Marble painting: a great kids’ art standby!

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My mom took me hiking a lot in Eastern Oregon when I was growing up. Her Forest Service maps were a tangle of yellow lines — trails highlighted to mark which ones we'd covered and which ones were yet to be discovered. She wasn't against hiking a trail twice, per se, but she wanted to try all the trails and there was only so much time.

I can be like that with children's art. I'm always looking for new activities to try and new materials to experiment with. I think, "We've done that" and mentally mark it with my yellow highlighter. Sometimes I forget that kids enjoy doing the same, simple art activities over and over again. Or that they might not even remember doing it the first time.

Marble painting is one of those activities. We tried it. It was great fun. And I checked it "done" in my head. When the idea came up again, I had to approach it a different way. Bigger and grander. In the swimming pool. But really? Kids could probably paint with marbles and balls ten times in a row and get a lot out of it each time. Or regularly — once a week, even. I need to stop marking these activities "done."

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When Maia had a friend over earlier in the week, I set out the materials for some marble painting. They had tried this with the toddler art group a couple years ago, but neither remembered. I put a squirt of paint into each section of a plastic dish that once held ravioli (a muffin tin works well, too, or just separate dishes) and got out some spoons, marbles, paper, and two rectangular baking dishes.

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I added a couple of marbles to each paint color before the girls came back to the studio. They added plenty of marbles themselves as well as they got going with the activity.

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Both girls enjoyed rolling the paint-covered marbles around and around the paper to create painty designs. And taking out the old marbles, adding new marbles, trying new color combinations, rolling, rolling… It's about the process after all. So why limit a process-oriented art activity like this to just once? I need to remind myself to offer art projects again. And maybe keep a list of some great standbys — marble rolling, spin art, drawing in shaving cream, and crayon resist.

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How about you? Do you offer the same activities again or do you try to do something new each time? What would go on your standby list?

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  1. says

    Interesting that you should bring this up. I often have moms in my classes inquire if we will be doing the same activities if they sign up for a second session, or wondering about the value of coming to a make-up class if we are going to repeat an activity they have already done. My answer is always to gently remind them of the value of repetition…goodness knows our toddlers let us know how much they like/need it…they thrive on their predictable routines, beg to have favorite books read over and over (and over and over)…it’s a way for them to gain mastery and a sense of control over their environment. Without fail, they encounter an art activity with greater confidence with each successive repetition. AND…it’s especially rewarding to see their overall development reflected in how they approach the same activity over a span of time. So yes! repeat repeat repeat…and that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a new variation into the mix too…(e.g., painting with marbles, then next time add some differently textured balls to try—I have found cat toys to be a great tool for this!) Have fun!

  2. says

    What a wonderful idea – I will definitely try this! I love your point about the art for the day not having to be a production or “new” to be enjoyed well by the kids. I don’t have many stand-bys to offer, as I’m trying to establish a few… thank you for this one.

  3. says

    There is a reason some art activities are called “basic”. This is one of them! The word basic should be replaced with “necessary” or even “fabulous”. I know middle schoolers who still request this project!
    I saw another blog where they used white paint on black paper to make “spider webs”, and though I’m not always into projects that need to BE something, it was pretty cool for Halloween!
    MaryAnn

  4. [email protected] says

    You are right! Everything can be revisited! This is the way that children learn and come
    up with more creative ideas! It is how an Artist works—they keep painting, but then come up with variations of their painting styles! Thanks for the reminder!

  5. says

    Ok, I love the white paint, black paper idea-even if it isn’t Halloween. I used to love to write my school notes in white pen on black paper. Such a cool contrast. Where do I get marbles? And I need to dedicate some cookie sheets to our art room. Thanks as always!

  6. says

    Great topic! We’ve been doing a lot of ball painting in my classes lately and the first time the kids weren’t super excited about it- but the second and third time they really knew what they wanted to do with the materials and had more control over tipping the trays side to side. I think repetition is so important and really allows for growth… ditto to what Julie Liddle said! My favorite standbys for young toddlers are finger painting (also using fun objects like toy cars, etc) and monoprint-making (like your acrylic box activity from your toddler group). The kids I teach bring paint to the acrylic easel and make prints over and over again (every week)!

