Enabling Environments: Printing - Stamping ground

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Printing is an immediately engaging activity for young children because it is both visual and tactile. Nicole Weinstein offers some tips


Printing and pattern-making is a wonderful visual arts medium that children love to engage in because of its emphasis on colour, shape and lines. Young children can use parts of their body to make basic print; for example, by running through wet or muddy puddles, by pressing fingers and hands into damp sand, or by making marks on table tops with water, food or paint. These experiences can be extended to include simple printing techniques such as mono-prints, repeating patterns and making printing plates.

According to early years and creative arts consultant Anni McTavish, ‘Printing can be a very exciting activity because we never know quite what’s going to happen, or the effect of certain media and materials. There is so much potential because of the wide variety of different objects and tools that can be used to create print effects, from using natural objects like fir cones, stones and shells with thick paint to giant sponges filled with water dropped onto pathways.’


As a starting point, practitioners should be alert to spontaneous and natural opportunities for printing, such as walking through mud or puddles, seeing what happens when pressing found objects into soft mud, clay or play-dough, or looking for prints left by animal paws, shoes or tyres.

Ms McTavish advises practitioners to offer children a wide variety of resources, tools and materials to print with in their continuous provision. She also suggests planned experiences to model and demonstrate simple printing techniques. For example:

Mono-prints – this is a one-off print. Paint or use a roller to coat a table top or builder’s tray. Use fingers, hands or objects (sticks, combs, feathers, toy cars, etc) to create marks. Place a sheet of paper onto the surface, smooth gently and then peel back.

Repeating patterns – using the same object to create several images one after the other (squares of wood, jam jar lids, scrunched up kitchen roll).

Make a simple printing plate – stick a variety of objects to a piece of card or board, leaving spaces in-between. Add paint using a roller and lay your piece of paper carefully on top, and smooth around all the shapes. Add other colours to your ‘plate’, and re-print on the same piece of paper.


printing3Printing can be an effective way to explore the Specific areas of the EYFS. For example, mathematical concepts can be explored, such as printing with shapes, blocks and bricks; creating repeating patterns; exploring patterns in nature; and exploring quantity – for example, hand printing linked to counting.

Large-scale printing allows children to develop gross motor skills and can incorporate popular activities such as rolling balls, wheels or bikes through paint to create marks and patterns. At the other end of the scale, children can be encouraged to use small objects to print with, using pegs or tweezers to pick them up, printing with string, balloons or rolling marbles – supporting fine motor development.

Here are some ideas of what to offer in the nursery setting:

• Young children enjoy exploring printing with their fingers, hands and feet and enjoy the act of painting their hands and feet. Providing different brushes, rollers and sponges will offer a wider sensory experience for them to paint their bodies with.

• Provide a small basket with a selection of free and found printing tools to enhance painting – this is particularly useful when a child has developed their confidence with paint and is ready for something new. Include small sponges of different sizes; sections of cardboard tube; slices of silver pipe-lagging (the sort used to stop water pipes freezing, from DIY stores); a fir cone or section of wood.

• Link printing to activities such as small-world play – for example, printing animal footprints into a playdough jungle or creating tracks with different small-world vehicles.

• Children can enhance role-play areas themselves by printing patterned wallpaper for the home corner, using blocks to print castle walls or creating their own printed wrapping paper for a birthday party.

• Experiment with different media. Press paint onto the soles of old shoes and print onto large sheets of paper; let children step barefoot into paint or talcum powder and print on white or black paper; cut vegetables into rounds or shapes and use them with paint, coloured inks or food colours, or create your own ink pad by using a thin piece of sponge in a shallow tray and adding just enough runny paint to wet the sponge for printing. This is good to use with hard objects, such as wooden blocks or plastic shapes.

• Provide children with a wide range of surfaces to print on. Don’t limit this to paper but allow children to print in and onto other materials and surfaces such as dough, clay, fabric, sand, mud and Perspex, as well as onto different scales of surface such as long trays or large rolls of lining paper. Using a light box or sun-reactive photo paper, UV panels or even a photocopier offers alternative printing experiences.



