens, charcoals, pencils, colouring crayons, wax crayons, gel pens.

Collage and junk modelling

In some ways, it is worth thinking of collage and junk modelling as one, as this way children may experiment more with a range of different materials, such as:

  • glue sticks, glue and spatulas
  • sticky tape, double-sided tape and masking tape
  • hole punch and stapler
  • string, ribbon and cord
  • scissors that are appropriate for the age and also the materials that have been put out
  • a range of haberdashery – for example, elastic of different sizes, lace, buttons and sequins
  • paper and card of different thicknesses
  • boxes, tubes and packaging
  • stickers – plain, patterned and with images
  • magazines and photos
  • scrapbooks.

Maintaining the area

An area that incorporates painting, collage and junk modelling is one that can quickly degrade and look less interesting if it is not maintained throughout a session. You should aim to have the children wash their own brushes and palettes. When it comes to collage, you may need to have some ‘collections’ of different materials sorted by colour rather than by item – for example, have blue sequins, blue buttons, blue ribbons and blue small pompoms all together. Having trays to pour these onto can work well. Trays also have the advantage that two-year-olds, who are often just interested in touching, can play with items easily. On a safety note, you should watch out for children who are still mouthing as some smaller materials may be a choking hazard.


There are several elements to supporting children’s journey through painting, collage and junk modelling.

Being a role model

Many children are attracted to activities because they want to copy the activities of adults. This means that adults need to engage in painting, collage and junk modelling alongside children rather than just watching or supervising.

Children may also take an interest in learning how to use certain resources or techniques if they can see them modelled by adults or older children.

Making suggestions

While some children may be immediately interested in exploring what they can do with the resources on offer, other children may need adults to draw their attention to the possibilities available. This might include making suggestions to children as to what they might like to try out or encouraging them to help with an existing project.

Opportunities to explore and experiment

‘What can I make this do?’ is an important part of learning in paint, collage and junk modelling. Adults need to plan opportunities that allow children to enjoy this experimentation. This might be simply putting out a lot of different paintbrushes so that children can find out how to make a thin or a thick line. It might also mean planning adult-led opportunities, such as printing with a range of everyday objects.


For children’s creativity to flourish, they need adults who facilitate but who do not ‘take over’ or direct what children should do. This means that where children need a little help or advice, this should be available, but the adult should take ‘instructions’ from the child.

Reflecting and evaluating

Interactions with children can help them to develop the skills of reflection and evaluation. This means encouraging children to talk about what they have most enjoyed during the process and what they have learnt. They can also think about what they might do differently or what else they might like to try or learn next.


For children to continue to learn and make progress, it is worth thinking about some long-term planning. Children can become bored if the same things are always on offer. There is also a danger that if they have not acquired some skills and basic techniques that they start to become frustrated.


Most children can start using scissors from two years

Being able to use scissors effectively is a useful skill for children when engaged in arts and crafts. Most children can be introduced to using scissors from two years onwards, although they may not be ready to cut a short line on paper until they are three years old.

Model and guide them to:

  • hold the scissors – with their thumb upwards
  • open and close the scissors
  • make snips (narrow strips of paper and dough are good for practising this)
  • use the other hand to hold paper
  • cut a short straight line
  • cut a longer straight line
  • cut a curved line
  • cut a continuous curved shape.

Using paint

How paint is applied to paper or fabric determines the effect. Once children have experienced a range of painting techniques and associated resources, the foundations are in place to help children select what they might want to do, for example:

  • hand and finger painting
  • sponge painting, including using sponges to wipe or smear for effect
  • roller printing
  • painting with different sizes of brushes, including very thin
  • printing with a range of objects – for example, with corks, balls and lids
  • early batik – using wax crayons first on fabric then painting over
  • tray printing – putting a thin layer of paint on a tray, making marks, then placing paper on top before peeling off.


Colours are all around us. Helping children to notice colour and in particular shades of colours can help them with their painting and drawing. While pots of paint work well with toddlers and two-year-olds, older children need to be given opportunities to mix colours. This can be a wonderful adult-guided activity.

There is magic in creating orange from yellow and red, or green from yellow and blue. Once children have understood how to make colours, it is worth looking for trays or palettes for them to use. Primary coloured paint plus a large amount of white will help children make their own secondary colours and shades.

Joining materials

  • It can be hard to join different materials together, but there are a range of strategies that children can learn over time:
  • Using sticky or double-sided tapes.
  • Gluing flat surfaces together.
  • Using different types of glue.
  • Using a stapler.
  • Making holes and tying things together.
  • Creating ‘fringes’ where something needs to be joined to a curved surface.
  • Using butterfly clips where objects need to move, e.g. wheels or arms.


‘Off the peg projects’ such as daffodils made with egg cups may seem sweet, but the reality is that it is the adult who thought of the idea who is being creative. Having said that, there are times of the year when some settings feel under pressure to produce something for parents, such as Mother’s Day cards. While these occasions may need to be marked, it is worth looking out for opportunities that are child-centred and allow children to make genuine choices as to what they might want to do.

Here are some suggestions for Mother’s Day:

  • Creating a posy or doing a simple flower arrangement.
  • Planting a bulb in a pot.
  • Cooking a cake or biscuit.
  • Recording a film or audio clip that can be sent.
  • Mark-making on a balloon.


When looking at the quality of education, Ofsted uses three key terms: ‘Intention’, ‘Implementation’ and ‘Impact’. Here are some questions to help you to reflect on children’s enjoyment and progress in painting, collage and junk modelling:


  • How do you encourage children to develop an interest in drawing and painting?
  • How do you support children’s interest in collage and junk modelling?
  • How are children encouraged to enjoy the process of creating models, paintings and collage?
  • How do you plan to help children explore colour and shades?
  • How do you ensure that children develop skills in joining and cutting materials?
  • Do you have a plan to support children’s skills in using paint?
  • How do you help children to develop perseverance when realising their projects?


  • Are there sufficient materials and resources to encourage an interest in painting, collage and junk modelling?
  • What strategies are adults using to encourage children to take an interest in this area?
  • How do adults support children as they are painting, carrying out collage or junk modelling?
  • How are children encouraged to experiment and to enjoy the process?
  • How do adults ensure that children have ownership of what they are doing?
  • What strategies do adults use to ensure that children are able to develop the skills that they will need to make progress?


  • Do children access painting, collage and junk modelling with enthusiasm?
  • Are children showing the Characteristics of Effective Learning as they engage with these materials?
  • Do children recognise when they may need additional support from adults?
  • Are children confident to experiment and try new ideas?
  • Are children developing the vocabulary needed to talk about textures, colours and techniques?
  • Do children show increasing skill in using resources and materials?

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