In the Art Studio: Still Life Portraits


This experience is another gem that comes from Ann Pelo, author of The Language of Art: Inquiry Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings.

Here is what Ann has to say about still-life portraits:

“In creating still-life portraits, children form an intimate relationship with their subject. They spend time looking closely, aligning themselves with the subject of their work. Then they translate their understanding of the subject to paper, first sketching with black pen and then adding colour.”


In my classroom, I refer to still-life portrait experiences such as these as “dainty painting.” ‘Dainty’ refers to the fact that the children use fine tipped markers and fine brushes to create their artwork. I have never understood why Kindergarten children are always given large, fat brushes to paint with. Large brushes are incredibly difficult to manipulate with small hands, hold more paint than is often needed, and are not useful for adding small details. In the pictures below, you’ll notice that we use only the smallest of brushes for this activity. If the goal is for the children to notice the finest of details in their subject, we need to give them the proper tools for them to recreate what they see.


Before painting, the teacher spends time with the children looking closely at the gourds. The children are encouraged to talk about what they notice about each gourd’s size, texture, shape, and colour. Interesting markings or designs are also noted. When the children have had time to get acquainted with their subject, they are given fine black markers to sketch what they see. At this point the teacher may offer suggestions on how the children can add more details to their work. Finally, the children use watercolour paints to add colour to their sketches.


J: I got a beautiful gourd. I notice it’s green on the bottom and yellow on top. It is a beautiful gourd. It has lots of bumps on it too.

E: I made lots of bumps because it is bumpy. My gourd is orange and yellow. It looks like a pear. The stem is green – actually, it’s a really dark green.

G: There are lines on the pumpkin so I drew them. The lines help me keep my painting neat.

W: This one is hard because it has two colours. I can’t make it the right colour. When I added more green it turned the yellow green too and I can’t fix it.

Y: It’s a fluffy one. It’s green, yellow, and orange. It has so many bumps. It looks like a melon.

K: The stem is kinda wiggly!


Dainty painting is an art experience that we revisit often throughout the year. Over time, the children become expert at using their senses, describing what they notice, and using their art skills to recreate what they see on the page.

Leaf Man: “A Leaf Man’s got to go where the wind blows…”


If you haven’t had the pleasure of discovering Lois Ehlert, award-winning author and illustrator of over 20 children’s books, then I highly recommend that you take a trip to your local library and check her out! This month I was reading one of my favourite Ehlert books, “Leaf Man.” For weeks the children have been bringing in leaves they have discovered on their way to school and I wanted to find a way to celebrate and encourage their discoveries. “Leaf Man” is a story about a man made of leaves who blows across the sky over several other leaf-composed creatures (birds, farm animals, etc.). After reading this book with my students, I created a provocation of leaves, stones, and sticks and asked the children if they could create their own leaf creature. In addition to composing pictures with found materials, I was also looking for children to express a connection with/understanding of the story we read as well as demonstrate some story telling/imaginative skills when talking about what they had made. Here are a few samples of the students’ work and thinking:


R.K: My leaf man is doing a cartwheel just like I can do on my trampoline at home!

A: This is a portrait of a Leaf Man. It’s about a Leaf Man that flew away, up, up, up, and his leaves fell down on him because he was blown away by a storm.

A.F.: I used rocks for his eyes and nose. His mouth is a smiling leaf. I used sticks for the legs and ripped the leaves to make his hands and feet. My Leaf Man will fly over lots of things!


E.A.: My Leaf Girl only has one leg because no other leaves can stand still. My Leaf Girl is flying over chickens! The wind is blowing her.

J.M: My Leaf Man is lying down and looking at the clouds to see what shapes they are. He saw a special cloud that looked like a house!


Our class quilt of leaf creations:


Autumn Playdough Provocations II

playdough leaf

This playdough provocation was inspired by the tree study we have been doing this term. In our weekly art lesson the children were able to practice drawing a portrait of a tree in the schoolyard and began to notice the parts of the tree as they sketched. I wanted to extend the children’s thinking about trees by getting them to focus on smaller details – like how the leaves attach to the branches.

For this provocation I put three different colours of playdough, some tree branches, leaf cookie cutters, leaves, and toothpicks on the table. I wanted the children to see a real example of how leaves attach to a branch and also have an opportunity to notice the details in the leaves themselves. The toothpicks were there as a tool for the children to add details to the leaves they cut with the cookie cutters.


