Art Everyday!

Outcome: This lesson will provide you with 10 strategies on how to plan inclusive art activities that you can implement in your classroom, program or organization and at home.

Lesson Length : 15 minutes

Whether it is drawing chalk murals, reading poetry, singing, painting, making music, sculpting, or creating nature designs, art is a cornerstone of our preschool program. We do art every day and often multiple times a day.

Art is one of the most common activities that educators can use to engage students. With some planning and flexibility, all types of art activities can be made accessible and inclusive of children of all ages and abilities.


  1. Read through the 10 strategies. 
  2. Then take some time and look through the process versus product based section. Pay close attention to the reflection portion. 
  3. Take note of the list of artists that the Playgarden preschoolers are taught about and the list of the Playgarden’s favorite art activities and take note of the ones that jump out to you. 
  4. Lastly, take some time and answer the pause and reflect questions. 

Activity Part I

Here are 10 strategies for how to plan for inclusive art experiences.
  1. Before you begin, ask yourself why you want  the children to do this art experience 
      • As the teacher, why am I choosing this activity for the class or the individual? 
      • What might this activity spark with the students? Creativity? Problem-solving? Group Play? 
    • These types of questions can help you become clear on your goal and scaffold the activity for each child to meet that goal. If a child is choosing an art experience for themselves, ask yourself,
      • Why might they be drawn to the materials in that way?
      • How can I meaningfully help this child continue this exploration without getting in the way of their creative process?

2. With inclusion in mind, think through the location, materials and set-up. 

      • Anyone who has worked with preschoolers, knows to expect the unexpected. Plans can change with a simple change in a child’s mood.  However, that does not mean that planning is not useful. In fact, it is the opposite. The more prepared you are, with your set up, materials, and staging, the higher your chances are to engage ALL students in your class in the art experience. 

There are endless possibilities for where to set up an art experience. Try setting up on easels, fences, boxes, tables, and the floor. Clio choosing, or a teacher suggesting to Clio to paint directly on Jack’s tray allows Jack to not only participate in the painting experience, but creates an opportunity for the two children to bond

    • Location
      • Where are you going to do this art activity?  Inside or outside?  On tables or the floor?
      • Is it a place where all students in your group can easily access the materials?
      • If it is in a less accessible place, what do you need to have thought of ahead of time to help you get all your students to the location?
      • Can you offer the art experience in a unique location that may be more conducive to the comforts of all your students?
    • Materials 
      • Before you start an activity, do the whole project-start to finish.
      • As you work through the project or activity, imagine yourself as a kid doing the project. How would a child interact with a big tray of paint? Or a big ball of yarn?
      • Make a list of all the supplies you will need including, supplies to write names on the art and select a space to hang it to dry.
      • Be sure to have enough supplies so the students have the options to make a second.
      • Gather all your supplies ahead of time and have them separated into easy to access baskets, trays, or cups. 
    • Set-Up 
      • Display art supplies in such a way that make the activity look exciting. You are creating an art experience and the environment makes a big difference.
      • Have space available on the surfaces for students to be able to start working right away.
      • If the table is too crowded with supplies, students can become overwhelmed and your art area will likely become messy very quickly.
      • As the students move through the experience, slowly introduce new materials.

Salma adjusts her body sideways to access the drawing from her right side and self accommodates for her muscle weakness on her left side.

 3.  Accessibility: Table Heights and Placement 

  • Make sure the child can access the art materials comfortably. Proper placement of tables, chairs, and art martials are all key to a successful art experience for any child.
    • What kinds of surfaces do you need for this art experience to be successful for ALL students in your group?
    • If it is at a table, is there space for a child in a wheelchair to sit?
    • Is there space between the tables for students to move between them with ease?
    • If the art is happening on the ground, is there a way to provide support to a child that needs help sitting up such as bringing out a supportive chair?
    • If you have a child that needs 1-1 support, is there a comfortable place for the adult to also sit and support that child?
  • Seating Options: 
    • Does this activity need to be done sitting down? Or can students stand up to do it? 
    • Do the students have enough structural support for them to do this art experience well? Check this website for how to provide various seating options

Wheelchair accessible tables allow River to join the art table with ease alongside her peers. Utilizing tables that are closer to the ground make it easier for wheelchair users to participate and interact with their peers. 

