Creative expression in the early years

This is the post excerpt.

Once I drew like Raphael, but it has taken me a whole lifetime to learn to draw like children.” Pablo Picasso

I am starting this blog to share my experience and knowledge about young children and their creativity. Working in the early childhood sector, doing my master’s in early childhood and interacting with young children on a daily basis has given me an insight and understanding on how children’s imagination and creativity work and how we, the adults, can encourage, promote, foster and develop creativity in young children. Every child has creative potential and with our mindful and intentional help we can help the child to develop the fluency in creativity – when she can generate one idea after another with apparent ease.

The purpose of this blog is to advocate for creativity in young children and share my thoughts and ideas on how children can preserve their creative nature and take it to adulthood with the help of a knowledgeable adult.


Meaningful drawing

One of my favourite experiences with young children is drawing. ‘Drawing gives wings to imagination and it’s a powerful tool for thinking’ (Kolbe, 2005). It is easy to set up a drawing station offering a piece of copy paper and a black felt pen. It is mess free and available everywhere: at the table, on the ground, in the block corner, in the garden, on the train etc.

I love reading books to children and asking them straight afterwards to draw their favourite character or scene from a story. This prompts a child to reflect on what she has learnt and demonstrate her understanding and thinking.

We have started reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales recently, and this is what the children were able to draw and recall after listening to a couple of short stories.


The Sleeping Beauty:


‘This is the wicked fairy, she is angry because she didn’t get invited to the feast. And this is baby Aurora in the cradle’


‘This is Aurora touching the spindle of the spinning wheel. And this is the wicked witch’.


‘This is the wicked witch with her broom and her ugly dress. This is the king and the queen. And this the princess when she was a little girl and she was sleeping in her bed. This is the fire to keep her warm.’

The Magic Porridge Pot:


‘That’s the old woman and that’s the girl. That’s the pot and it almost overflowed.’



‘This is the castle where the king and the queen live. It’s at the beginning of the story’


‘I drew a castle with a small window. Rapunzel let down her long hair touching the ground. It’s a big, tall tower.’


‘Rapunzel pulling the witch up to her. Rapunzel is in the tower. Rapunzel is pulling her with her long hair.’


‘Rapunzel let down her hair. That’s the tower and there is no doors. And there are spiky little things to spike the wicked witch.’

Little Red Riding Hood:


‘The wolf is saying: Should you pick some flowers for your grandma?’

Children’s drawing skills progression

Last year I asked the children (3.5 years old) to draw a dinosaur by looking at the picture or a toy and trying to draw by observation.

Yesterday (which is almost 8-10 months later) we revisited this experience and I compared the results. In each pair the first photo was done in 2018 and the second one is 2019.









It is obvious that the children have developed in their ability to see shapes and proportions and draw objects by observation.





Setting mirrors at the table and providing children with paper and black felt pens allows for a simple, provocative invitation to observe and study children’s faces and practice observational drawing skills.


Before starting to draw, invite the children to study their images in the mirror asking simple questions such as these:

What is the shape of your face? Is it round? Oval? Is it thin? Long?

Look at the shapes of your eyes. What shape are they? Inside your eyes, do you see a black circle? What colour are your eyes? What’s around your eyes?

What’s above your eyes? What’s the shape of eyebrows?

Continue asking eliciting questions about the features of children’s faces – ask about the nose, mouth, lips, chin, cheeks, ears, and hair.

After this time of quiet, intimate reflection, invite the children to capture their observations on paper. Offer each child a pen and a sheet of white paper. Invite the children to begin their sketching guiding them through this process:

Look and draw, look and draw.. Look closely at your face in the mirror to see its shape. Then draw the shape you see. Then look again in the mirror to see the shape of your eyes. Draw the shape of your eyes. Look and draw, a little bit at a time.

Watch closely for cues that a child has finished with her self-portrait. Children sometimes keep doodling over the lines after they’ve finished their drawing, starting to colour in their sketch, or adding unrelated details. Offer the child to stop drawing this self-portrait and take a new piece of paper to try it again if the child still wants to draw.

You’ll be amazed how this guided drawing approach will enable even the youngest children to come up with a very recognisable self-portrait.

Fostering children’s artistic and creative development effectively

For parents who wish to encourage their children to do art at home, I’d like to offer some general principles and suggestions.

1. Parents should be aware that art is not about achieving craftlike results; that the emphasis should be on the creative process. When children are given art materials, they will find the way to put them to use. They will usually put them together in a way that is unique and meaningful to them. So, let the children come up with their own ideas and directions letting them to develop their creative skills.


2. The way in which adults respond to children’s artwork is the key to helping your child’s artistic development. Instead of quickly declaring, “Oh, that’s beautiful,” pay attention to what your child is actually doing, then describe one particular thing you observe. For example, you might say, “I see you used three red patterned papers for your collage.” Or, “I see that that all the blue papers are different in their shapes.” Or, “I see that you drew some circles and bold straight lines.’