I think the results were quite beautiful! Here are a few examples of the students’ work:


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For more Autumn playdough provocations and the recipe I use for my playdough, please visit the link below:

Beautiful Stuff


Maintaining a variety of supplies at the Art Studio can be a challenge on a limited budget. I often have visitors to my classroom ask me where I get my materials. One simple way to stock your studio is to involve the children and their families in setting it up. This year we stocked our studio by embarking on a “Beautiful Stuff Project” – an idea I read about in Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini. Just like the book suggests, we wrote a letter to the parents with the children. Here is what the children said:


Each student received a large paper bag with a clothespin on top. They were told their stuff must fit in the bag and should be clipped shut to ensure their materials stayed top secret until sharing day.

Along with stocking our Art Studio, I was also interested in creating an authentic opportunity for the children to sort. We have been working on sorting as one of our Math goals. One of the questions we have been asking is: “How does sorting the materials in the classroom help us with our learning?”

On sharing day, we asked each student to talk about one special item from their bag in our sharing circle. And then…we dumped our Beautiful Stuff out on the the carpet. After a few minutes of excited exploration, we got down to the business of figuring out what to do with our collections.

Some children thought we should put our stuff back in our bags and share as needed, but it was decided that it would be too hard to know what we had and besides, the idea was for everyone to put their stuff together. We decided the materials definitely needed to be sorted…but how? By colour? By size? When we thought about how we were going to use our stuff (at the Art Studio to make creations) the children decided it would be best to sort our stuff by type of material. After all, sometimes you might just need a straw or a button and you want to know exactly where to find it! We proceeded by making a list of categories on the SMART Board from the stuff that we could find: buttons, straws, paper, tissue, wooden things, metal things, caps, small boxes, beads, etc. We ended up with over 20 different kinds of materials! Finally, we sorted – adding materials to different containers that we had gathered at the carpet. Our Art Studio is now brimming with materials just waiting to be turned into beautiful creations!



Here is the first creation that came out of our newly stocked Art Studio:

E: “I made a ‘Beautiful Maker’. It’s a machine that makes things beautiful.” 🙂


In the Art Studio: Working with Wire

For anyone who is interested in adding more inquiry-based learning to their program but isn’t sure where to start, I highly recommend starting with Art. Art involves creativity, problem solving, making choices, discussion, and is generally open-ended. An excellent resource for dipping into art-based inquiry is: The Language of Art by Ann Pelo.

language of art

This week at the Art Studio we were working with wire. The goal was to work the wire into a sculpture of a tree. We have been doing a tree study and I was interested to see how the children might apply what they already know/have learned about trees while they created their sculptures. Wire is not an easy material to work with, save for the fact that it generally stays in the shape that you put it in, so I was also looking for the children to demonstrate some problem solving skills as they completed their pieces.

Here is the provocation I placed at the studio. I happened to have a small wire tree sculpture at home that my husband had received from his former student. The children were quite inspired by it.


Here are some of the comments the children made during their wire exploration:

“I’m making my branches silly by twisting them up. It’s twirly swirly!”

“So my tree is kind of wiggly at the top because I saw some trees have branches like that.”

“I am twisting my wire all around so it can stay up. I had to twist the wires some more to help my tree stand.”

“My tree is dancing!”

“I did it! I got my tree to stand up!”

“Wire is good because it doesn’t break. I need some more wire down here because this part is a little loose.”

Most children wanted to create a tree that could stand on its own. This proved to be quite the challenge, but I was encouraged to see that the children really persevered at the task and were incredibly proud when they achieved their goal.

A sweet moment I was able to capture was between two boys who were working alongside each other at the table:

F: “This is so hard. I can’t do it.”

J: “You have to do it like this!” (modelling twisting the wire)

F: “No, I can’t even do it.”

J: “Look, I’ll show you. You just have to do this (twisting). See? Try again.”

F: “ugh…” (keeps working on it)

J: “Yeah! That’s it! Keep twisting it until it’s nice and strong!”

F: “Like this? Oh, I can do it now! I made a tree!”

Sometimes we all just need a little encouragement from our friends!


Writing With Worms


A few weeks ago I posted about some of our discoveries in the outdoor classroom. One of the things that most captured the children’s attention at that time was a collection of worms. What was interesting was that the worms were wiggling and jiggling all over the place and as they did, the children began to comment on shapes and letters that they noticed:

“That worm looks like an e!” Image

“No, it’s a J!”

“Now it’s making a p!”

“The worms are making letters!”

With my camera handy, I was able to snap a few pictures of the worms in “letter formation” and our worm collecting group shared them with the class during sharing time. We talked about rotating the images to see new shapes and letters. The children wondered if the worms were trying to tell us something. This gave me an idea: writing with worms! I gathered up some pipe cleaners, printed out our worm pictures and created a provocation at the writing table: What letters can you make with worms? I even added some googly eyes to the pipe cleaners for a bit of whimsy (despite the fact that worms don’t actually have eyes…). I also placed some clipboards and writing paper, markers, and an alphabet chart at the table. Soon the centre was busy with children manipulating the “worms” into different letters and writing them down.