• Long Narrow trays 10pk, £7.85; Wall Paper Tray, £25.79; Bulk Lining Paper 20 rolls, £22.50; Light Box Messy Tray, £39.99; Clear Poly Prop Circles 5pk, £17.99; Giant Art Canvas 3m, £37.99 – all available from www.cosydirect.com

Printing tools

Provide a selection of printing tools – sponges, rollers, shapes, both natural and man-made:

mashers• Toms Giant Sponge for Tuff Spot, £14.99; Brush treasure basket set, £7.49; Brushes and mark makers, £15; Rollers on poles, £11.49; Easy grip brush stampers, £5.49; Literacy and maths cutters, £5.95; Maths cone selection, £4.50; Wooden pattern blocks, £17.95; Giant lotus heads, £2.99; Bag of corks, £2.49; Pipe wheels, £24; Mashers and mushers, £4.65; Gutter friendly vehicles, £9.95; Cork balls, £10.95; Fidget fine motor kit, £17.99 – all from www.cosydirect.com

posneg• Positive/Negative Creative Stampers, £5,55; Easi-Grip Multi Pattern Roller, £3.99; Soft Grip Pattern Stampers, £2.99; Mark Making Trucks, £34.95; Giant Texture Rollers, £19.99, all from www.tts-group.co.uk

• Texture Stampers, £4.49; Domed and Animal Rockers Set, £9.99 – from www.hope-educational.co.uk

dough• Set of Dough Sticks and Stampers, £27 – available from www.earlyexcellence.com

Other essentials

• Good-quality paint, ready-mix and powder, or make home-made pastes or textured paint by adding sand or PVA glue (see Resources within fidgetwww.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-world/feature/1156064/enabling-environments-collections-fine-art)

• Large rolls of paper – great for outdoor printing with mud or runny paint and bikes, trikes and car wheels. Try Easel Rolls 6pk, £22.49 from www.hope-educational.co.uk

• Clay or playdough rolled out smooth and flat (to about 1-2cm) provides an interesting surface to create pattern and shapes to take a print from. Try Pottery Craft Clay, £9.95 from www.cosydirect.com or Very Soft Dough, £9.95 from www.earlyyearsresources.co.uk

starfish• A selection of interesting natural objects to explore print techniques and patterns. Try Set of Starfish, £6, and Transient Art Resource Collection, £145, from www.earlyexcellence.com


You might like to make a paint paste, suggests art consultant Anni McTavish. Mix a cup of cornflour in a little cold water in a saucepan until it dissolves, then add very hot water, stir and gently bring to the boil on a cooker. The mix should thicken and become translucent.

Once cool, add to a builder’s tray and add small spoonfuls of powder paint in primary colours (red, blue and yellow). Provide aprons and children can create secondary colours by mixing different colours together (to make green, violet and orange). Using their fingers and hands (or objects), they can create a mono-print by pressing a sheet of paper on top and smoothing it carefully. As this is a paste, you might like to also add small collage materials such as coloured tissue paper, sequins or glitter. This technique of ‘paste papers’ has been used to decorate books for the past 400 years.



One of the children’s favourite activities when they’re at Forest School is Hapa Zome printing, according to Vanessa Callan, manager at 100-place High House Day Nursery in Bishop’s Stortford. Hapa Zome is the Japanese art of beating leaves with hammers and pounding pigment into cloth.

Ms Callan explains, ‘The children go into the forest and collect flowers, plants and leaves. They then bring them back to the table and place them out onto the squares of thick cotton fabric, making their own intricate arrangement. They place another piece of cotton on top and they use the child-size rubber hammer or mallet to beat the plants.

‘When they pull off the top layer, they are left with an amazingly vivid imprint on the cotton sheet. The cloth soaks up the pigment and it allows you to see the most intricate parts of the flowers.

‘Not only do the children feel grown up using the tools independently, but they also find it very satisfying to create such a detailed piece of art work. Some children who find it difficult to concentrate indoors have worked for extended amounts of time on this outdoors. It’s by far the most popular activity at the Forest School sessions.’


• For our early years art series, visit: www.nurseryworld.co.uk/art-in-the-early-years

• Anni McTavish (2016) Expressive Arts and Design in the Early Years: Supporting young children’s creativity through art, design, music, dance and imaginative play. Routledge

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