Otto (3yrs) asks to paint almost every day. Getting the paints out is such a hassle I was starting to feel bad about saying no. So I decided to do something about it and set up a painting station.
This painting station is on our back deck. Although it's undercover we need to put most things away when it rains or gets windy, so everything here is easy to move. We don't have any space inside for large-scale easel painting, so it works to do this outside. It's nice too that we can also move this painting station into the garden or to the front yard on a nice day.
Features of our painting station include:
- a small child-size hanger and child-friendly pegs - for hanging up finished artwork. Otto struggles to independently hang up his own wet paintings. It's hard for him to use the pegs while holding the paper in place, but he's making progress. We use an old children's clothes hanger as it's just the right height.
- child size art easel - there are so many great easels available. In the past, I've used a hand saw to shorten the legs on a standard easel. This easel is height adjustable so it will last many years. Our easel has a simple clip on the top to keep the paper in place. Tabletop easels can work wonderfully too.
- paint pots and brushes - I love to use old jars for paint pots but these paint pots are useful too. These pots have stoppers in them which keep the paint fresh for weeks. Here we have one paintbrush per paint pot, Otto still mixes them up. We could also offer a jar of water and a small towel for washing the paintbrushes.
- old rug or drop cloth - or an old sheet, to keep the floor clean. While we have limits in place about how and where our child paints, I don't want to stress if paint drips on the floor. This rug looks clean but on the other side it has heaps of paint drips on it.
- low stool - this is not essential or even planned for, but I notice Otto sometimes likes to sit and paint.
Some Montessori tips for setting up and using the painting station:
- involve the child in the process from start to finish - this doesn't work all the time but I attempt to involve Otto in setting up the paints, choosing the paint colors and the paper size and finish, and also involve the child in the clean up including cleaning the easel and any paint drips. I provide a small (mini size) bucket with soapy water and a sponge for the child to take the lead in cleaning up.
- foster independence - we want to support the child's independence as much as possible. We can support the child with an easel at the right height, clips or pegs the child can use on the easel to hold the paper, pegs and hanging or other drying space so the child can hang their paintings to dry.
- support concentration - through uninterrupted periods of time. Painting and creating are work. If the child achieves a level of flow, where possible we should respect that and avoid interrupting or breaking their concentration. We can supervise this activity from a distance.
- allow for experimentation - we know children learn through doing, this might not work in a classroom setting but if my child is experimenting by mixing colours, doing finger painting, I try to allow the activity. When it is safe to do so we allow the child to follow their interests or innate needs by experimenting with the art materials.
- provide freedom within limits - yes, we allow some experimentation but it's important the child knows what the limits are. We set firm limits around painting, there is no painting the walls, the decking, on the plants or on other people.
Just like with all of our other spaces we can observe the child using the space, note what works and what doesn't. It's also a good idea to get down on your knees and see the environment at the child's level.
Easel painting is fantastic for the development of gross motor skills and core strength.
When finished we put stoppers in the paint pots to keep the paints fresh. So we don't have to wash paint pots every day and clean up is much faster.
The step of hanging the wet painting alone helps to develop independence, hand and finger strength, problem-solving skills, and persistence.
I love to observe children working, here Otto is squatting on the floor to get in just the right position for painting.
We are just the facilitators, the guides. We can set up the environment and then get out of the way.
A bucket of soapy water and a small sponge helps to facilitate child-led clean-up.
These stoppers really do work. We buy our paints in 2-litre bottles, it's so much more affordable and they last a long time, meaning I don't have to buy paint very often. In Australia, I like to use Educational Colours Paints.