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

How to Start a Childrens Art Group

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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.

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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 GroupAlso, 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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25 Comments

  • Reply
    threesneakybugs
    April 8, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Thank you. I’ve actually been thinking of something similar for 3/4 yr olds. I often bring out art materials when we have play dates over but never anything more formal. It would be nice to have a consistent group that meets regularly for the purpose of art. Besides I go to an adult version of this monthly and want to share that sort of experience with my son.

  • Reply
    Mommy Bee
    April 8, 2008 at 6:07 am

    LOVE this post, Jean! Thank you!!

  • Reply
    Gretchen
    April 8, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Thank you! I have been wanting to do this with my son’s play group but really just needed a little direction.

  • Reply
    Shawn
    April 8, 2008 at 9:03 am

    The post I’ve been waiting on … : )
    Thanks.

  • Reply
    Sara
    April 8, 2008 at 8:43 am

    You really covered everything. Thanks so much Jean.
    -Sara

  • Reply
    Marcie
    April 8, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks! I’ve already put the books you recommended on hold at the library. I don’t know if I have the fearlessness and energy to host an art group but I would LOVE to have my girls (4 and 18 months) attend one. I love doing art with my girls but the mess, always the mess… I thank the inventor of washable markers every day.

  • Reply
    amber
    April 8, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you so much, Jean! I’m glad you were able to put all the information into a post. You really thought of everything–this will surely be helpful to a lot of people. I’m excited to get started!

  • Reply
    Julie
    April 8, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Believe it or not, I was thinking today, “I should ask Jean to write a post on ‘how to start an art group’.” You’re amazing. Thanks for the post!

  • Reply
    Dee
    April 9, 2008 at 5:24 am

    Thanks so much for this post! This exact idea popped into my head last week, and this will help me get started.

  • Reply
    Maureen
    April 10, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Okay, sort of related to the art group (which I’m now trying a first version of one at my place tomorrow afternoon – wish me luck!) but also a general question for when I do art type activities with my 3 yr old twin boys. We’ve always done any art-related projects with them in their booster seats (contained!). How in the world do you “control” the young kids from staying at the table (and not taking their paint brush to the doors, windows, etc) when they are set up to do their art standing up (which sounds like a better, more freeing way for them to do art) at their playtable? Thanks… I LOVE your site – very inspiring and so many great ideas (which I really need as I am not naturally an artistic type person but still want my boys to be regular exposed to art).

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    April 11, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Maureen – Good luck with starting the art group!! As for “containing” the art mess, I’d say set it up in an area where you’re not going to worry about painty hands on the sofa, etc. You can wash most children’s art materials, such as tempera, off of walls and doors pretty easily–not that you necessarily want to have to do that. If Maia is heading away from the table with a paint-laden brush in her hand, I can usually redirect her to the table or take the brush out of her hand. With two boys, it might be a little more to deal with, but at three they can probably be made to understand that art needs to be kept at the table. Good luck! -Jean

  • Reply
    Anna Yamaura
    April 14, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you. Through Three Sneaky Bugs, I found you and have been thinking of doing something similar. New country, new friends, a young child who I would like to introduce to the world of art and craft. Today I headed to your blog to find and email and ask who do you do it to find it answered. Thank you very much for your time.

  • Reply
    Wanted: Playmates Mum in the Metro
    April 16, 2008 at 9:23 am

    […] ive been reading up and blog-hopping on other options, and this one caught my eye: How to Start a Childrens Art Group on the Artful Parent. I like the fact that it gives the concept of art in childs arena a […]

  • Reply
    High Heeled Mama
    May 8, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I ran across your blog through the randomness of the Internet. I love the idea of a toddler art group and some friends and I had our first “meeting” today – the kids range in age from about a year and a half to two – and it was a great success. Thanks for your comprehensive post on how to start one up – we look forward to many more art projects to come!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    September 29, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you so much for the “how to.” We’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and really really love it!!!! I love all the nuttyness and mess of kids making awesome art at my house. BTW, love your blog, it’s great!

  • Reply
    Auntie Jo Jo
    March 7, 2009 at 9:15 am

    This blog is amazing! I have searched the internet and this is the best I have seen!

  • Reply
    Sage
    September 14, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for this insightful how-to, I’ve recently started a similar art group at my local YMCA. What are your suggestions for the “play” portion of time? I think I have the art side covered, but I was hoping you might be able to mention some other activities for children to do as they first arrive.

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    November 20, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Love the website! any thoughts about sorting out project ideas by age range?

  • Reply
    Josley Tan
    November 23, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Hi, Jean.. you are gratefully. Thanks all your information at above. I’ll be standby to try to teach preschool children in the kindergarden, but i didn’t have a proper syllabus.May you give me some advice or any information other than that?

  • Reply
    Abigail
    July 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    What a brilliant post & website! Thank you, you have given so much detail and put so much thought into this… I have wanted to start a childrens art group for a while now, this post has made me feel that I have the info I need to just do it! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Lyla Burns
    September 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I would love to start up an art class with my kids and some others in our neighborhood. This is such a great idea. About how much are kids art sets these days? Hopefully it wouldn’t be too much to do. http://SmartKidsArtSet.com

  • Reply
    jodiK
    January 30, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Recently came across your site and am very inspired. I’ve recently started blogging about my own adventures in artful parenting, in relation to my professional perspective as a professor of art education. I’ve been thinking about starting an art club for my daughter and friends. Can’t wait to check out your tips.
    Outside the Lines
    @ insideoutarted.wordpress.com

  • Reply
    Diving Into A Toddler Art Group – How I Started My Own Group This Fall
    January 18, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    […] If yes, I encourage you to give it a try! And I so LOVE to hear when others have started their own children’s art groups, inspired by my book, blog, or own art […]

  • Reply
    21 Outdoor Art Ideas for Kids to Take the Creativity (and Mess) Outside
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    […] others to your summer bucket list. Many of these activities would be fun for a play date, party, a children’s art group, or even a neighborhood summer […]

  • Reply
    Michelle
    February 7, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    I’m wanting to start a art class for elementary aged kids. I’m not an artist but that’s my 5 year olds passion your post was very helpful. I’m wanting to invest in a business like this were the kids can be creative and moms can sit back and chat for an hour. Any suggestions if I’m wanting to do classes? I’m going to check out the books on you list Thank you so much..

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