Intrinsic Motivation, Resourcefulness and Open-Ended Materials

‘”Loose parts,'” as mentioned in my blog of May 3, 2013, describes a theory first proposed by Simon Nicholson regarding open-ended materials. These materials suggest no fixed direction other than what is imagined by the children themselves. Nicholson, and others who followed him, proposed that these materials empower our creativity.

Focus and concentration are enhanced by combining loose parts with intrinsic motivation, that comes from within the child.

Over a period of several weeks, I observed one five year old’s interest in fabric. She began by covering her feet in cloth squares and wrapping them with colored masking tape. Image

After several sessions of “shoe” making, she chose cardboard from the recycled materials and placed her shoe-covered foot on top. Voila! They became ice skates.Image

She slid around the room on her ice skates with great pleasure. When she returned for the next session, she chose a large piece of cardboard and began decorating it. Instead of fabric, she cut up strips of available paper and again wrapped her feet.Image


Having a variety of open-ended materials available allowed her to continue pursuing her passionate ideas. This time she created a snowboard.Image

Her confidence and satisfaction with her projects grew with the challenges she gave herself.Image

An article on intrinsic motivation by the National Association of School Psychologists addresses some of the characteristics that develop when children are self-motivated.

  • Persistence: The ability to stay with the task. A highly-motivated child will stay involved for a long period of time. I’ve observed young children work steadily for 1.5 hours and put their project on a saving shelf for additional work at a later time. They learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task.
  • Confidence: A developing ability to problem solve is the basis for motivation at this stage of development. Having the self-confidence to know that one can solve a problem motivates the learner to accept other new and challenging situations, which in turn leads to greater learning.
  • Independence: The decreased amount of dependency on adults is another indicator of self- motivation. Children with strong intrinsic motivation do not need an adult constantly watching and helping with activities. Since independence is an important aspect of quality learning, this decreased dependence on adults will greatly enhance children’s ability to succeed in school.
  • Positive Emotion: As written in the article, “The last indicator of motivational level is emotion. Children who are clearly motivated will have a positive display of emotion. They are satisfied with their work and show more enjoyment in the activity.”

Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated. Providing a variety of open-ended materials for creative expression expands intrinsic motivation. For children to discover and explore their interests and passions at an early age informs their course of self-study and choices for a lifetime.



Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. It is the support given during the learning process that is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).

From Wikipedia:

Scaffolding comes from Lev Vygotsky’s concept of an expert assisting a novice, or an apprentice. Though the term was never used by Vygotsky, interactional support and the process by which adults mediate a child’s attempts to take on new learning has come to be termed “scaffolding.” Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task.

In expressive arts, where the art-making is child-generated, I use scaffolding with laser precision, though only when appropriate and after I carefully discover what the child has in mind. A combination of knowing the child, the delivery of suggestion, the child’s readiness, and timing go into whether the child will allow for the scaffolding.

A 4 year old made a paper bag puppet with sticker eyes and a wonderful jagged-line mouth. As he’d left the body of the bag bare, I asked if he’d like to make clothes for it. He was excited and chose a piece of fabric. The difficulty of cutting the fabric soon became evident.

I asked if he’d prefer to make it from paper, to which he readily agreed. He chose a piece of orange paper and snipped two triangles off the corners. “Oh look, it’s underpants.” He smiled, recognizing what his cutting had unintentionally created. With that, he carefully cut a long piece of orange masking tape and attached it to the bottom of the bag. He snipped another triangle and called it a hat.


The boy then decided to use a bench as a puppet theater and taped the puppet to the back of the bench. The little spark that occurred as a result of scaffolding grew into a fire of creativity.


Often it is the children themselves who scaffold. When a 3 year old shivered in fright and asked me to put away the larger-than-child-sized Turtle puppet, I first explained what it was made of. (fabric, buttons, shoulder pads, etc.). I wanted her to know that it was not alive, although it seemed to be. Then, I folded Turtle back into his shell and put him away on the rocking chair, telling the puppet, “When the children are no longer afraid, you can come out and play.” I used my “Turtle voice” to let the children know that Turtle did hope to become their friend as he’d never, ever hurt them.

I’m not afraid of you,” said one of the children. “I’m going to play with you now. I’ll make something for you. Snowflakes!” She went to the shelf where the stuffing was kept and began to tear it into snowball-sized pieces. She put them all in a paper bag and brought it over to the rocking chair.