Liam is sitting a bit low at this table to do this activity well. If he was supported with a booster seat or a more supportive chair he would be able to blow bubbles more easily.

4. Don’t Do the Project For Them

  • The students in your group will all have different strengths and challenges. It is okay to prepare the materials so the child can enter into the art experience with ease, such as by helping to tie a bead to the end of the string or cut out the smaller shapes, but be careful not to do the art for them.
    • This often happens when teachers are approaching the art experience with a more “product-based” mindset or when teachers are trying to recreate something they have seen on Pintrest. Avoid that trap.
  • Doing the project for a child, sadly can also happen when a teacher has low expectations for a child and assumes that because of a child’s limited ability- be that limited fine motor skills or attention span, that it is just better, easier or simply faster for them to do it for the child. This does nothing for the child’s growth and development. An inclusive teacher, on the other hand, finds creative ways to support the child in the experience by providing hand over hand support and working through challenging parts of the art activity together.

5. Assess skill levels and how much assistance each of your students/participants may need

  • Even when you are doing a process based experience, some students really need some structure to get started. You can provide this structure by writing out or telling the group the steps of the experience before you get started.

6. Tailor the activity to the students 

  • Identify the students that are most independent, students who need some assistance, and students who need one-to-one assistance; keeping in mind that every child will have their own unique way of doing the project, regardless of the structure you provide initially. Identify the students that are most independent, students who need some assistance, and students who need one-to-one assistance; keeping in mind that every child will have their own unique way of doing the project, regardless of the structure you provide initially.

7. Help the more independent students get started. Next help your students who need some level of support get started.

  • Walk through the first step with them. Observe anyone who may be struggling. Try to figure out why they are struggling. Is the space too overwhelming? Are they crowded? Can they access the materials easily enough? Do they need someone to support them physically in the activity? After making an appropriate accommodation for the children that need it, demonstrate the next step of the lesson or experience.

8. Move through your group and give a few minutes of one-on-one time to the students who need it.

  • This is a perfect time to adapt the experience to each individual child by making an activity more challenging, playing around with different materials, or incorporating the students’ ideas into the activity. Move to the next step of the lesson. Continue to observe and provide any help your participants may need.

9. Praise artwork uniquely. 

  • In order to help build intrinsic motivation and a sense of accomplishment try to use unique praises. Instead of saying, “Great painting” customize the praise by saying, “I like the way you used your red and yellow colors for the trees to make it look like fall.” Or, instead of “Nice job,” be more specific and say, “I can tell you are putting a lot of effort into your clay project.”

10. Be persistent and keep experimenting!

  • Kids may struggle with handling art materials. This can be for many reasons, such as limited fine or gross motor skills, an aversion to how a material feels, smells or looks such as the stickiness of clay or messiness paint. Give them enough opportunities to keep trying and experimenting with different mediums of art over a large span of time. If you are doing an activity with scissors but you have a child who can’t hold onto scissors allow them to rip pieces of paper to make more of a collage. If you have a child that has a hard time holding onto a paintbrush, let them paint with their hands. If you have a child who can’t get close enough to the table to work on an art project try putting the materials directly on their tray instead.

Activity Part II

At the PlayGarden, we focus more on process-based art experiences. In process-based art, the value is in the experience of creating the artwork and exploring materials and techniques. This is in contrast to product-based art where the emphasis is on creating something specific for an end product.