3. Always place your emphasis on a positive aspect of the work and avoid being critical, such as stating, “Well, this is not such a good part.’ That can be defeating to a child who is involved with quite another aspect of the work – which is experimenting with materials. Focus on what is actually on paper, not on your own concept of the work, your own agenda. If you start with what you want to see, your child may never meet your requirements. Some adults will talk about what their child hasn’t really done yet. Stay away from referring to what is not on the paper, what the child didn’t do. Avoid comments such as, “Well, you could put something up there in the upper left-corner.”

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4. If you want to work alongside the child, this would be in the same spirit of playfulness that the most children express, which is to investigate and explore the materials, rather that taking after their artwork and making art instead of the children. If the situation feels competitive or controlling, it should be avoided. It certainly is not a good idea if the adult is saying, “You should do it this way. You have to put the roof on the house like this.” This kind of approach locks the kids out forever. They will think that there is only one way to do something and it is the way the adult has said it is.

And finally, let the children just be in the moment and playfully explore the wonderful world of colours, shapes, lines and patterns developing their own sense of aesthetics and beauty by simply being exposed to art materials.


Colour mixing

It is important to provide young children with opportunities to explore concepts we want to teach them through hands-on and engaging experiences where they are directly involved in exploration, investigation and building their own theories about the world around them.

For this reason when my children paint with acrylic paints, I try to make sure they work with primary colours only to be able to grasp the idea of primary and secondary colours through real-life investigations. I also like to add white paint to make beautiful tints of colours.

Just recently I have bought these handy soap dispensers at Ikea, poured paint in them, and started using them at my painting table.


The children can squirt some paint in the palettes by themselves and with a friendly reminder not to squirt more than twice I realised that we waste so much less paint using these soap dispensers.


So much learning is happening during this colour mixing experience, such as predicting, observing and testing out (scientific thinking skills); practicing new fine motor skills of pushing a pump with one hand while holding the bottle with the other:


Taking care of our materials by washing the paintbrushes and palettes in a bucket of water making sure that the next person who comes to the painting table finds the materials clean, shiny and inviting:



And, finally, developing creativity by painting these beautiful abstract art works with the colours that have been mixed by the children themselves!



Cardboard box city

In this mixed-media art project the children were challenged to create a model of a 3D city. This was an extension to our previous project on painting houses. The cardboard box city took us nearly a month and the result is just amazing as you will see at the end of this story. At the very beginning we didn’t have a plan of how to make this city with the project evolving organically and the teacher letting the children decide what and how they want to create.

We started off by covering cardboard boxes with three layers of white paint to try to paint over the original pictures on the boxes.

When the white paint dried, the children painted their boxes in different colours. The painting with sponge rollers was the children’s least favourite experience, probably because is was very mechanical and lacked imagination and creativity (if you want to do this project quicker, you can paint the boxes on your own and skip this step).

Once the paint dried, the children chose white and black paint and paintbrushes to paint windows, doors and patters on the boxes.

One boy went further and decided to make a boat out of his box. He rushed to the loose parts centre and collected a couple of things he needed to make a mast and a flag.


Following this boy’s interest, the next day I set up the table with loose parts, scissors, masking tape and glue. It resulted in such wonderful creations and happened to be a hit amongst the rest of the children.

With the number of creations growing, we realised we have to build our 3D city. A big cardboard box was chosen as a base and we started attaching the creations to it with a glue gun (the children were fascinated by this tool 🙂

We glued the boats on the right and the buildings on the left. Blue paper cut-outs next to the boats are representing the water and the wharf.


To enliven the cardboard base, we decided we need the roads in our city – long strips of black paper were cut out for that and glued to the base. The children then took white paint and paintbrushes and painted a white broken like running along the road.

Green paper cut-outs were chosen to represent the grass next to the buildings. With the project still going, we are thinking about making trees and cars to add to our 3D city.

The cardboard base fitted our drawing table ideally allowing the children to stand around the creation and work on it comfortably.


House Mural


To extend on our house drawings, the children were invited to create a collaborative mural of a city drawing and colouring different types of houses that they had already had an experience with during our previous project.

‘When children collaborate on a mural, they bring an expansive idea to life. Murals collect multiple ideas in one place, summarising and expanding a group’s thinking’ – Pelo, 2017.

We taped big sheets of white paper  next to each other on the floor and began drawing our houses sitting along one side to establish a perspective of the art work (drawing houses at the bottom of the mural).

We started off by sketching the houses with a black marker:

When drawings were finished, we started colouring our city using coloured pencils and oil pastel (day 1) and watercolour (day two).

We even put the mural up on the fence and continued our colouring during the week with the children having access to a large DIY colouring sheet and art media.

As murals involve a lot of collaboration and negotiation of space, the children had an opportunity to practice their social skills. I noticed that a collaborative art work like that invites even the most reluctant artists to create as the children share with and bounce ideas off each other.

When the mural was finished it was full of colour, vibrant and expressive – the children felt very proud of their work.