Enabling Environments: Collections - Take art

The quality of the tools provided for children to paint and draw is important. Nicole Weinstein suggests some key resources to encourage creativity.

Painting and drawing plays an important role in children's learning. One of the first ways that young children are able to record their ideas, thoughts and fascinations is through mark-making.

Not only is it critical for their thinking, as they make connections with their experiences and express them on paper, but it also touches on other areas of the curriculum, for example, physical co-ordination as they hold a paintbrush; collaborative skills as they work on a large-scale painting with peers; and independence as they make their own choices about what colours or materials to select.

Providing high-quality paints, crayons, brushes, easels and paper will give children the tools to bring their ideas to life. But equally important is the practitioner's role.

The materials

Providing children with the right materials is 'key' to the quality of their art experience, according to Nasso Christou, head of Archway Children's Centre in north London. She says, 'Keep it simple. Spend money on good quality materials and not on gimmicks. Buy sturdy easels, good paint, artist pastels, oil pastels, good quality brushes and paper in varying sizes.'

She also says that language is vital for increasing children's creativity. She explains, 'We have a massive picture of a cow in the building. A four-year-old boy painted it straight on to an A00 canvas. He saw the cow on a trip to the farm. He smelt it; he touched it; he knew its texture and colour; he knew where its ears were in relation to its nostrils. When we came back he had long conversations with a member of staff about the cow - how straight its back was, how he didn't have a big round bottom. So much positional language came out of talking the child through his visual experience and so many areas of the curriculum were addressed.'

Ms Christou, who also runs training sessions for local authorities and early years staff on art in the early years, says that no two pieces of artwork in her setting will ever look the same. She explains, 'Staff intervene too much in children's art experiences and you often see lots of reproduced pictures. They mix the paint; provide the children with inadequate paper so they end up joining the children's work unnecessarily, or they end up cutting it out into their desired shapes. This all inhibits the children's creativity.

'At our setting, no one writes on, draws on, or cuts out children's work. We have no ready-mixed paints; you will not find a variety of shades of colour - no purple or green or orange. We only use the double primary system of colours - for the babies as well - hot and cold yellow, red and blue; prussian blue and white. This allows children to mix the colours that they want to use. Children are given a good range of brushes so that they have a choice in the marks they make and we provide a range of good quality paper to paint and draw on - sugar paper and thinner cartridge paper in sizes ranging from A1 to A00. We buy very little colour paper but it's available for them to select if they want it. Everything is easily accessible, and they have the space, indoors and out, to create mixed-media pieces using leaves and fabrics, which are stored on an art trolley.'

The process

Children should be given plenty of opportunities to explore different colours, textures, densities, surfaces, tools, and techniques. Practitioners should explain the processes, for example, how to create a painting using marbles or how to do a bubble painting, but they should not direct the end result.

Colour-mixing is an essential part of the painting experience, not only because it allows children to experiment with colour and gain confidence in making their own decisions, but also because they find it exciting.

To create an environment where children's drawing can flourish, settings should provide a range of materials and surfaces that children can use to make marks. These include conventional drawing materials like chunky chalks and charcoal sticks which can be used on paper or chalk boards, or young children could use twigs to make marks in the sand or mud.

Don't forget to provide children with the space to explore their creativity on a large or small scale. Painting on an easel as well as on a flat surface - a floor, table or outside - will give them the opportunity to experiment with 'big ideas'.


Here are some ideas of what to include in your collection:

