hello Clay Tiles

We are trying something new with this week’s blog post – a lesson plan format.  You can view it here in blog layout, and download a PDF at the end of the post.  What do you think of this idea? Please let us know!

Clay Tiles

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Age group: 4-6 years


  1. Children will learn to work with a 3d material, clay.
  2. Children will learn to follow sequential directions.
  3. Children will learn the basic properties of clay and how to work with it.
  4. Children will learn about patterns and beginning elements of design.


  1. 4” ball of clay for each child
  2. paper plates
  3. pointed sticks
  4. jewels
  5. glue glaze  (1/2 white glue and ½ water)
  6. silver paint
  7. glitter (optional)
  8. foam core
  9. finger paint for foam core (any two primary colors)
  10. glue for mounting tiles

Teacher Prep:

  1. Create one clay ball per student, and one for teacher demo.
  2. Write each child’s name in permanent marker on the outer edge of a paper plate.
  3. Place jewels into containers for every 2 children to share.
  4. Create glue glaze and put into containers, one per 2 children.  We make ours with ½ glue and ½ water, with a splash of silver paint for sheen. We also sometimes add in glitter.  Put paint brushes in containers.
  5. Cut foam core to size (ours are 8” square)
  6. Prep finger paint for foam core
  7. