Art from the Heart

In the Red Room, teachers strive to weave a mix of specific project curriculum with more open-ended, process-oriented exploration. The artistic life of our classroom perhaps reflects this best. This year, some of our art work centers around certain artists, and mini-projects that involve particular materials and techniques. We’ve been working with intent to experiment with the same processes as Henri Matisse, choosing materials and experiences that will make the children feel like that artist. As this is unfolding, we are also careful to fill the room with many more-meandering explorations.

Young children are sensory creatures and artmaking appeals to them on a primal, experiential level. They are instinctively drawn to tactile materials which appeal to their eyes, have interesting smells, and offer a plethora of textural feedback. We purposefully choose art materials which will stimulate the senses, and give children experience working with different tools and mediums. The easel is set up everyday for free exploration. Red Roomers spent several weeks creating a large scale collaborative mural which evolved through many incarnations before becoming the dramatic painting that is now hanging proudly on the wall.

Art is a powerful mode of expression. As our Red Roomers grow, we get the privilege of witnessing them begin to ascribe meaning to their making:

Eben paints a long vertical brush stroke across the mural and says, “It’s a car, it’s driving through the rain”

After drawing perpendicular lines with graphite, Eben stops and points excitedly,“It’s feet. they are hitting the wing, they hit the wind.” He begins drawing circular shapes which remind him of something else,“It’s a helmet!” he exclaims joyfully.

Young children often make connections which are fluid, giving name to evocative shapes or colors, which may be reinterpreted as they continue to create, and shapes morph into new meanings.

Over time, children progressively develop a language of symbols and their work becomes more intentionally representational.

As Georgie paints, she explains, “It’s a strawberry sandwich with green maple syrup” Pointing at his picture of three different shapes and colors, Evan B says, “It”s mommy, daddy and Evi”

Harriet paints a layer of blue and purple gauche, then almost completely covers it in a coat of orange leaving only a window, saying, “It’s a house.”

Charlotte, working with intention decides to make “An orange high school with a red window” using watercolor.

Inez identifies her oil pastel drawing: “It’s a spider, there’s a rocket ship”

It is endlessly fascinating to hear and see our Red Roomer’s ideas.

These examples show how art making transitions from being completely process oriented, into a representation of ideas and symbolic thinking- a form of language, much as letters and reading will later serve as modes of communication.

Here is a list of basic starter materials you can use at home:

Oil pastels

are easy to grasp and provide rich color and we can mix them with liquid water color which is transparent but still intensely bright and allows children to draw and then paint on top, retaining the integrity of their line drawing. This simple yet beautiful example of mixed media is also a science lesson that oil and water don’t mix.


Tempura paint

is a staple. It is glossy thick and opaque. Tempura is very versatile. It can be used with large or small brushes, and goes on easily providing instant gratification. it is a great easel paint as it adheres well even to a vertical surface.


Water color sets

are another great tool for learning about different steps in the art making process. Working with a watercolor set prompts children to slow down and remember certain steps. Dipping their brush in water before they paint helps the color to move smoothly across the paper. They also learn that washing the brush in between color changes means they can keep their paint clean. Children often progress through different explorations with water color sets, dipping their fingers in the paint, painting with just water, watching paint dissolve in the water again and again, painting with the colored water. It’s part of the discovery process.



is arguably the ultimate sensory material. it can be very satisfying to engage physically with a material which is so tactile and responsive to touch.  Clay can transform from soft and smooth to wet and slippery with the addition of water, and ultimately to hard and dry. It can assume any shape and offers the opportunity to work three dimensionally.

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