Showering Turtle with snow caught the attention of other children, who then helped her pile snowballs on top of Turtle.

As they played and laughed, the child who had been scared came closer to the large puppet. She whispered to me that she had made something with arms for him. She wanted me to deliver it on him, while she remained at a distance.

As the other children continued to have fun piling the snow, the girl drew closer and closer. Soon, she, too, was putting snow atop Turtle.Image

“We love your shell, Turtle. We wish we could get inside with you. Once we didn’t like you. We were afraid. But now you are our friend.”

Sometimes, an older child can scaffold the next steps with more ease than us adults. An alum visited expressive arts recently. She took a break from puppet making to explore the room. “Turtle,” she said softly, upon discovering her old friend. “I used to love Turtle. I’m still like that.”


She began to animate the large puppet and interact with the younger children. “Who wants to give me a high five,” she said wiggling Turtle’s fingers. The 3 year olds, who had previously shown no interest in the large and rather unusual puppet, hesitantly came forward. The older girl continued speaking in her “Turtle voice,” and soon those with finished puppets came forward and began playing with Turtle.Image

Later, as she was leaving with a box full of her work, she said with all the wisdom of her 10 years, “I have the brain of a kid and the mind of an artist. Without art, my life is dull.”Image

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Make Your Own Animal Puppets – Kit for 12

Colorations® Eye Stickers – 2000 Pieces

9″ x 12″ Colorations® Heavyweight Construction Paper

1/2″ Colored Masking Tape – Set of 10








Recycling the Holidays

Happy New Year!!

If you’re like me and couldn’t discard all that precious holiday wrapping material, here’s a suggestion: offer those cardboard inserts, tubes, wrapping paper and bows to the children for their creative pleasure.Image

Art-making from the recyclables is one way to find enjoyable closure to the holiday season (which seems to be starting earlier each year). After months of excitement and anticipation, having easily-accessible resources for artistic expression diminishes the post-holiday slump.

Guidlines for creating your re-purposing art center:

  • Find containers. Depending on available space and aesthetics, you can use anything from cardboard boxes to beautifully-crafted ones.
  • Let the children sort the materials and place in containers. (Teachers, sending an email to parents will likely unleash an avalanche of resources for the children to sort and use.)Image


Children’s resourcefulness comes into play as they create from the materials they find around them. Once alerted to this “treasure-finding,” the children themselves will add to their supply. You may need to use the cover of night to do your recycling once children discover the joy of creating with these readily-available materials.

I am often told anecdotes and children’s quotes by the parents. “You’re going to throw that away?! Let’s bring it to school.” Or, “We don’t have to bring all that to Elyse, let’s keep it for making things at home.”

There are families who bring in shopping bags of recyclable material. Parents hold the bag and the children sort and place the items into the containers. When we run out, I have the children draw a picture of what is needed and those who love letters will add words, such as “Wish List” or “Please Bring to Expressive Arts.” In no time, the empty containers are filled again. In this way, the children take some responsibility for claiming Expressive Arts and doing their part to keep the program supplied. Feeling helpful and responsible expands their sense of belonging; being part of a community.

Beyond the fun and creativity, the skill-building, the process or product is the spirit of connection that surfaces. There are many moments in each day when I feel the quiet joy of children creating, collaborating and assisting each other. I become aware of the community spirit flowing to and from the classroom and am so grateful to still be teaching 28 years from the program’s conception. This idea of children, their families and teachers working together creatively is a simple means for modeling a better, more peaceful world.Image

Wishing you all Peace and Plenty in 2014.



Puppets, Puppets, Puppets

“Where are the paper bags“?” a 3 year old shouts immediately upon entering the room. I show where they are kept on the art cart and he brings a handful to the table.

“Where are the eyes? We need eyes, lots of eyes”!” cries another, as I bring the wiggly eyes down from a higher shelf. Some things are purposefully out of reach of the youngest. When it comes to small items, for safety sake, I like to keep my own eye on their usage. While these same materials were used in previous puppet-making sessions, as loose parts they can be used in many ways.


“It’s a smile, a green smile,” laughs another child placing a piece of colored masking tape directly on the table underneath two pink eyes she’d chosen. She continues taping around her work, saying, “It’s a bus. He’s riding a bus.” I chuckle at the little creature she’s brought to life with only wiggly eyes, tape and her own inventiveness.


