Art in the Early Years: Part 6 -Collage

Suffolk Early Years and Childcare Service
Monday, June 27, 2011

Opening up the creative potential of collage to young children requires knowledge of the basic skills involved and ready access to a wide variety of natural and made materials.

Suffolk Early Years and Childcare Service (Suffolk County Council) shows how.

A collage (from the French word coller, meaning 'to glue') is a work of art made from assembling different materials on a chosen surface to create a new whole. It provides a link between the visual and tactile experience and is one of the six areas of artistic experience that should be available within the EYFS (along with drawing, painting, printmaking, textiles and 3D).

Creating a collage includes selecting, tearing, cutting, sticking and discussion, and as these skills develop, more complex processes can be introduced. Children should be able to choose from a wide range of materials, so providing a variety of colour, texture and shape. It is not necessary to have an end product but materials can be fixed with glue if the child wishes.

Basic collage-making

Though relatively easy, it can be useful to divide collage-making into two parts:

  • Collect materials - this can be an activity in itself, so consider a trip to your local park, woodland, beach or scrapstore. Scrapstores often have unusual materials suitable for collage-making.
  • Make the collage - arrange then glue down the materials, or gradually build up an image by adding each new element individually.


Aim to provide a wide range of opportunities for children to explore and experiment with collage, both indoors and outside.

  • Start by offering preliminary activities to familiarise the children with the skills, materials and techniques needed for collage. For example, provide: paper of different strengths and textures for exploring and tearing; plain and patterned paper, fabric and yarn for the children to cut; ready-cut paper or fabric for sticking. Encourage them to sort collage materials such as buttons, ribbon, scraps of fabric and old playing cards into plastic tubs. Label the tubs and store for later use.
  • Involve the children in collecting other resources for collage, such as natural materials.
  • Provide space for collages to be created on various flat surfaces, such as wood, cardboard, large pieces of paper or newspaper, the floor and the outdoor play area - grass or hard surface.
  • If space permits, involve the children in selecting a permanent storage area for collage materials so that they can create collage during their free-flow play.


There is no right or wrong way to make a collage. However, when leading a collage activity, model the skills so the children can make the most of this exciting experience, for example: tearing paper; using scissors; spreading glue; arranging and rearranging objects on a chosen surface; sticking down items on to a surface; and photographing the results.

Meaningful interactions

Use your knowledge of child development and the individual children to provide appropriate experiences. Taking part in collage can provide many opportunities for language development, so encourage the children to talk about their ideas and to:

  • observe and discuss the process. Introduce new vocabulary related to the texture - for example, rough, smooth, silky or bumpy. Discuss the qualities and characteristics of the objects that have been collected - for example, the weight. Ask the children what they notice about the objects and ask questions such as: 'Does it feel heavy or light?'
  • categorise the materials they have collected. Can the children sort them into natural or made, by colour and shade, by shape and size?
  • predict how well they think each item might adhere to the chosen surface and give their reasons.

Collage also provides opportunities for parents to become involved with their child's learning at home. Encourage parents to contribute collage materials.


Space permitting, collage activities can be provided as an integral part of the total art offer, both indoors and out. If space is limited, you can introduce collage as an adult-focused activity then make it available as a choice for a short period. Develop the environment so there are opportunities to:

  • display collections of natural and made objects, for example, by theme or colour
  • store and label objects for use in collage
  • discuss, sort and play with the objects
  • self-select objects and tools (such as scissors, glue and spreaders), and
  • self-select surfaces such as paper, card or wood.

Although a collage can be made by gluing objects to a surface, the objects do not necessarily need to be adhered to anything. Encourage children, then, to use anything they can find in the setting to create a collage and return the items at the end of the session or day. For example, they could arrange natural materials such as stones, rocks, fir cones, branches or twigs, and made objects, such as blocks, toy cars, people and animals, fabric or corks to form a new and unique whole. Photograph the results to provide a record of the work.

Develop your outdoor area so children can work on a large scale with collections of found objects. For example, children could place large hoops on the ground and arrange found objects such as fir cones or shells and small-world toys inside to create patterns. Remove the hoop and photograph the resulting pattern.



Provide opportunities for children to:

  • locate, explore and combine materials from a range of accessible storage areas
  • choose from a range of materials and surfaces and explore the use of natural and made collage materials on different surfaces, both indoors and outside
  • talk about 'families' of materials and arrange these by, for example, texture, shape or type - plastic, wood, metal, etc
  • select and arrange materials on different backgrounds and photograph the results
  • discuss ideas and feelings and select and arrange hot-coloured materials. Photograph and rearrange or stick down. Repeat with cold-coloured materials
  • experiment with 'sprinkled collage'. Hold various small, natural and made materials above a prepared surface and sprinkle through the air to build up an image. Photograph or use a pre-glued or sticky surface to record the images
  • experiment with contrasting natural, found and made materials
  • explore sticking coloured tissue on to a transparent surface - for example, acetate. Investigate looking through different coloured acetates, cellophane and tissue and discuss their responses to the different colours.


Here are some suggestions for introducing collage into familiar experiences and commonly used themes.

Theme - People and places

To explore people:

  • collect photographs of faces and people from a range of ethnic backgrounds. Encourage the children to look at them and discuss shapes, colours and shades
  • provide mirrors so the children can look at themselves and each other and talk about shapes of facial features, colours and tones.

Children could:

  • explore the use of natural and made collage materials to form faces and figures on different backgrounds and surfaces. Photograph images and rearrange or stick down
  • collect examples of the same material to form 'crowds' or 'families' of shape or colour. Photograph or stick down.

