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How to Start a Childrens Art Group

by Jean Van't Hul
November 29, 1999
How to Start a Childrens Art Group

I often receive questions about starting a childrens art group since I’ve organized and run a few over the years.

I’ve written this post to be helpful for anyone who is interested in starting an art group or class similar to the ones that I’ve run. I’ve included a description of our art group as well as all the details on how it is set up and run.

Our childrens art group is a weekly play group with an art focus.

We meet once a week to play but always incorporate an art activity.

The children are roughly the same age—between two and three. Our youngest, a sibling of an almost-three-year-old, is 17 months. However, we started with a group of one-year-olds and have just kept meeting. A couple of families have moved on and a few more have joined us in that time. Ours is a group of toddlers/preschoolers, but you could form an art group with children of any age and just modify the art activities to suit.

An Art Show Reception for the Childrens Art Group

Why Start an Art Group for Kids?

I started our art group because I wanted to make art a priority in our family and wanted to meet other families who were also interested in introducing art activities to their young children. I thought that if my daughter had an art focused playgroup that she would grow up thinking of art as a fun and valued part of everyday life.

Flower Printing with the Childrens Art Group

Also, I wanted to do art with my daughter (who was 12 months at the time) but she was still putting the crayons in her mouth and I was willing to settle for doing art with other people’s children for a while. 🙂  Although (less tongue-in-cheek), I did want to see how different children responded to a variety of art projects. I had just read a couple of great books about doing art with children, which I’ll talk about below, and was gung ho about getting started. But, probably the most important at the time, I was new in town and just wanted to meet other families and make friends.

How to Start a Childrens Art Group

So… what kind of group you want?

Do you want a playgroup for your child (and a mommy/parent group for yourself) as we do? Or would you rather have a more structured art class? Just remember that young children are not likely to stay focused on art (or anything) for very long.

Exploring Different Textured Art Surfaces with the Toddler Art Group

How large do you want the group to be?

We currently have eight families, but smaller might be better, especially to begin with. Even just two or three families who get together regularly can be good. An ideal size might be closer to four or five families, just because on any one week someone, and sometimes two someones, probably won’t be able to make it.

How do you find families for your art group?

Ask current friends and acquaintances. Email or post to a local Facebook group, homeschooling group, or parenting group. Hang a flyer in a coffee shop, coop, library, or any place where other parents and kids hang out. Describe the kind of group you are hoping to start and ask interested families to contact you.

Messy part with the children's art group

How will you pay for art materials?

When I buy art supplies for the weekly project or just to replace basic materials such as paper or tempera paint, I tell the group how much I spent and what their contribution will be to help pay for the materials. It generally isn’t much. Some weeks it is $2-3, some weeks nothing at all.

Another option (which I’ve decided to start doing) would be to ask each family to bring a set amount each week such as $2 or $3 to go toward art supplies as well as other things you use such as masking tape, paper towels, soap, snacks, etc. The money could go into a jar and used as needed.

A third option would be to set it up as a class with the idea of being paid for your time in addition to materials (especially if you are confident in your level of experience in doing art with children). Just remember that there will be a whole different level of expectations to be met if you are calling it a “class.”

Where and how often will your childrens art group meet?

Will you meet weekly? Or every other week? Will you meet in your house each time or will you alternate hosting with one or more other families? Or will you try to find an alternate space to use-such as a community center?

Painting with wheels with the childrens art group

What else do you need for a childrens art group?

A space to get messy

You will probably need a space that you don’t mind getting messy, especially since so many great art projects for young children involve paint or glue. It can be a space in your house such as a kitchen, laundry room, garage, or any other room with easy-to-clean floors. We use our large laundry room which we’ve turned into a studio. You can also use your backyard or deck if the weather is suitable.

If you don’t feel like you have a good space for messy art group activities, you could opt to meet at a playground and do the art at a picnic table, or even arrange to use a community meeting space. Or, you could choose to do art activities that involve less mess, such as drawing, collage (glue sticks aren’t very messy), playdough, etc. Or a mix of the above.

An art table

You will probably need a low table for the kids to work at. We used coffee tables at first, then a large (low) table from a now-defunct preschool, then a pair of adjustable children’s tables from IKEA.