I try not to ask questions that might interrupt or define their creativity, but sometimes I am unable to contain myself. As one 4 year old confessed about his “potty-talk,” “It just popped out.”

“Are you making puppets?” “popped out” to a resounding “Yesssssss” from several of the children.

As paper bags and wiggly eyes have been recently added to our open-ended “staples” in the art cart, I notice the 2-3 year olds choosing them repeatedly. Having materials from favorite activities available and accessible to the children encourages extended focus, exploring, self-direction and independence.

With accessibility and choice, many children are taking greater risks in their puppet making. Previously, only eyes and perhaps a smile were represented by most of the children. Now, they are elaborating on their creations.

They often choose materials that build on their last experience. They also taste (sometimes quite literally) the materials brought to the table by other children. Besides the staples, offering new materials adds excitement. More children become interested in the process as different materials are introduced.


I watch another 3 year old deliberately choose and place his materials on a paper bag. The face itself was made from a piece of fabric that had been donated that morning by a parent. She was recycling her son’s Rainbow Ghost Halloween costume, which included the striped sheet and wild, fake fur. Colored sticks became the catalyst for the “matching” stripes on his puppet’s clothing.


It was delightful to witness the creativity shown by the child. This 3 year old had found a way to express himself uniquely. That’s the beauty of open-ended materials. Who would have imagined creating both a smile and striped clothes using the colored sticks.


I’ve offered some of the same materials for decades and continue to be surprised by how each child uses them. As teachers, we provide the materials and assist as skills are being mastered. The children provide the endless creativity and imagination.

A 2 year old is mastering two skills, stringing beads and cutting sticky tape. Using the beads (also kept high), she made a necklace for her puppet and a shiny pipe cleaner. She then went back to the task of cutting the desired length of tape without tangling it. Children often take natural breaks and work on another part of their project. Those who persevere with neither breaks nor success have an opportunity to learn a new feeling for their emotional literacy vocabulary: frustration. This then becomes an opportunity for group learning, with the children volunteering what helps them when frustrated.


Having observed these young children stay focused on their puppets for almost an hour of joyful creating, I felt hopeful and optimistic about the state of our future world. I couldn’t help but think of how this self-directed play could be added to their repertoire of peaceful expression in their lifetime of learning toolbox.


Your open-ended supplies, such as colored tape, wiggly eyes, feathers, string, yarn, oil pastels, paper, paper bags and markers can be supplemented with gathered and parent/community donated materials.

Families are very willing to bring in offerings for the children’s art making. You may want to post or let parents know of your wish list. Beautiful wrapping paper, small cardboard boxes, packing foam, anything that does not dictate how it is to be used is a resource for the children’s creativity.

We do not need to constantly change the loose parts, fearing the children will become bored. Their resourcefulness will utilize the same materials in many different ways. They have the capacity to expand their art-making as far as their imaginations will take them.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Rainbow or White Paper Craft Bags

Colored Masking Tape

Black Wiggly Eyes – 1000 Pieces

Super Feather Classroom Pack

Colorations® Acrylic Yarn- Set of 12

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels – Set of 28

Lightweight Construction Paper, 9″ x 12″ – 500 Sheets

Colorations® Mini Dabber Dot Markers – Set of 24

A B C D: Fostering interest in reading and writing through the expressive arts

Inside one of the art cart’s drawers are the alphabet beads. The children use them in many different ways, connecting them by elastic string or pipe cleaner if they want to take them home.

I observed one three year old begin by writing an M on a piece of Manila paper. Matching an M from the letter drawer, he shouted enthusiastically, “M for me!” Indeed it was, as M is the first letter of his name: Matthew.

His delight was evident as he proclaimed, “I’m sooo happy.”

“What makes you so happy, “I asked? “School!  I’m so happy with my teachers and my friends. School!”


He began using other letters, sounding them out and laughing. “This is a wacky game,” he stated as he realized the letters formed funny sounds. I was amazed at his ability to sound out the random letters. I asked if he did this at home. He nodded.


He then noticed and asked about the letters on our art cart of loose parts. (Loose Parts: See blog of May 3, 2013: Open Ended Creativity)  Children from previous years, also interested in letters, had used colored tape to make the first letter of what was contained inside the drawers.  As the materials often change, at times the letters do not match.