To explore places:

  • provide photographs of the interior and exterior of lots of buildings, including close-ups of patterns found, for example, on windows, doors, roof tiles and bricks
  • take the children on a walk around the immediate environment and look at pattern, shape and colour on buildings.

Children could:

  • collect, select and arrange papers to form a wall covering. Talk about choices and use paint, Brusho and graphic materials to explore, modify and develop images
  • arrange different-shaped paper and card on to a surface in response to built features (brick walls, fences, roof tiles). Photograph and rearrange or stick down
  • explore the use of natural and found materials to build up an image of a building or structure
  • make a structure outside using mud, sand, straw, sticks and stones.

Theme - All around me

To explore colour, light and shade, children could:

  • select and arrange dark natural or made materials on to a light-coloured surface (then light materials on a dark surface)
  • select, tear and arrange tissue paper into colour families - hot and cold, light and dark. Stick on to a chosen surface.

To explore the natural environment, children could:

  •  collect, select and arrange materials to make natural collages and photograph to record images as they fully develop
  • select and arrange fabrics, threads, sequins, buttons and the like in colour families of greens, blues and browns. For example, 'water/sky/ground/tree colours'. Photograph or stick down
  • crush natural materials such as leaves, petals, clay, mud, sand and straw to give a fine material in different colours and use to create a natural collage
  • look at and talk about bright colours in the natural environment such as flowers, fruit, vegetables and minibeasts, then create small 'natural' environments for these or imagined creatures and plants
  • spread a fairly thick layer of PVA glue on to a plastic sheet. Select, arrange and stick leaves on to it. When dry, peel the PVA away from the plastic to produce a laminated sheet of leaves. Either talk about how glue becomes transparent when it dries and how the natural materials can be 'trapped' by layers of glue, or leave the children to discover this for themselves, and when talking with them about the finished collage, introduce the word 'transparent'.

Theme - Creatures and animals

Make a collection of non-fiction books or photographs of animals. Encourage the children to look carefully and discuss shapes, colours and shades that they can see. Children could:

  • select and assemble a variety of materials to express ideas about different creatures
  • describe an imaginary creature, then select and assemble chosen materials to express their ideas as a collage
  • choose suitable materials to show texture, colour and pattern. Photograph the images, reassemble and develop ideas further or stick down
  • use natural and found materials to create a surface or 3-D environment for chosen creatures - for example, forest, seaside, countryside or jungle
  • create a backdrop for the chosen creatures using natural and found materials, paint, graphic materials, a variety of papers, fabrics and threads
  • experiment with contrasting natural, found and made materials to create patterns inspired by creatures, such as spotty dogs, zebras, giraffes, fish, birds and butterflies or imagined creatures
  • discuss ideas for preparing a pretend 'meal' for an imaginary creature. Select suitable coloured, shaped and textured materials, both made and natural, to represent the ideas.


Watercolour collage

  • Provide: firm card, white absorbent materials such as coffee filter papers, doilies, white tissue paper, paper towel and construction paper, and various powder paints and brushes.
  • Provide opportunities for the children to tear and cut the absorbent materials into different shapes and sizes and glue these on to the card.
  • Once the collage is dry, help the children to mix powder paint so it is thin and watery and paint the collage.
  • Discuss how the watery paints affect the different absorbent materials.

This process can be reversed by painting and printing on absorbent materials first, then tearing and cutting them to create a collage - the technique used by Eric Carle in his books. For a demonstration, visit:

Time and place

To develop children's understanding of time and place, build a 3-D collage of a landscape familiar to the children using images (photographs or artists' representations) and natural and made materials (fabric, shells, pebbles, wooden bricks, farm animals, buildings, bubble wrap, cones, blue vinyl, and so on).

Encourage the children to describe and discuss the shapes, patterns and colours within the images and talk about the emerging landscape - for example, 'Where does the river start?', 'Where should we put the town?' To make the most of this activity, let the children take the lead in their choice of materials and how they want to construct the landscape. Photograph the process and the completed collage.

Collage scrapbooks

Making collage scrapbooks is a good way of telling a story. Help the children fold and staple coloured sugar paper or thick paper to make a scrapbook each. Encourage them to retell events and to use a fourto eight-page scrapbook to record a different part of the story. Possible themes include 'me and my family', 'my holiday', 'my favourite things', 'my home/village/town', 'my visit to ... the zoo/school/shops'.

Collage scrapbooks are also a good way to involve parents in their children's learning. They can make scrapbooks at home with their children, add to ones created in the setting or contribute collage resources such as such as travel tickets, tickets to events, stickers, string, ribbon and sequins.

You could also record day-to-day activities in your setting, so creating a visual record that is useful for prospective parents.

Present boxes

Within the theme of 'Myself and others', provide opportunities for the children to experiment with wrapping and decorating a box with materials such as papers, paints, threads, sequins and buttons. Extend their thinking and imagination by discussing who the 'present' may be for, what is in it and what has been used to wrap it.

Part 7: Textiles will be published in Nursery World on 26 July.


Suffolk County Council (2006) Art in the Early Years: A Resource to Support Creativity,

Suffolk County Council (2010), Time and Place (various case studies on the Time and Place aspects of Knowledge and Understanding of the World).

Make a virtual collage using basic mouse and keyboard control at:

For an extended reading list, see Art in the Early Years, Part 1, Nursery World, 27 January 2011.

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved