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Art Trays - pasting with squares, painting with rollers, creating with paper fasteners, cardboard rolls and more. For 3-5yrs+

Montessori toddler preschool art trays at How we Montessori


We've been doing a ton of art lately, more than cooking or other practical life activities. I love to pair a book and an art activity, this week we tried two art activities with Leo Lionni books! ❤️ Pairing the two helps to create a connection between the child and the book and it makes us look deeper into the story.  Here are six art trays that we've enjoyed.

Remember to follow your child including their interests, developmental needs and skill level. These activities don't need to be presented on a tray. We can put them on our art table or even on the kitchen table for the child to explore. 

Square art activity at How we Montessori Pessettino by Leo Lionni

Pasting Squares with Pezzettino - paper squares, paste (ours is clear) and plain paper. First, we read Pezzettino by Leo Lionni. This story is about a little red square that is trying to find its place in the world. I love Leo Lionni, but we could also do a similar pasting square activity inspired by an Elmer book.

Pasting with squares at How we Montessori

While pasting with squares the child is being creative but also using mathematical reasoning skills. 

Paper fasteners making cardboard robots at how we Montessori

Paper Fasteners Creations - I cut out coloured cardboard shapes and used a hole punch to make holes. The key component is the paper fasteners which children can use to connect the pieces in a way that the pieces can move, like making a robot where the arms and legs can move. 

To make this more open-ended we could also present this with scissors and a hole punch so the child can create the shapes and the holes themselves. Paper fasteners are small and should not be presented to young children (I would wait until around 4 years with supervision). The paper fasteners are fantastic for developing fine motor skills and it means the child can move and play with their creations afterwards. This is an especially fun activity for children who are into puppets or robots. 

Montessori art tray paper fasteners and cardboard shapes at How we Montessori

This was a huge hit and my four-year-old keeps on returning to this work.

Paper fastener creations at How we Montessori robot puppet creations

This is also teaching practical life skills including how to use the paper fasteners and how to make moving parts which could be used for making shadow puppets.

Little blue and little yellow play dough at How we Montessori

Little Blue & Little Yellow Play Dough - using blue and yellow play dough and Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni (AU and Worldwide here). This is a book from my childhood that is perfect for discussing colour mixing. Little blue and little yellow go out to play, they hug and turn into green! 💚 It's really simple and this could be presented to a child 2-3 years+ (with supervision so they don't put the play dough into their mouths).

Little blue and little yellow play dough mixing How we Montessori art tray

Little blue and little yellow is a short story which the child can later retell to other adults or children. Thoroughly mixing the play dough colours takes a lot of work by those little hands! This is fantastic for developing muscles in the hands and fingers. 

Massage roller print making art tray at how we Montessori (1)

Massage Roller Prints - this is encouragement to use what you have at home! Our little massager (it could be a facial roller) was calling out to be used with paint. The child simply dips the massager into the paint and then rolls it over the paper. 

Massage roller painting at How we Montessori

This could be fun to use in groups too.

Massage roller painting at How we Montessori

Later we used different colour paper and different colour paints. It makes an interesting pattern that could be left alone or used to create a background for further painting, collaging or other artistic work. 

Paper roll and pipecleaner creations

Cardboard Roll Creations - this was so hugely successful for my child, I hope you give it a go. I presented pipe cleaners and cardboard rolls. I used a hole punch to put holes in the cardboard rolls. For older children, we could give them the hole punch to use themselves, but I found it required a lot of hand strength. My child used a lot of pipe cleaners and I added to those pictured above. 

Paper roll pipe cleaner creations at How we Montessori art tray

I expected him to make insects, spiders or people but he simply poked the pipe cleaners through and played with them like spaceships, and continues to play with them many days later. Yes, children can create their own toys/playthings! 

Other suggestions similar to this include:

With straws. Paper or compostable straws are preferred.

Paper roll straw creations pinterest

These look like bridges and towers, via Pinterest

With pipe cleaners, stickers and straws. 

Squeeze paint pens art tray at How we Montessori

Squeezy Paint Pens - we use the Easy Grip Paint Brush Pens (AU) but these Squeezable Paint Brushes are similar, (similar Squeeze 'n Brush UK here). The child squeezes the pen and the paint comes out, the child can then use the paint on the paper. 

Kmart squeeze paint pens art tray at how we Montessori (1)

I'm on the fence with these. My child likes them, they are relatively inexpensive and they require a ton of squeezing (using hand muscles=preparing the hand for writing), but it was hard to paint with them. Ours are refillable so they can be reused over and over. 

Kmart squeeze paint pens art tray at how we Montessori


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