“That’s an X,” said the boy, clearly puzzled, as he looked inside at the envelopes.

“Do you want to help me change the letter,” I asked. He did and directed the making of an E.

“You did it,” he cheered as the E became recognizable.


I like to have letters, in many forms, included in our art cart of loose parts. Those who are interested will choose them, others will choose additional materials. As I see the children each year they attend preschool, I’m privileged to watch their interests grow and change.

One child who made letters using colored tape when he was three, (Photo in blog of May 3, 2013) now, at four, is able to sound out and write the words “Justin’s heart for mommy” on a large sheet of construction paper.

The heart activity emerged when I was asked by another child to draw them a heart. Instead, I showed her how to create one of her own by folding a paper in half and drawing and cutting on a curved line. Those interested mastered cutting along the drawn line and unfolding the paper to discover the heart. “Draw LOVE on your heart, “ Justin said. When the other child wasn’t interested in writing, he decided to make a heart of his own. Image


When left to pursue what engages them, the children have a diverse range of interests. While these two children were very interested in letters, others are not. Those who develop their interest early become the teachers when their peers are ready.

Later, when other children ask me how to form letters, I ask those who have mastered the skill to teach their friends. (blog of August 1, 2013: Young Children as Mentors)

On the preschool level, readiness is the key to mastering new skills. Being able to make choices according to individual interest paves the way for a lifetime of learning.


In blog of April 8, 2013, I wrote of setting up open ended materials and tools for working with colored masking tape, elastic cord, glue sticks, scissors, etc.  I keep the loose parts in an art cart but, there are many other options for containing materials.


Having letters and/or numbers also available as loose parts will offer additional opportunities as their interest in reading and writing grows. Children who may not appear to be interested in writing, may surprise us by their interest in forming words and names when letters, such as the alphabet beads, are available in your expressive arts center.

Being able to work with many open ended material, and having them available to use in different ways than traditionally intended, furthers children’s creativity. Their confidence is built by our recognition and appreciation of how they express themselves.

Working within small groups, where we can be present as a child’s ideas emerge is another joyful aspect of teaching young children.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colored Masking Tape – 1 Roll (Item #34CMT)

Supply Cabinet (Item #X9510JC)

Set of all 10 Packs – Colorations® Colored Pipe Cleaners (Item #IPCSET)

Colorations® Construction Paper Classroom Pack – 2500 Sheets (Item #MAJORPAK)

Preschool Puzzles – Letters, Numbers and Signs – Set of 6 (Item #PREPZST6)

NEXT: More on larger projects with loose parts and recycled materials

Story-Making: Storytelling with Puppets and Art

“Here Crow, come and sit in this chair while I make your sparkly babies,” said the very articulate three year old to the puppet she just befriended. “When the blue comes alive, then it will be done.”


She was referring to the sparkly blue pipe cleaners she was twisting into the shape of a baby bird for the crow puppet.


Soon, three other children joined her in building a nest for Crow and the sparkly babies. Afterwards they flew the crows around the room and then return to nest building.

Story-making is what I call this version of improvisational storytelling. They may begin with a puppet or start with a prop, as illustrated by the “sparkly babies.” The making of the prop opens the creative door for puppet improvisation. And the improvisation produces the need for more props to add to the play.

Story-making is a process of using collaborative puppet play, art from loose parts (see blog of May 15, 2013.) and the children’s imaginations to create a story that comes to life. They act in it, stop to make props and puppets, and then return to the story. At times there is an informal audience, watching. Usually, there are only the adult observers, us, enjoying the “show.”

In 1996, story-making began as a practice to encourage cooperative play. The children used puppets, props and improvisations. It was also used to develop oral language and storytelling with small groups of children. Decades later, small groups of children still enjoy adding this form of storytelling to their play.

The meaningful play initiated by this three year old continued beyond the classroom. She made an owl with her mom at her older sister’s school. She brought it to school, days later, so that “Owl “could be friends with “Crow.” Friendship is a very important theme with preschoolers.


Not only did the children play with her owl but, they were inspired to make puppets of their own.


“Where’s his smile?” a child asked, studying her paper bag puppet. She picked up an oil pastel and drew a line under the sticky eyes she’d placed on the brown lunch bag. “Oh, that’s a sad face,” she frowned at the curved line she had drawn.

