Kids Arts and Crafts Activities

Kids Art Planner :: How I Plan our Art Activities



Hannah asked me on facebook the other day for advice about planning art activities. And I fumbled a quick reply but then thought about it some more and decided to share my thoughts here as well as solicit your ideas and comments.

Here’s what Hannah asked:

How do you decide which craft to do with your daughter on a particular day? I have so many kid craft books and get overwhelmed!

And, the truth is, I don’t have a set way I go about it.

Sometimes I plan activities, sometimes I wing it. Oftentimes Maia has her own ideas of what she wants (or doesn’t want) to do. (And she does a lot of drawing and painting on her own throughout the day.)

But, since this post is about planning, here are some different ways I plan:

My Kids Art Planner Strategies

Planning with Books

Sometimes I sit down with a stack of books (perhaps Scribble Art, The Preschooler’s Busy Book, Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, my childhood copy of Making Things) and thumb through them, making a list of activities that I’d like to try with Maia or (in the past) with the art group.

This list can be really long! Sometimes I find myself jotting down almost every activity. Because I want to try it all!

But then I’ll go back through the list and put a star next to the ones that a.) I really, really want to try, or b.) that I think Maia will especially like and is developmentally ready for, or that c.) I have all the materials for. Generally I will try to narrow down the list to activities that fit at least 2 out of the 3 criteria above.

Then I’ll put the list up on the fridge where I can see it every day.

I’ll use it as inspiration and a reminder of the activities I’d like to try. I might plan to do one of them the next afternoon and since I have the project and materials in my head, I can start preparing mentally and physically by setting aside the time for it, possibly gathering the materials together in one place from around the house, making sure we have everything we need and/or running out to the store for something we need.


Sometimes I’ll plan an activity a day for a week. For example:

And that’s usually enough to get us started for the week. We might do only 4 or 5 out of the 7 activities, and probably do several not on the list, but it still helps to have the list. And most weeks I don’t get this organized. Sometimes I just add an idea or two to my regular to-do list.


Once, when I was super ambitious, I made a list of 30 activities. Please note, though, that there are a couple things on that list that I still haven’t done, such as grow a rock sugar crystal or dye white flowers in food coloring. On the other hand I did (eventually) try most of the other things on the list. Something I attribute to the power of the list (I love lists).

Oh, and I just remembered my friend Jennie’s doorway into summer list.

Planning Around a Material

Sometimes I’ll brainstorm activities I can do with a particular material, either a new one or one we already have in the studio. I’ll use past activities as inspiration, ones I’ve seen in books or around the web, or, just the material itself. And come up with new (to me anyway) ideas and concepts and combinations. Some work out and some don’t so well, but the experimenting is fun.


If the activity is something I don’t have the materials for, I might plan a trip to the art supply store or add something to my “to order” list. And so this project might not happen for a week or a month, depending, but I’ve started to think about it.

Getting ideas from around the web

Or, I’m surfing the web and reading other blogs and I see something that I would like to try or a project that inspires another idea. And either I’ll do it right away with Maia or I’ll keep it in mind and seek out the materials I need, etc.

Being Spontaneous

Or, Maia seems to need direction or asks to do an “art project” (as opposed to just starting to draw or paint or whatever on her own). So we’ll just go back into the studio and get out a material (the collage tray or liquid watercolors or whatever) and start playing around with it and see where that goes.


We’ll often fall back on something that we do regularly – collage or watercolor resist, for example—although I might have a project I’ve been wanting to try and if the stars are aligned (i.e. we have all the right materials, etc) then we might do that.


Maia goes to preschool three mornings a week and sometimes I try to have a few things set up for when she gets home, including an art material or activity. I might put a new library book on the sofa, a puzzle on her bed, the playdough and playdough tools on her little red table, and perhaps some papers and a hole punch at the big table. She might ignore a couple of the things I’ve set out but really get into one or two of the others.

So that’s all to say that I’m a planner sometimes and a spur-of-the-moment gal sometimes and somewhere in between most of the time. I love to plan when I have the time but am overly-ambitious in my planning for one and don’t like to be tied down to a schedule for another so ultimately any planning I do is more for inspiration and general ideas and a gentle kick in the butt than for a plan with a capital P that I follow through to the letter.

What about you? I would love to hear your kids art planner strategies… So please share!

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  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Oh this is a great post – makes me feel so funny though. Since I had my second (a bit before you) my art has been so erratic and I have painting guilt! My boy and I used to do so much planned and unplanne but my second has been very very high need – couldn’t be put down at all fo r months on end and so the spur of the moment stuff just went out th window. This post has made me realise that I just ahve to plan and make sure things happen and make them realistic! Thanks!
    Inspiration again…

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for the inspiration! Great post. Do you think it helps (the planing and the doing of the activities) to have the art supplies in order or organised in a particular place (eg like your studio space)? Thank you for sharing your ideas and process – very helpful!

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    May 26, 2010 at 11:06 am

    You’d think that I would get over being amazed by you and your skills, BUT I DON’T!
    Thanks for the great planning tips,

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 9:43 am

    I’ve been fascinated and amazed by how you manage to do so much art with a preschooler and a baby! Thanks for posting about your planning process!

  • Reply
    Love and Lollipops
    May 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you for this super post. I can relate to the being a planner and a spur-of-the-moment gal!
    I hope you’ll pop by my blog. I also love doing art and crafts with my children!

