Mini Topic: Decorating

Decorating provides an enjoyable and meaningful way for children to explore the concepts of size, shape, area and estimation. Denise Bailey gets stuck in

For staff and children alike, one of the most enjoyable mini topics we have undertaken was on home decorating.

The work stemmed from children's discussions about decorating at home, especially their own bedrooms, and our wish to develop their understanding of concepts of size, shape and pattern in a meaningful way.

We asked parents and carers to contribute leftover rolls of wallpaper and to lend us old paintbrushes, rollers and trays. We also acquired wallpaper pattern books from local shops.

We cleared a corner of the nursery so that we could have a large area of wall with a window to work in. Our caretaker was horrified at the thought of the children plastering wallpaper and paint on the walls and windows, so we covered the area with a thin plastic dustsheet.

Up a ladder

We set up the area with wallpaper, plastic buckets, trays, brushes, rollers, metre rulers, tape measures, scissors, and large trays of paint and educational water paste. We provided old shirts for the children to wear while decorating.

The children's curiosity quickly turned to great enthusiasm and they had a wonderful time planning, designing and decorating the area. Staff helped with holding or cutting wallpaper when requested, encouraged children to work co-operatively and supervised them carefully when they were using the stepladders we had provided.

The children were also keen to support the ladders for others and would regularly offer safety instructions to their peers. We were impressed by how sensible even the most daring children were on the ladders, and they happily respected the rule that they could not use the ladders without an adult present. It was also agreed that they would not start stripping wallpaper or painting at home without their parent's permission!

Cross-curricular learning

The activities helped to develop the children's co-ordination and balance.They were able to improve their understanding of mathematical concepts in a purposeful way, including size, shape, area and, in particular, counting and estimating. Many children were observed working co-operatively with others, negotiating, resolving disagreements, planning their designs, helping each other with decorating techniques and discussing and comparing the results.

Taking turns

Although the activities were quite messy, this was contained in a fairly small area. We explained to the children that they would have to clear up at the end of the session to make way for the next group of decorators. We encouraged them to take photographs of their decorated walls and windows, and to tidy up the materials, wipe the floor and clean the paintbrushes and rollers.

As so many children were keen to join in this activity, we had to limit the number working at any one time. We set up a waiting list so everyone knew they would have the chance to join in.

Extension ideas

We found lots of ways to extend this topic. We provided:

  • wallpaper from pattern books for the children to cut, and collage using materials from the creative corner
  • paper of various sizes and colours, paint, sponges, shapes and pastry cutters for the children to create patterns and print their own wallpaper
  • small printing materials and long strips of paper for the children to design their own edgings
  • boxes of various sizes for children to decorate with wallpaper and paint so they could make homes for small-world people and animals. Some used junk materials to make furniture for their houses, and older children were keen to make different rooms, such as a bedroom, kitchen and garage
  • large paintbrushes, rollers, buckets and trays of water for the children to paint outdoor walls and fences
  • a telephone directory, writing pads, pens, pencils, rulers, a computer keyboard and till to create a shop/office area where children could buy and sell decorating materials. We encouraged the children to make labels and posters about the business including opening/closing times
  • materials for the children to use to draw, paint and chalk on the reverse side of long strips of wallpaper for use indoors and outdoors.

This mini topic continued for several weeks and contributed to our children's skills, knowledge and understanding in many areas of the curriculum. Above all, it was fun!

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