Take a look at some examples of what the students created:


Can you think of some ways to extend this provocation further? What other opportunities do you see for learning?

Autumn Playdough Provocations


After finding some rather inspiring pins on Pinterest regarding creative ways to use playdough (see below for links) I decided to “spice up” (pun intended) my go-to playdough recipe. In my first attempt, I added a lovely cinnamon scent to the dough and gathered some fall-themed supplies such as leaves from the dollar store, wooden people, sticks, stones, and fall gems (clear pumpkins, leaves, and acorns). I put out the materials and let the children create whatever they wanted. This centre was constantly busy! The children ended up creating “fall scenes” and told wonderful stories about going on walks in the forest with their families, going camping, and even connecting to some songs/stories we have been reading such as “Going on a Bear Hunt.” Even students who are normally quite quiet during sharing time were eager to talk about what they had made. I was able to assess the children’s ability to talk about their own experiences, make connections, and demonstrate their understanding of fall changes. We shared the children’s work with the class by photographing it and posting it on the SMART Board or showing it on the iPad.



In my second attempt, I decided to jump on the “Pumpkin Spice” bandwagon that has been popping up everywhere lately by adding pumpkin pie spice to my playdough recipe. For this dough I also added some red and yellow food colouring to give the dough a light orange tint. My ECE partner and I noticed that the children had shown an interest in cooking at our classroom drama centre so for this provocation we included baking supplies such as muffin and cake tins, rolling pins, measuring cups, and cookie cutters. I also put out some harvest-themed paper plates. Just like the week before, this centre was constantly busy! The children were really drawn to the delicious scent of the dough and set to work making cookies, pies, and ice cream. I was able to observe many children planning “pumpkin parties” and negotiating roles, such as who would make which dessert for the event. When the treats were completed, their bakers walked around the room to “share” them with their classmates. It is interesting to reflect on how food can bring us together – I haven’t yet seen another activity in which the children are so keen to immediately involve others in what they have created.


Have you found any other inspiring ways to use playdough in your classroom or home? If you decide to try either of these activities, I’d love to hear how they turn out!

Here is the base recipe that I use when making playdough. I use a cooked version because I like the texture of the dough and I find that it keeps extremely well. In each spiced version I added about a Tbsp of spice, but you can add as much or as little as you like. For a centre of 6 children, I usually triple the recipe below:

1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of salt
2 Tbsp cream of tartar
Food colouring
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 cup of water

Heat the oil in a pot on the stove on medium low. Mix the flour, salt, and cream of tartar in a bowl. Add water and food colouring. Add the mixture to the pot with the warm oil and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball in the middle of the pot. When the ball is no longer sticky looking, remove to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes. Knead the dough on the board several times until the dough is smooth. Store in a plastic bag or air tight container.

Fall Forest Playdough Activity from Two Daloo:

Spiced Playdough from Craftulate:

Books that Inspire Young Authors


Every once in a while I come across a book that is so delightfully magical I simply cannot wait to share it with my students. This week I have not one, but TWO such delightful books, based on similar ideas. The first is Press Here by Herve Tullet and the second is Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. As read-alouds, both books offer opportunities for student participation and are excellent resources for making predictions. In Press Here, the author commands the reader to tap on a single yellow dot in the middle of the page. When the page is turned…voila! A second yellow dot has appeared! The book continues in this vein, asking the reader to clap, blow, tip the book this way and that, until it ends where it started with one yellow dot. The first time I read this book was before lunch, and as the children lined up in the hall I head them exclaiming “You could write clap five times and draw five dots!” and “Yeah! And you can tap all the yellow dots and then make them blue!” They were writing their very own versions of the story! What an inspiring book for my young authors!

Tap the Magic Tree is essentially the same, except with an additional conceptual focus on the changes that occur across the seasons in one apple tree. This story tied in nicely to our Maple Tree Inquiry and discussions that have already been occurring about the fall changes in our community. Since the children were already thinking of ways to create their own versions of this story we set up a provocation at our classroom writing centre this week. What a busy centre this has been! Along with a copy of the book, our provocation included writing materials, newsprint for book pages, construction paper for a book cover, and a stapler. Several versions of Tap the Magic Tree have since appeared in our classroom and the children have been keen to have their classmates’ versions read to them during sharing time. What a wonderful opportunity this has been to create excitement around reading and writing in our classroom!

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Do you have a book to recommend that helped inspire your young authors? I am always looking for the next great read-aloud!