In process-based art,

  • There is no right or wrong way to do the project.
  • Children focus on creatively exploring the materials, tools, and techniques at their own pace.For example, that can mean letting a child explore just holding the scissors and making small snips or letting them paint with things other than the paintbrush. 
  • Every finished product will look different.
  • The role of the adult is to encourage and support children’s creative process with phrases like, “Can tell me about what you are making?” or “I notice you chose blue, what do you like about the blue?”

Art experiences can be both process and product-based based on the teacher’s facilitation of the experience. Let’s look at the following projects:

Gretel (top) plays with paint, glitter, and pom poms on the floor on a big piece of butcher paper. This mulit-media processed based art experience of Gretel’s turns into our Chinese New Year Dragon (bottom). With the dragon, the class can then go on a New Year parade and learn about Dragon Dancing.

Structure an art experience by providing some structure and ideas but with options for each student to incorporate their own ideas.

Evan (right) is engaged in the process of making some kind of chicken inspired art. His art will look different from every other child’s art and that is the beauty of making art, each person has their own style, pace and connection to the materials. We celebrate this variety at the PlayGarden.  

Evan will also go at the pace that works for him. Slowly and methodically, exploring  the glue, paint, scissors, and paper. At the end, you have a whole range of chicken like art products for the children to take home. Or, a whole lot of beautifully diverse Puffins and Polar Bears.

Gwendolyn, Eleanor and Jack paint together on Jack’s tray. Together they paint colorful puffins.

Look at these different polar bear masks:

The one on the left, was made by the teacher (mimicking a craft she likely saw on Pinterest). The one on the far right, was made by a child trying hard to mimic the teacher’s “final product. 

Now, let’s look at the mask in the middle

If this was a product-based art experience, the child didn’t make the “intended product.”  There are no eyes to see through on the mask, no black nose, no ears- and sadly, many adults would say it looks messy.  However, if we consider this to be process-based art experience, the child has more than succeeded. The child played with the materials for longer than most other kids at the table, worked with purpose and urgency to create his own unique piece of art.

Process-Based Art and Inclusion of Children with Disabilities 

One of the reasons why process-based art is so critical in an inclusive setting is because it directly relates to how we see and interact with our students.  Let’s learn from the following reflection: 

“As the teacher in this art experience, I got pulled down the pinterest rabbit hole, and got excited about making these masks. We were learning about animals in the wintertime and I thought that the masks would spark the kid’s imaginative play and they would be a fun addition to our polar bear parade we were going on later in the day. I knew that it was more product-based than we normally do but still felt like it was worth it. 

The morning started and I watched nearly all of my students struggle to engage with the activity. They liked glueing about 3 cotton balls to the plates but got frustrated when their fingers got sticky. The noses kept falling off since the glue wasn’t drying quickly enough. Pretty quickly most of the students were disinterested. Meanwhile their masks looked “incomplete”.  It felt like I had chosen something that was a waste of materials. 

We took a break from the project. A couple hours later, I got the class excited about the Polar Bear parade and a few kids started working on their masks again. I watched the kids trying to mimic the mask I had made. Why was that ever the goal?

Then one child in my class who normally has a hard time sitting down and doing art with the class, sat down to make his mask. Right away, he started pulling materials quickly from all across the table. He was pulling at a whole roll of toilet paper and smashed  it onto his mask working with fever. Since I had  gone into the activity with a “product- based” mentality, my first feeling was one of frustration. This child was not doing what they were “supposed” to be doing and was making it harder for the other kids to participate. 

I was so focused on what the mask should look like and worried how one child’s seemingly erratic behavior was going to impact or even distract the rest of the group that I lost sight of what was actually happening. Park was focused, engaged and having fun with his art project. He was exploring textures of materials and had a vision for his art. 

As Park worked, it became clear that Park was engaging with the activity in a much deeper and more profound way than the other students who were simply trying to copy the example I had made. When I finally asked Park to tell me about his art, all he said was, “It is a polar bear in a really really big snow storm.” 