She tried again saying hesitantly, “That’s a happy face.” Observing her attempts to make the line curve upwards she said, “No, it’s a mustache. Let’s call him Grandpa Owl. He’s the sparkly babies’ grandfather.”

She then placed the newest owl in the rocking chair and took down the Crow puppet from its window seat. “They’re friends and are going to have a play date.”


She then placed the bag puppet on her hand and flew it over to the table. Taking it off, she was delighted to see that it remained vertical. “I didn’t know a paper owl could stand up!” she exclaimed gleefully.


These improvisational stories allow the youngest children to play out their first flights of independence from their own “nests” via the preschool experience.  Stories are not only important teachers, they inform us of what the children themselves find most meaningful including making friends and inviting them home for play dates.


I. Collaborative Puppet Play:

  1. Initiating Ideas: you can introduce a specific theme, such as making friends, inclusion/exclusion or being kind, by either telling about something that happened between the puppets or acting it out for the children yourself. (see September 16, 2013 blog: Playing with Puppets and Children)

Having been a witness and facilitator of the children’s developmentally appropriate conflict, teachers and parents can show or tell what happened between the children using puppets. When you come to places of choice, ask the children for suggestions.

Once you’ve gathered some of the children’s own ideas and contributed some wise ones of your own, it’s the children’s turn to use the puppets.

Being creative yourself and knowing your children, you will think of many different ways to get started. Once the children are engaged, you become the observer, facilitating when necessary.

  1. Art-Making: Depending on the kind of puppets used, you could suggest that the children first make something for the puppets, as the 3 year old began by making nests and sparkly babies for Crow.
  1. Back to puppet play: Sometimes the children will do this naturally. Otherwise, you can facilitate by interviewing a puppet. Your scaffolding brings out both the character of the puppet and moves the story line along. There are no expectations for a complete story in collaborative puppet play. Children combine improvisations or story pieces with art-making and decide when the activity is complete.

Teaching moments will likely occur.  Feel free to insert yourself into the story if there’s an important point to make.  Otherwise, step back and enjoy the good work you’ve done readying the children for creative collaboration. The story-making can continue as long as the children stay engaged.

II. Materials:

Materials are made available for the children’s use during their play. Depending on the puppets used, materials may reflect their environments, food, etc. Loose parts for puppet-making can be included, as the children often spontaneously create more puppets during or after their play.

Some examples of materials: Small paper bags, colored feathers, self-adhesive eyes, glue sticks, colored paper, colored Popsicle sticks, colored masking tape, yarn, string, shiny pipe cleaners and any other loose parts you have or can gather.


Next time you take out the materials, they may go back to the same story or create a new one, with more of what is meaningful to them disclosed.

Witnessing the children’s exploration with puppets is so joyful. No wonder I am beginning my 28th year of learning with them.

Just the Right Size to Go Home (Navigating Creativity Within Limited Space)

With the new school year come new classrooms, exciting new work and new rules. The Expressive Arts room also has a new rule this year. Besides “No collecting without connecting” and “No weapons,” we now have a height limit on take-home art.

While some teachers have bought art carts to accommodate the flow of bigger and bigger art, even those were beginning to overflow. The problem to be solved is how to encourage those children who had a creative urge for BIGGER while accommodating limited storage space in classrooms and homes.

One solution is to have the children measure their own projects. The Orange Arrow Measuring Wall was created for this purpose.

  • Use a horizontal piece of colored masking tape to designate what would fit into the art drawers.
  • Tape a vertical arrow pointing down to indicate the size that could go back into the classroom and then home.
  • Tape an arrow pointing up from the horizontal line to indicate the art that would need to be hung on the wall until their parents came to pick it up.


  • For art that extends above the orange line, notes are given to the children for their parents. It gives the deadline for either picking up the art or choosing to have it recycled. Space allowing, it could also be left taped to the wall.


I introduced the oldest class, our 5 year olds, to The Orange Arrow Measuring Wall and explained how it works. Other than one grumbled, “Oh, no, another rule,” the children seemed accepting. Individually and in groups, they were empowered to monitor size on their own without need for adult intervention. They measured and discerned which art pieces could go directly home and which needed parental permission. The children were then able to enjoy making their art without size limits while still accommodating the classroom and home needs. They were also able to claim the Expressive Arts room as theirs with the art that they taped to the wall.

