Simplifying the Complicated

Making complicated ideas easy for our students to understand is integral to our education process here at The Messy Artist.  With the right teaching techniques and projects that we have developed over the years, kids are able to internalize these high level concepts.  It’s great to hear back from parents that their kids are now using ideas such as symmetry and primary colors at home!

For our lesson on symmetry, we’ll often start out by discussing how our bodies are symmetrical. If you draw a line down the middle of each of us from top to bottom, you’ll see the same things on each side – an arm, eye, ear, etc.  Then we explain that a piece of art can be symmetrical if it has the same elements on each side.

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To reinforce the idea, we move on to our project and present the students with three colors of paint and a pre-folded piece of paper.  We demonstrate painting on only one half of the paper while again explaining the concept of symmetry – something that is the same on both sides.  We paint a few dabs and then fold the paper and rub it, maybe using some magic words like “Abra cadabra” or “Shazam!”  When we unfold our paper, the reveal that the paint has created an identical image on the other side is always a moment of discovery for our students. “It’s as if the first half of the paper was looking in the mirror,” one of our instructors likes to say.  We then encourage the children to keep adding to their paintings after their first pass, enjoying the process of painting, folding, rubbing and revealing.

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Another concept we teach in our classes is color mixing.  Children love it: it’s like a magic trick for them to start with two colors and end up with a brand new third.  We have a few favorite books to read to reinforce the ideas: “Little Blue and Little Yellow” by Leo Leonni and “Mouse Paint” by Ellen Stoll Walsh.  These books help with the ideas of primary and secondary colors as well as color mixing and are well worth checking out if you are not familiar with them.

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We do a multi-step project where the children create magic wands out of rigid wrap plaster one week and paint them the next.  We bring in the concept of color mixing for the painting and allow them to create their own colors for the wand.  With the three primary colors on a paper plate and a palette knife, the students get to work mixing.  We give them plenty of time to create their colors before they start painting.

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Once we get beyond basic color mixing, we discuss complementary colors.   To get this lesson started, we bring out a color wheel.  We talk about how some colors work really well together – they are best friends that live across the street from each other.  Complementary colors create the strongest contrast and reinforce each other.

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A project that helps exemplify this idea is creating a collage out of complementary colors.  We’ll ask the children to cut shapes from a few different colors and then glue them on to a piece of paper or cardstock that is a complementary color.  As they are working, we continue discussing the color wheel and color differences, and to really notice how the colors look next to each other on their collage.

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Do you have any favorite ways to teach high level concepts to young children?  Please tell us in the comments!


Author: hellokidsart

The Messy Artist is a special place to create art. We offer year-round art classes for children 18 months through adulthood. In addition to art classes from September through June, we offer summer art camp and Drop-In and Play art activities for kids between our regular sessions. Our bright, colorful studio is also the perfect place for a kid’s birthday party! The Messy Artist children’s art center was created and designed by Owner/Director Donna Bernstein, a professional educator and artist. The curriculum is inspired and guided by Donna’s teaching experience and research in child development, as well as her passion for art. At The Messy Artist, art lessons for kids entertain and enrich their brains, bodies, and hearts.

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