  • Provide sets of powder paint for mixing: hot-coloured paints (reds, yellows, oranges); cold-coloured paints (blues, greens) and black and white. To extend colour mixing opportunities, provide a range of yellows (brilliant yellow, lemon, yellow ochre), blues (brilliant blue, Prussian blue) and reds (brilliant red, crimson, vermilion). Try the Reeves range of powder paints, £2.54 for 2kg of each of the above colours, from www.glsed.co.uk
  • Block paints and acrylic paints are also useful for colour mixing. The Large 57mm Colour Blocks, £1.19 for individual colours in packs of six, can be used with the Large Colour Block Palette - 8 Well, £14.75, both from www.glsed.co.uk. Or try the Chromacryl Activity Set, £61.95, 12 bottles of cool shades of blue, red and yellow for colour mixing along with black and white, from www.glsed.co.uk.
  • Mix coloured paints by combining blobs to thicken and give texture to paint by adding flour, sand, sawdust or icing sugar. Or, use the Value Bargain Box of ten shakers, £14.99, from www.earlyyears.co.uk to add glitter and confetti to paint.
  • Paint or make marks on windows or other transparent or translucent surfaces, and observe the effects created when the light shines through. Try using the Marabu-Fun & Fancy Window Color glass paint from www.earlyyears.co.uk, which peels off when you want to remove it. Use it with the set of six Clear Acrylic Tableaus, £17.27, from Cosy Direct on 01322 370152; the Creative Painting Window, £234.95, a sturdy frame from www.tts-group.co.uk, or the Transparent Easel, £33.60, from www.wesco-eshop.co.uk
  • Provide a range of paint brushes in different sizes. Try the pack of 72 Soft Grip Brush Pack, £37.95, from www.glsed.co.uk, or the set of six Easy Grip Paintbrushes, £6.95, from www.tts-group.co.uk
  • For large-scale, collaborative art outdoors, try Cosy Direct's range of resources. The Giant Pendulum Painter, £39.99, allows children to make patterns and explore art in a big way. The pack of two Paint Sticks, £17.99, can be rolled along to make road markings. Try blow painting with straws or ping pong balls on to the giant Wallpaper Tray, £24.99, designed to fit standard wallpaper, or use the set of three Painting Sticks, £2, for splatter paintings.
  • Use the set of four Wheelie Painters, £59.99, from www.tts-group.co.uk to create different patterns with paint in the playground or indoors. Or try the Giant Outdoor Big Art Tools, £42.95, a set of giant painters and scrapers, or the Exploring Paint and Patterns Outdoor Kit, £49.95, both from www.tts-group.co.uk. Also in the range is the set of four Giant Chalk Markers, £49.95, which can be used to create rainbow patterns in the playground.
  • Mindstretchers, www.mindstretchers.co.uk, stocks a range of art materials that can be used outdoors. These include the Outdoor Pens, £17, which are matt water-based and can be painted on to most surfaces such as metal, wood, terracotta and stone. They are fast drying and weatherproof, unlike standard felt tips. The four varnished Wooden Boards, £15, can be drawn on with a whiteboard marker, and the set of four Slate and Pencils, £10, are great for drawing on the go.
  • Children can experiment with a variety of tools for drawing, such as pens, pencils, felt tip markers, wax crayons, oil pastels and charcoal. Try the Berol Oil Pastels - Jumbo 24, £2.79, or the Cray-Pas Junior Artist Oil Pastels Class Pack, £34.95, which are soft textured pastels, ideal for a wide range of techniques, both from www.glsed.co.uk. Classboxes of 300 TTS Colouring Pens, £39.95 or two tubs of 72 colouring pencils contained in the TTS Triangular Colouring Pencil Tubs, £29.99, are available from www.tts-group.co.uk. The Chubbi Stumps, a pack of 288 wax crayons, £15.79, and the Egg Shape Fun Chalk, six pieces of easy-to-grip chalk, £4.49, are both available from www.earlyyears.co.uk; or try the Charcoal - 70 assorted pieces of thick and thin, £2.29, from www.glsed.co.uk.
  • A variety of surfaces can be used to draw on. Offer various colours of paper, card, acetate, textured paper or card, tissue paper, plastic, white boards, blackboards, mirrored paper or found objects like stones and wood. Packs of sugar paper in different sizes and colours are available at www.glsed.co.uk, where a pack of 250 A2 sheets in off-white is priced at £7.19. GLS also sells value packs of General Art Paper, £17.35, for 500 sheets. A Value Assorted Bumper Box of Card, in A4, A3, and A2, is available from www.earlyyears.co.uk, for £12.49 for 150g packs. Also, try the Texture Paper Compendium, £10.39, for 55 sheets, from the same company.


Community Playthings has developed a range of high quality art resources.

The Multi Purpose Easel, £205

Many easels are too high for the children and use clips to hold the paper which means the paper is often at the wrong height for the child. Martin Huleatt, of Community Playthings, says, 'We have designed a strong magnet so that the child can put the paper on the easel at the height that is right for them. They can also flip the magnetic whiteboard over and on the back is a magnetic chalkboard.'

Mini Floor Easel, £230

This easel, designed for two-year-olds, includes all the features of the above, including the tray that catches the inevitable paint drips, but it sits right on the floor.

Drying Rack, £360

Mr Huleatt says that another aspect that is often forgotten is a drying rack that 'lets you take an individual rack to the easel and avoids all the drips on the floor in between'. Models and junk modelling also need a place to dry so the racks can be spaced to hold different works of art.

Help Yourself Trolley, £457

This trolley is designed to hold lots of different materials but it can also be wheeled away when it is not needed.

All the products above are available at www.communityplaythings.co.uk

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