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Go Big With Art!

It’s no secret that doing process-based art activities with young children has many benefits bedsides just being really, really fun. It not only helps them develop fine motor skills by holding the different art supplies, but because we are moving around and being active, it helps with those gross motor skills too. We’re often using our entire bodies to create and because many of the activities are collaborative (either between the adult and child or between the entire group of children) we’re also building those ever-important social skills. When we go big with art, we’re combining being active with creativity into one hands-on experience!

Action Art Book Cover

The main source of my inspiration for large-scale art activities is a fantastic book called Action Art: Hands-On Active Art Adventures by MaryAnn F. Kohl & Barbara Zaborowski. In it are chapters with names such as “Smacking Squeezing Tapping” and “Blowing Exploding Smooshing”, which just already sounds like so much fun. The materials required for most of the projects are things that are mostly likely already lying around the house. Add some art supplies and voilà! Instant masterpieces!

While there are activity ideas for all ages included in the book, I’ve mainly done them with toddlers and preschoolers. Here are some art adventures that I’ve had at my library:


Tire Painting:
For this activity, my coworker brought in an old tire from home. We spread out some butcher paper on top of a tarp and let the kids paint the tire while one of us held it upright. Then after everyone felt like there was enough paint on it, we slowly rolled it down the paper and made a colorful pattern.


Children Rolling a Tire


Bubble Wrap Dancing:
I taped down some white paper on top of the tarp. I had the adults make bubble wrap boots for their child’s feet by wrapping small pieces of bubble wrap around them and securing it with rubber bands. They could either paint their bubble wrapped feet together or step in the paint on a paper plate. I put on some dance tunes and they were off! The kids danced/moved around on the paper. I also suggested that adults could wrap the child’s hands if they didn’t want bubble wrap on their feet

Children Dancing with Bubble Wrap Feet


Big Body Tracing:
When a coworker and I hosted a Paint-Palooza program, we took inspiration from Hervé Tullet’s Art Workshops for Children, which is another wonderful resource for big art activities. We used his “A Body of Work Activity” but because we had a younger group, we didn’t lead them through it; it was more passive. The basic idea is to lay a huge piece of paper down on the floor and let adults trace their child’s body in marker. It’s fun if the tracings overlap! Then, the idea was that the kids use paint to color in the spots that overlap. Mostly though, the kids just had fun having their bodies traced and then filling them in with paint.

Child Painting Their Outline Several Children Being Traced Child Being Traced









Tissue Paper Collage:
All you need is contact paper and pieces of tissue paper. I turned a table on its side this time because it’s good to have art activities where kids are creating on not only horizontal planes (such as on the floor or tabletop) but vertical as well (like you would on an easel). I taped the contact paper to the table sticky side out and set out trays of tissue paper squares. Some kids just randomly stuck the squares to the paper, some made shapes, and some crumpled up the paper in interesting ways.

Tissue Paper on Contact Paper Close-Up of Tissue Paper on Contact Paper










Snap and Spin Painting:
I asked my coworkers to donate any old cookie sheets or salad spinners they might have for this activity. I wrapped rubber bands around the cookie sheets and placed a white sheet of paper in between. Kids could paint the rubber bands with a brush and then snap them to create a cool design. For the salad spinners, I had to pre-cut white paper circles.. Kids placed a circle inside the spinner, squeeze some paint inside, and place the spinner top on. Then they spun away!

Child Snap Painting Salad Spinner Painting










What kinds of action art have you done with children? Tell us in the comments!


Kim Alberts is an Early Childhood/Intermediate Librarian at the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Ohio. She is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. If you have any questions, email her at or tweet her at @libraryladykim.



This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills

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