Painting with Natural Materials and Toddlers

What does it mean to make art? How does one accomplish this? 

The toddlers in the Silver Room have been investigating these questions through an introduction to traditional and non-traditional media. The children were presented cedar sprigs and pinecones as watercolor implements. Children of this age (22-24 months) are exploratory in their mark-making, and experimenting with diverse materials helps them cultivate a deeper understanding of the medium. The children showed a preference for using the pinecones, which held more of the paint, and enjoyed swiping, dotting, and going in circles with them. 


One student painted with the air of someone on a mission! She tested the cedar sprig, but then mostly committed to the pinecone, as it carried enough paint to go back and forth very quickly, which she loved. She seemed very interested in the transfer of paint, checking her pinecone when it ran out and examining it after dipping it. She would use a scooping motion when dipping, as if to get a much paint as possible. When asked to go “slow around and around” she obliged, but then quickly returned to her fierce movements, determined to use all the paint in the cup. Her method took a toll on the page.


Another student was very eager to try this activity. He sat himself in a chair and said “smock”. After putting on a smock, he tried painting with the cedar sprig. It did not have a very dramatic effect. He tried the pinecone, which holds more paint – excellent! He produced some large strokes, then discovered he could dot the cone on the page, which he found very satisfying, saying “dot, dot”.


This student was very curious about dipping her pinecone and cedar into the paint. She would put the entire sprig into the cup, getting her hand wet with paint as well. She enjoyed the pinecone more as a ‘brush’, probably because it made bolder lines. At one point, she dabbed it up and down, “Dot, dot”. She then tried this with the cedar sprig. Another child tipped paint onto her page – oh no! But she did not seem to mind and used the pool to drag lines across the page.


This child first tested the painting with the cedar sprig, which made delicate marks. Then he tried the pinecone, which holds more paint – very satisfying! He was able to make long strokes up and down. He revisited the cedar, but preferred the pinecone. “Up up up” “Down, down”


One child in the Silver Room isn’t always as interested in art projects, and we predicted that he would find dipping items into the paint compelling, but not stay for long. We were right! He was amused by the ability of the pinecone to soak up paint and transfer it to the paper. He experimented with dotting the cone, but mainly made horizontal sweeps. He didn’t care for the cedar after he saw how little paint it transferred.


Some students did not stay very long for this activity. This child began without paint, feeling the cedar and scraping the pinecone up and down the page. He seemed to enjoy the sensory experience. After a minute he dipped his materials into the watercolor and tested them both. He preferred the pinecone and used it to go “round and round” to make circles. Once he had a sense of what was possible with the materials, he said “all done?”. It seems he prefers very tactile media.


One student was was interested in painting but insisted on bringing his electric candle to the table – very festive! He used lots of paint with vigorous horizontal strokes of the pinecone. Every now and then he would move it up and down, in circles, or with a dotting motion, but he really enjoyed big movements. When the paper tore, he thoughtfully looked at and touched the paper as it rubbed away into layers. He had turned 2D into 3D!


This child preferred to use the cedar sprig and enjoyed the process of dipping it into the paint. She used gentle strokes. With the pinecone, she found she could dip less and make more dramatic marks with a back and forth motion. She loved this activity and spent quite a bit of time on her painting.

Reflection by Zoe Wolfe and Susan Missett-King, Silver Room Co-Teachers

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