  7. says

    We do lots of repeats. One of our favorites is drawing (pencil, colored pencil, crayon) and then painting watercolor over top. And, since your post on bookmaking, we have done lots of books as well. The kids also LOVE using shaving cream with paint, I on the other hand can only handle that once in a while. :)
    I agree with what some of the others have said that it is good for their brains to do the same thing more than once. I think they do some repetition on their own with or without any guidance — either they ask for a process/material that they have enjoyed before or they simply use similar patterns and shapes (like Eleanor’s princesses or those hearts/swirls of Maia’s you mentioned) using the different materials they are offered.

  8. Barbara Zaborowski says

    I love repeating activities. For one thing, kids are not the same person they were a couple of months ago. For another, it only takes minor changes to make it a new activity that’s done in a familiar manner.
    You can marble paint, but you can also “marble-paint” with golf balls, tennis balls, Koosh balls, long-armed balls that look like sea creatures. (The dollar stores is great for different balls.) You can “marble-paint’ with plastic Easter eggs. We’ve even used plastic eggs with a weight hot glued inside so that they rolled oddly, like Mexican jumping beans. (Do they still have those or is my age showing?) We’re about to “marble-paint” with various hardware, nails, screws, nuts and bolts, etc. For all of these (and whatever else you come up with, the technique remains the same; the outcome is different.

  9. says

    We “repeat” a lot of just painting with brushes, coloring, and play-doh with tools. My three year old is satisfied with these for hours!
    We did just do the marble activity last week, though, which was a HUGE hit and produced some really neat looking artwork. We will definitely repeat.
    In fact, when I saw MaryAnn Kohl’s comment (thank you, my process not product hero :) ), we are DEFINITELY going to repeat it with black paper and white paint. Great idea for a Halloween art activity!

  10. says

    Yeah, I sometimes get into the “been there done that” mode as well. We probably don’t paint with toy vehicles and the feet of plastic animals enough. And fold-over painting (you know, when you put paint on your paper and fold it in half) is always popular. Since we live in a rainy climate most of the year, just drawing on white paper with washable markers then carrying them out into the rain can be done several times a year. We also do a lot of marble/ball paintings of various sizes and shapes. And our hot plates really could come out more often as well.
    The big “go to,” however, the art project that young children never seem to tire of, is simply painting on an easel. It’s hard to do it more than once a week because we run out of spots for drying the hundreds of paintings the kids produce!

  11. says

    Another fun variation on the marble painting activity is to line the inside of an empty oatmeal container or coffee can (any decent sized cylindrical container) with paper, and put the balls/marbles/screws inside to shake, rattle, and roll. The results are amazing!

  12. says

    I’ve recently been devoting a lot of thought to this dilemma. I, too, am always tempted to go for the new. I have so many projects starred in my google reader, so many tabs in my crafty books, and so many lists of things to try. I recently came to realize that some amount of continuity and the opportunity to really delve into a medium and become more well-versed in it is extremely important for kids, perhaps even more important than access to novelty.
    I sometimes wonder if what I am teaching them is that we should just move from thing to thing in a flighty manner without ever fully engaging in and practicing something. So I’m now attempting to provide more consistency with our projects. I’m still experimenting–I might try doing the same project every day for a week, or once a week going back to the same project for several months. I’m not entirely sure what my approach will be yet.

  13. Barbara Zaborowski says

    Julie, we do something similar with a coffee can (I like the addition of sound); the kids roll it to each other across the floor.

  14. says

    Yes, I think children really thrive on repetition! And I especially think art with children doesn’t need to be about “projects.” I do present projects to keep it interesting for me and to see where it leads, but my 3-year-old is happy just having supplies made available for her creations. Our favorite stand-bys these days are all about sensory, especially tactile, experience, and mixing and mushing and generally don’t end with a saveable project. She loves “mushy gushy” (cornstarch and water, and then adding in other things too to see what will happen) and playing with glue, glitter, and anything else she can think of to stick on the paper (and it can get wild! last week she wanted to glue wax from babybel cheese. I said sure.) And she loves mixing color.

  15. jwg says

    Try lining the sensory taable with paper and using different size balls. It takes a bunch of kids to move and jiggle the table so it’s a great group art thing and a gross motor thing all at once.

  16. says

    I’m just about to blog about our experience with marble painting. I had never done it before. It’s too much fun!