“Would you help me with my words?” the 3-year-old asked. “I’ll tell them to you and you write them.” He brought me a piece of paper and a yellow crayon; he then sat down beside me and began dictating. When we finished, he asked me to read his story. Afterwards, he smiled broadly and nodded his head in approval.

Creating stories with young children can originate from many sources of inspiration.

  • The children may initiate the idea and dictate to us.
  • We can sit beside them while they draw and ask them to tell us about it. Some children’s highly representational work lends itself to a narrative. However, lines and scribbles on paper also come alive in the imagination of a child.
  • Observing their dramatic play, we can write what we see and read it back to the children. They will then edit and revise our written version, affirming or correcting our interpretation of their play.
  • Different mediums can offer opportunities for story making to ignite. Blank drawing paper can be a source of inspiration.

A 4-year-old asked for the drawing paper each time she came to Expressive Arts. She had made a series of drawings about her younger brother, whom she adores (with a healthy dose of appropriate sibling rivalry).


Noticing the frown on the small figure, bottom left, I asked her how he felt.

“Sad, very sad. That’s my brother. He’s in a hospital,” she continued. “He’s sad because Grandma is leaving and he’s not home from the hospital yet.”

Knowing this story began as an actual event and was expanded through imagination, art and dramatic play, I asked if I could write her story. She agreed and began dictating to me. The story was very elaborate and meandered quite a distance from the original, real life story that sparked the one we were now writing. I continued to write exactly what she dictated, focusing on the feelings she expressed.

She chose a folder from the art cart and slipped both her puzzle and my transcript inside. She then chose oil pastels and began working on the cover.


She told her story aloud as she drew her brother in his hospital bed. “I have to take care of him,”   she told me quite seriously, “So I have a bunk bed over his. “

“You love him very much and want to take care of him,” I interpreted.

“Yes, but he’s still very sad,” she said pointing to the upside down smile she had drawn on her brother in the bottom bunk of the hospital bed. “But, I’m not sad because I didn’t get hurt,” she said pointing to her smile.

She paused, remembering the real life origin of her story. “But, I cried when he really got hurt.”

“That’s called empathy” I said, knowing how fascinated with a new word a 4-year-old can often be. “You felt his hurt because you love him.”

“I do,” she somberly nodded. “But, he will still have to stay in the hospital for two years.”

Encourage story-making with young children by providing each child with a dedicated folder they can use to keep all words and pictures that relate to their stories. The children can draw on the front of their folders to make a unique cover for their stories.


  • Set up a table with Colorations® construction paper, folders, Colorations® oil pastels and Colorations® markers and crayons.
  • Let the children know that, after they finish drawing, you are interested in hearing what the meaning of each picture is.
  • As the children complete their work, have them dictate their stories to you.
  • Some children may need more structure; you may want to suggest a theme. Some ideas could be: “Our Families,” “Animals I Love,” “The Funniest Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” or whatever is emerging in your classroom that interests the children.
  • Once you have all the children’s stories compiled, read them aloud to the whole group.
  • Be ready to have them chant, “Again!”

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

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

Colorations® Regular Crayons – Set of 8 (Item # CRS8)

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels – Set of 28 (Item # COP)

Colorations® Marker & Crayon Combo Pack- 400 Pieces (Item # MARCRAY)

Colorations® Construction Paper Smart Pack – 600 Sheets (Item # SMARTSTK)

The Ultimate Art Paper – 100 Sheets (Item # 9UP)

Pocket & Brad Folder (Item # BTS023)


The Art of Separation: Connecting parents and young children

Separation blues may pop up from time to time as parents and children say goodbye to each other at school, especially after a prolonged break for vacation or illness. With some very young preschoolers, saying goodbye may be an ongoing challenge. As busy parents leave, finding a way to ease the transition creates uplifted spirits for both parent and child.

One three-year-old started a trend among his peers: wearable art. Elias’ mom had come into the Expressive Arts room with him before leaving. He wanted her to stay. She would prepare to leave, and, just as she would get ready to go, he would find something fascinating about his art to show her.

I moved closer to help her make her exit, but Elias had a plan of his own. He began attaching his art to his mom’s sweater with colored tape.

“I know you’d like me to stay and play, but I’m going to be late for work if I stay any longer,” said Elias’ mom.

At that point, he took his art and connected it to her arm.” It’s an airplane?” she guessed. He nodded. “So your mom won’t be late for work?” I asked. He again nodded.