Art supplies

You’ll need a few basic supplies, but to start off you only need whatever you’re going to be working with the first week (fingerpaints and paper, for example). You don’t need to have a completely stocked art supply cabinet before beginning! We’ve accumulated our supplies slowly over time. I’ve also made many purchases with coupons in hand. Large chain art supply stores such as AC Moore and Michaels regularly offer 40- and 50%-off coupons either through the local newspaper or on the internet. You can also make your own art supplies (it’s a fun kiddo activity for the group).

Art clothes

You may want to suggest that kids either come in clothes that they don’t mind getting messy (even “washable” paint doesn’t always wash out completely), or a smock, or a large t-shirt that can cover their regular clothes. They can also paint in diapers or nude of course (Maia often does).

Marble Painting with the Art Group

How much art will the children do?

Remember that young children, and especially toddlers, often have short attention spans. They may paint for five minutes and be finished. Or they may paint for twenty-five minutes. It will likely be different each time depending on the project, the child’s mood, and the group dynamic. However it is not likely to be a full hour! I don’t think a child has ever painted for a full hour in our entire year and a half of meeting!

So what do you do with the rest of your time?

For our group, people start arriving at 9:30am on Wednesday morning. The children play for a while and the moms chat (and sometimes the dads and/or grandmas too). Once everyone has arrived and we’ve had a chance to reconnect (after about 45 minutes or so) we head back into the studio, which is generally set up ahead of time, for the art project of the week.

The kids paint (or whatever) for 15 or 20 minutes until they’ve had enough, then wash up and have a snack and play some more. Some kids want to paint for 5 minutes (or not at all) and some kids stay in the studio painting after everyone else has gone back in to play and eat.

After the art activity, I generally set out some snacks on Maia’s low table (easy stuff to share such as sliced fruit, dry cereal, veggie booty, crackers, etc) and often other moms will add a snack to the table as well.

We have good days and bad days.

Sometimes it feels like chaos. Other times everything seems to go smoothly. Sharing toys is sometimes difficult for the kids and they seem to fight over everything, and other times it’s more peaceful.

What kinds of art projects do you want to do with your childrens art group?

I’ve found that open-ended, process-oriented art activities are the most successful with our group.

Body Painting with Kids

Over the past year and a half we have done all sorts of activities including finger painting, mirror-image string prints, painting with tempera paint on paper and on canvas, wood sculptures, painting with watercolors, flower printing, printmaking with fruits and vegetables, having a messy party, making a variety of collages (nature collages, pasta and cotton ball collages, sticker collages, paper shape collages, etc), body painting, paint dancing, making playdough, melted crayon suncatchers, and a variety of holiday-related arts and crafts.

There’s no need to get fancy though. We could probably just paint every week and it would still be fun for them.

Kids Art Books

This post contains affiliate links. Read kids’ art books, if you like, before starting your childrens art group.

I’m sure there are other great books out there as well that can help you get started. However, if you’re the kind of person that will never start the group if you have to read a couple of books first, then forget the books and just start the group already!!! You know how to put out some paints and paper! Just do it.

Mirror Image String Prints with Toddlers

What You Need To Start a Childrens Art Group

The important part is to make art activities and materials available to your child and (if you’re starting a childrens art group) to get together with other families on a regular basis who are also interested in making art materials and activities available to their children.

You don’t have to be an artist yourself and you don’t have to have a Masters in Education. What you do need is some degree of enthusiasm for art, a willingness to deal with messes, a space (either yours or someone elses), and a few basic art supplies. You may also have to be willing to organize and plan.

I send out an e-mail a few days before our Wednesday meeting saying what our art activity will be that week, anything group members might need to bring, whether or not I had to buy materials and, if so, what their contribution will be. Sometimes we talk about future art activity ideas during our meetings and sometimes I send out a list of possible future activities and ask for votes. You could also take turns planning and organizing the weekly art activity. I know a group that alternates hosting, as well as planning the activity, among members.

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Instructions for how to start a children's art group, with questions to consider when beginning, structuring and running the group, & kids art activities.

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