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Dear Jean,
    could you please write something about how long do your activities last, and do you have a special time of the day or it just happens spontaniously at any time? What does Daphne do while you do art with Maya? I have this problem with a baby in my arms :), and an 3 years old often needing help :)

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Hi! This is my first time here and I have spent the better part of the last hour going through your posts. I love them! I love your ideas! I’m a mom of an almost 2 year old and we have a great time painting, drawing, glueing things but we’re at a point where I think we’ll really be able to step it up a notch. Now, thanks to you, I know how and where to start!
    I look forward to visiting your site a lot! Thanks again :)

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    I’m sure it helps to know where the art supplies are and to have them readily accessible whether it’s a room, a table, or a cupboard. Organized? Depends on how organized you are and how organized you like things.

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 26, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    We don’t have a special time of day when we do art — I can see that working with someone a little more scheduled than I am though. And we’re all over the map with how long activities take, too. When Maia was younger she had a much shorter attention span and would work on something for maybe 10 or 15 minutes tops. Now she can happily draw or paint or cut for an hour. But depending on her mood or the activity, it might be a lot less than that. And it seems that once we do one art activity, she often wants to do another afterward, so we can get on a roll and do a few different activities.
    As for Daphne, she is often either napping or in the highchair watching/playing or playing on a quilt on the floor while we are doing art. I used to have her in the sling, but not as much anymore.
    How old is your baby? Can you put him/her in an Ergo or other back carrier so your hands are free to help your three year old?

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 26, 2010 at 8:29 pm


  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm


  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    We moms are good at guilt, aren’t we? Just do what you can! Planning does help, though.

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Wow. I’m inspired. You’ve reminded about the only time I ever did such a list. It was the recent and first ever school holidays we had as a family and I felt a bit overwhelmed with the sudden change of rhythm. So I wrote a list and we only did about 3 of the ten things on that list but it was great!
    The best bit about it was when I was frazzled from the day-to-day of energetic little ones and wouldn’t be able to find inspiration if I tripped over it, the list written at a calmer, more inspired time was right there and I was immediately put in touch with that inspiration.
    I’m off to write a list now (it’ll incorporate fun things to do as physio/occupational therapy activities for we have a long and frustrating list of must-do’s everyday for my 4 year-old.)
    Thanks again, Jean.

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks so much! This was awesome!

  • Reply
    May 27, 2010 at 3:54 am

    I think I plan like you– with a little structure and a lot of flexibility. We don’t do nearly as much art as you do. With a 5 and 3 year old– both of whom are extremely independently minded (wonder where they get that?!), it feels often like too many variables to manage all at once. But, I think this summer I want to focus on letting our art be inspired and influenced by a little art history (sort of similar to Maryann Kohl’s Great Artists) and our summer travel but using up a bunch of the supplies I’ve stashed over the last year. So it’s planning based on materials I already own, and how I can tie them into my interests. I’m trying to set up both a weekly schedule with planned times for art and specific small projects, but also some flexible new things that can be worked on at any time– with hopes that we could do a project that might require repeated sessions (like mosaic or doing a large acrylic painting or making books that get used for new art.)

  • Reply
    May 27, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Yes I can see how it would! I am not sure why I asked that question – sorry!

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Sounds great! Let me know how it works out!

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    You’re welcome!

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    May 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    That’s exactly it! When you’re in the fray, it’s hard to find the energy and inspiration to think of any sort of creative activity. If you’ve given it forethought it’s more likely to happen.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I love your ideas for strewing! I have an (almost) 3 year old who is fiercely independent. If someone encourages her to do something it quickly becomes the last thing she wants to do! I will have to start strewing to help her find projects to do on her own. Thanks, Jean!

  • Reply
    May 27, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Hi Jean,
    I am just starting to get the hang of meal planning…sitting down with a bunch of cookbooks, magazines, etc. and trying to come up with a menu for the week to cut down on trips to the store. I resist the planning so much, then I get overwhelmed when it’s 5pm and I don’t know what’s for dinner! I love the idea of sitting down with a bunch of art books, etc. to plan the week sprinkled with art projects. For me, that would be so much easier than meal planning!! I love the thought of having a menu of art projects on the fridge next to our meal plan. Thanks so much for sharing some of the ways you plan your art time with Maia. It certainly makes it seem more attainable for me. Our kids are similar ages, and I think having more structure would really help. My older daughter craves that attention from me so much. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    jenny @ Let the children play
    May 30, 2010 at 12:15 am

    I’m a big ‘strewer’ at preschool, and I also found it worked well with my boys at home. Sometimes at preschool I love placing say a single object like a piece of rope on the mat in the block corner, and seeing where it all goes. (And I love the word “strewing” too!).

  • Reply
    June 6, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Great post! Thank you so much for sharing your planning process. I have a question about the first picture. Are those artist trading cards? I’ve been wanting to make some with my daughter and would like some inspiration. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Jean Van't Hul
    June 6, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Vera, the first picture is of some postcards we drew and painted ourselves.

  • Reply
    June 14, 2010 at 6:30 am

    This is great, thank you! I keep meaning to plan and organize more for my 3.5 yr old daughter. We need to try some new projects. And it is so motivating and inspirational for me to see how you (and others) do it!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I brainstorm themes alphabetically ie apple week ball week car week and then search each week for not only art projects but for other games and activities that can be done for that theme but just make sure you are planning the activities for ocean week while you are still doing apple week activities then you don’t get stuck for ideas or needed materials at the last minute

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