I continued to observe how this new rule was being received and was delighted when their playfulness soon surfaced. “Look, Elyse, I’m too big to go home,” said one Polar Bear, measuring himself and pointing out how much he extended beyond the horizontal orange line.


“We’ll just have to Tape you to the wall and leave a note for your parents to come pick you up here,” I joked.

The line-up of those measuring themselves began. Like a favorite story, I said the same comment to each and everyone laughed.

Then one child, wearing his newly made mask, crouched down low enough to stay under the height limit.


“Look at me,” he crowed. “I’m just the right size to go home!”

Again, a line formed with children repeating that they, too, were just the right size to go home. Spontaneously, they all began walking around the room on their knees, laughing uproariously.

Some days, new rules and limits can be a whole lot of fun.

FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION: Enhanced through the Expressive Arts

Once motivated, a preschooler’s ability to focus and concentrate can expand far beyond our expectations. At times, it is the mastery of the skill itself that attracts a child’s attention. Learning to cut sticky tape at 3 years old can be frustrating, yet the challenge is also exciting. Once the skill of cutting tape is learned, it opens the door to a new world of connecting.

I am often amazed at how a young child can stay focused on the project of his or her choice. My classes are for an hour and a half. During one session, I observed the progress of a 3-year-old girl choosing her materials from the recycling boxes.

Green plastic berry baskets first caught her eye. When there is a limited amount of one item, I usually tell all the children to only take what they need. I suggest starting with one or two.  As we get to know the children, we can discern who might need prompting about “supply and demand” and who has made an intentional choice. In the case of this 3-year-old, I observed her careful selection of four berry baskets and made no comment as I continued to observe.

Her interest moved to segments of cardboard fruit holders. They’d been given to us, just that morning, by a teacher who offered her caterpillar project for expressive arts repurposing. Four blue cardboard ovals were chosen. This child had something in mind. She then chose the color of her tape and scissors with as much attention as she did the other materials.

After carefully cutting pieces of tape, she used them to outline the top of the berry baskets. I noticed that as she progressed from basket to basket, her estimates of the length of the tape that would fit each side of the basket grew more exact.



She’d stop taping now and then to work on another part of the project. She decorated, also very precisely, the cardboard fruit ovals with sticky jewels (see “Sticky Jewels,” blog; July 5, 2012) and then placed one oval in each basket. Then she’d return to the challenging task at hand, the tape trim for the baskets, with renewed concentration.


I’ve attempted to teach this concept of “taking a break” from an arduous task and working on another part of the project. This child innately knew what to do.

She continued with her project for 50 minutes. When it was time to return to the classroom, she placed the four baskets, with great care, in a little shopping bag to take home. She looked up, smiled, and joined her classmates at the door.



  • Keep recycled materials fresh.
  • New and interesting items for repurposing can be gathered by the parents and from your own and other classrooms.

EFFECTIVE PROMPTS I’ve used with children:

  • Take what you need and save some for your friends.
  • Start with one or two. After you connect them, come back for more.
  • “No collecting without connecting” began as a necessity because the children filled their pockets with the treasures from Expressive Arts.


  • Being able to play with the materials in the room but needing to connect them in order to bring them home becomes the motivation for building with the materials. (See “No Collecting Without Connecting” blog; April 25, 2012)
  • As we get to know the children, we can discern who might need prompting regarding selecting materials and who has made an intentional choice. In the case of this 3 year old, observing her careful selection of four berry baskets, I made no comment.
  • When a child is able to master a skill or has found his/her own way to accomplish a task, we teachers can remember this for later.

I plan to be able to say to this savvy 3-year-old, when a classmate has become frustrated with an extended project, “Remember when you were making the berry basket art and you had four baskets to trim with colored tape? I noticed that you would stop and work on decorating the cardboard ovals with sticky jewels and then go back to taping. I liked how you gave yourself a break from the very hard work of taping. Do you think you could help your friend to learn how to do that with his project?”

  • Peer mentors are often more effective than our own instruction. They may be thinking, “If my classmate can do this, so can I.”

My next blog will be on Young Children as Mentors.



Postscript: Upon seeing these photos, the 3-year-old’s dad said jokingly, “I love that she’s got her bike helmet on while using the scissors. Safety first!”