In those 30 minutes or so of observing Park do this art experience, I had failed him. My stomach sank. I knew that my assumptions about his behavior were not only totally off but highly detrimental to the inclusive school environment we work so hard to create at the PlayGarden. I had mentally labeled a child’s behavior as “disruptive” and made assumptions about his motives that were not true.  Worst of all, embedded in my assumptions were hidden low expectations. It is incredibly painful to admit that I fell into a trap. I saw a set of behaviors and made a quick judgment.” 

Necessity of Being a Reflective Educator 

If we don’t admit and confront our faults, our blind-spots, our hidden biases and assumptions we hold as teachers, we cannot grow, and we certainly cannot create an inclusive environment for our students and families. 

To learn more about how to counter biases, assumptions and judgement toward children with disabilities check out our lesson “What is the biggest barrier to inclusion children and parents face?” in our online learning hub. 

So why not embrace art activities with a process-based approach? 

All of the kids will learn about polar bears  through the conversations you have during the craft and yet, their art will be distinctly their own. In the process, there is inherent diversity- of approaches, in the feelings an experience can create for a child and in the final products. Having examples of diversity in art projects is a perfect way to segway to talking about the term diversity as it relates to individuals and throughout every part of our world.

Seasonal Nature Art:

At the PlayGarden the garden is our classroom. Every day there are new colors, textures, and scents to explore. Spring seeds turning to buds and summer flowers. Come Fall, the flowers begin to fade away and leaves fall to the ground only to freeze into the ground come winter. The daily changes in the natural environment from the changes in weather and the seasonal changes in the  plants, animals and colors lead themselves perfectly to creating nature art.

In the Fall we make leaf paths, in the winter we paint with evergreen boughs and look for frozen soil, icicles and treasures and in the spring, we  make friends with all the spring plants and animals.

Introduce different artists and styles 

Another way we like to introduce art every day to our preschoolers is by introducing the students to different artists and different art styles.

Nature-Art Ideas 

  • Andy Goldsworthy Art 
  • Painting with pine needles, feathers, and leaves
  • Leaf or flower prints
  • Nature-Playdough sculptures
  • Flower Cuffs and Crowns 
  • Shadow Drawings 
  • Grass-heads
  • Thankful Rocks
  • Flowers in Ice 
  • Nesting Balls
  • Painted Sticks
  • Nature-Weaving

Some artists and art techniques we like to teach preschoolers about include

  • Jackson Pollock’s abstract technique of pouring or splashing liquid onto surfaces. 
  • Wassily Kandinsky’s technique of using shapes and lines to create abstract art. 
  • Georgia O’Keeffe’s technique for painting flowers. 
  • Van Gogh’s technique of painting with flurries of thick brushstrokes made up of vivid colors. 
  • Henri Matisse’s technique of using color blocks to make bright collages.

Our favorite art activities include: 

  • Marbleized paper
  • Painting letters of our name 
  • Carrot foot and hand prints in journal
  • Watercolor Monster Painting
  • Carpentry Project with Birds
  • Marble painting
  • Pinecone spiders
  • Pinecones dipped in wax and glitter
  • Thank-You Tree
  • Bark Owls
  • Salt dough stars with evergreen impressions
  • Lantern Making
  • Superhero Capes
  • Rainbow pasta necklaces 
  • Homemade wrapping paper 
  • Kites
  • Fishing Poles 
  • Womeries

Our motto and goal at the PlayGarden is that every day, everyone- students and teachers alike go home: tired, dirty and happy. Incorporating art every day helps achieve this goal.

To learn more about these activities visit our PlayGarden Pinterest page.

Pause and Reflect Questions 

  1. Using the strategies listed in the beginning, how can you adjust your activity or activities to make it inclusive for kids of all abilities? 
  2. What are some of your favorite artists or art projects that you incorporate into an art activity? 
  3. Can you think of a time where you took a product based approach to the activity rather than a process based approach?