“Let’s watch at the window so we can wave good bye as she leaves,” I suggested. Mom had an even better plan. When we looked outside, there she was flying her arm in circles up and down and twirling around. Her son and his friends were laughing appreciatively at her flying. Elias continued smiling as he turned from the window towards the art-making table.

The next day when a friend was having a hard time separating, he made a helicopter and gave it to the parent. “So you won’t be late to work,” Elias said as he smiled. He flew the helicopter demonstrating how it would take her to work on time.

The next week, when Elias’ dad dropped him off at Expressive Arts, Elias made him another airplane out of paper. He used a long piece of colored tape to attach the tiny plane to his dad’s chest. Having learned how to self-soothe during separation, he said goodbye at the window and eased happily into his day.

Elyse airdad

Guidelines for Teachers

  • Set up a “Goodbye Table” with paper, markers,  hole punch, string, ribbons,  colored tape.
  • Suggest that the family sit  together at the table. Here the child, assisted by his parent, can create artwork to accompany the parent into their day.
  • All art does not have to be wearable. It is definitely a stylistic preference of both child and parent.
  • Here’s another example: An  airplane of corrugated paper taped to a drawing that the parent can carry home or to work. While the original drawing had tears of sadness, the child was smiling when the airplane was taped on.

Elyse airplane drawing

With the facilitation of parents and teachers, emotions can move through quickly, easefully and artfully.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:
1/2″ Colored Masking Tape – set of 10 (CLRMSET)
9×12″ White Sulfite Paper – 500 sheets (9SU)
Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers – set of 256 (256CHB)
One Hole Punch (OHP)
Colorations® Acrylic Yarn – set of 12 (YARN)
400 Feet of Satin Ribbon – 16 spools (SATIN)

Clock-Drawing – Another Tool for Easing Separation from Parents

As teachers and parents, we are motivated to educate children in self-soothing. We know that tools to create peace, particularly inner peace, can be utilized throughout their lives.

September is the month when our youngest children are launched into their new classrooms and schools. We cannot have too many tools to help bridge the gap of separation from parents in our toolboxes.
While parents speak the words, “I’ll be back later,” and preschool teachers often read “Mommy Always Comes Back,” our words often fall short.
Last month, I described how dictation and deep listening can be tools for easing the anxiety of separation. This month I’m writing of another tool: Clock-Drawing.
Time can seem endless for a young child waiting to be picked up from school. While most of a child’s day is spent in play and interaction, thoughts of home surface quite frequently at school year’s start. Images of home and family surface during transitions, lying down for a nap, waking up again, and when a child is hurt. Along with the images often come strong emotions.
“I want my mommy (daddy, grandma, stuffy)!” is the lament often heard by teachers. Hugs and soothing words are offered and usually gratefully accepted. In addition to the comfort they receive from their teachers, children can also learn to comfort themselves.
Clock-drawing is one of the tools that assists a child in discovering inner peace. I discovered the concept during a time of one preschooler’s inconsolable sadness.

Guidelines for Classroom Teachers

After determining when the child will be picked up, introduce the child to the classroom clock and child-sized bites of time with simple questions and information:
  • Who is picking you up today?
  • When the big hand is on this number and the little hand is on that one, your mommy, daddy, grandma, babysitter, etc. will pick you up.
  • Would you like to make a clock of your own? Anytime you miss your family, you can match your clock to the classroom clock. When the hands on your clock and the one in our classroom match, it will be your pick-up time.
Clock-Drawing Activity
Help the child answer the following questions:
  • What shape is the clock?
  • Can you draw a circle?
  • Can you trace one? (I’ve found the colored masking tape to be just the right size. The circumference provides ample room to write numbers inside the shape.)
  • Do you know what numbers these are? (Point to the hour and minute of pick-up time.)
  • Can you draw the number inside the circle?
  • May I help you draw it?
  • What part of the number can you draw for yourself?
Now for the fun part, drawing the hands of the clock. Some humor can be introduced here as to comparing the clock’s hands and those of the child.
Let’s draw the most important part together, the big hand and the little hand. After helping the child draw the hands of the clock say, “This is when you will be picked up.” Then hold the drawing up to the classroom clock for comparison before giving it back to the child.

These questions provide more than information. They help to engage the intellect which can provide a less volatile state, one in which the child can feel his emotions without them overpowering him/her.

Some children like to put their clocks in their cubbies; others fold them and put them in their pockets. Like family photos, it is one more tool to help young children manage their emotions.
Clock-drawing provides a child-sized way to deal with the timelessness of his/her day away at school. I’d love to hear about other tools you have found useful.
Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®: