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Simple activities for young children

Working with pre-school age children as I do, I am constantly amazed by their satisfaction with uncomplicated activities. Over the years the development of a simple, effective, and inexpensive art curriculum has been one of my goals. Any of the following activities can be utilized by parents to break the monotony of a long summer day, a rainy afternoon, or a quiet evening. Marshmallow structure: Materials needed are miniature marshmallows, a box of toothpicks and a styrofoam meat tray. The child is encouraged with a minimum of instruction to "build" with the toothpicks and marshmallows. By connecting toothpicks with marshmallows, complex buildings can be constructed. There is no "right" way: older children will build higher and higher while younger ones are content with sticking the toothpick in the tray with the marshmallow on top. I do not allow any eating of the marshmallows during the activity, promising them a few at snack time. Warning tray art: Materials needed include an electric warning tray covered with un-quilted aluminum foil, "naked" crayons, and paper. Good quality paper gives more satisfactory results; for a beautiful finished product I use onion-skin typing paper. The first few times the adult should benear at hand. The child draws directly on the foil with crayons which will, of course, melt. When the child is satisfied with the design, lift the design by placing paper on top of the foil over the drawing. Press with the eraser end of a pencil and remove the design. Wipe off the excess wax with paper towels and use the tray again and again. Food color foldovers: You will need a box of small squeeze-type food color bottles and nonabsorbent paper -- again typing paper is great. Encourage the child to squeeze about 12 drops, using the different colors, on one half of the paper. Fold the paper in half before you start. After they have placed the drops, fold the blank side over the press, rubbing the paper a little to encourage the colors to blend. I like to use the primary colors and watch eyes light at the discovery that orange was made by red and yellow.

Another fun thing with food colors is to drop 12 to 16 drops on fairly slick paper, then blow with a straw to get the colors to run into or away from each other. Encourage the children to turn the paper around in order to blow in a different direction. Some threes have trouble with this activity, tending to put too much moisture into the straw. Be sure the child stops blowing to get air every once in a while, or you have a dizzy individual on your hands! One drawback: Food colors do not wash out easily; protect the area and the child's clothing. Newspapers and crayons: A record with music which has different tempos and moods , the classified section of the newspaper (several layers) opened wide, and several large "naked" crayons are all that is necessary for this satisfying activity. I encourage the children to use the side as well as the end of the crayon. Place the child, newspaper, and crayons on the floor with a firm explanation that he is to color on the paper only. Some children take a while to warm up to this activity, but once they do, the enjoyment and satisfaction are evident. Soon you will see the crayons and bodies moving with the music as the child gets "with it." I find that a demonstration is almost a necessity. Or do it with the child. It is fun! Marble painting: For this, you need a cardboard box (a shoe box does fine) and pieces of paper cut to fit the bottom, small containers of paint, spoons, and marbles. I like one marble for each container of paint. The child scoops the marbles out with a spoon and drops them into the box, one or two at a time. As he tips the box back and forth, the marble makes tracks on the paper. The marbles can be dipped again and again until the design satisfies the child. A coordinating color of construction paper will produce a picture you just might want to frame!

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All of these activities I have used in my pre-school many timeS, and most of them have been enjoyed by our school-age children over the years. Try them yourself! Always keep in mind that to the pre-school child the end result is not always the important thing. That finished product cannot begin to include what the child experienced as he was having the fun of creating.