Skill Building with the Expressive Arts

“I’m putting them all out to see which one is my favorite,” said the three year old. He was mesmerized by the assortment of shiny colored scissors, arranging them purposefully on the rug in the Expressive Arts room.


“Which one is your favorite” he asked, touching his own personal choices and reciting the color of each.

Observing his beautiful arrangement, I sensed his visual enjoyment.

In the Expressive Arts room, it’s difficult to distinguish the art materials from the tools used to work with them. The multi-colored scissors and brightly-colored tape add to the pleasure of art-making and the skills being developed.

“Look at this,” his classmate called out proudly. He had just cut a piece of tape for his “ghost catcher.” He grasped the ends of the long piece of tape in both hands and kept it from curling as he connected it to his artwork.


Fine motor skills are developed and strengthened as the children are motivated to cut and connect in the making of their creations.

As he taped, the boy enthusiastically relayed a long story on the mechanics of his “ghost catcher.” He elaborated playfully on how each part would first vacuum up and then trap the ghosts.

Storytelling and verbal skills, in addition to physical ones, are encouraged and strengthened as the preschoolers attend joyfully to their art-making.


  • Bins of tools or a display that is accessible to the children encourages and invites their use.
  • With easy accessibility, safety rules are also needed. Use repetition to make clear what is allowed to be cut (paper, tape, fabric, etc.) and what is not allowed (hair, skin, clothing, etc.)
  • Younger children will need monitoring for safety reminders.
  • Strong limits are encouraged for misuse. In Expressive Arts, using a scissor as a weapon instead of a tool will result in putting it away for the day. Having to learn to tear tape, or having to ask a friend to cut for you, is a kinesthetic memory that encourages proper use.
  • Creating an environment of safety gives the children the freedom to expand creatively and have a lot of fun.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Fiskars® for Kids Blunt Tip Scissors – Set of 12 (Item # CLST)

Printed Craft Tape – Set of 10 Rolls (Item # PRINTED)

Open Ended Creativity

In researching theories that aligned with the practical suggestions on this blog, I rediscovered Simon Nicholson’s theory of “loose parts.”

 “In any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the number of variables in it.” – Simon Nicholson

The theory of “loose parts” first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s has begun to influence child-play experts. Nicholson believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that empower our creativity.

Loose parts are materials with no definite direction; they can be used alone or combined with other materials, natural or synthetic. Loose parts inspire children to use materials as they choose, encouraging imagination and originality, which provides a wide range of opportunity, one that is not purely adult led. Children playing with loose parts are developing more skill and competence than they would by playing with most man-made toys.

To read the complete version of this article in which the above statements and information have been pulled from please Click here.

Looking around my Expressive Arts room with drawers of open-ended materials, I am reminded of the unlimited nature of children’s art-making. All they need is to combine their chosen materials, or “loose parts,” with their imagination, skills, creativity and ideas.

Inside one bin, the plastic numbers and letters fascinated a 3-year-old. He was able to pick out and order numerically with ease. When his search for a “2’ was unsuccessful, he made his own out of colored tape. Image


He did the same, on another day, with the letters, constructing a difficult “h” quite skillfully with tape as well, as drawing a missing “M.”


Another 3-year-old, was using the rainbow crayons to draw on one of the large boxes recently brought in by a parent.

“They don’t work,” she told me, holding up the crayon. Upon looking, I noticed that the colors were not as vivid as she wanted on the brown cardboard.

“You could try these bright colors,” I offered, presenting theColorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack. She took them and began to draw inside the box. I watched her place the colors next to each other and realized she was creating her own rainbow.


As she happily sat inside the box she began expanding her rainbow into a very sophisticated and beautiful expression. For the next 45 minutes she sat quietly creating her own rainbow.


At the end of our time together, I found her curled up inside the box taking a well-deserved rest.


Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated to create from what’s available.

*For more information on setting up an Expressive Arts center at school or home, see the blog post from April 8, 2013 and October 11, 2012.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons – Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colored Masking Tape – 1 Roll (Item # 34CMT)

Uppercase and Lowercase Magnetic Letters (Item # LETSET)

Magnetic Numbers – 162 Pieces (Item # MAGNUMB)

Please share your favorite “loose parts” around the classroom.

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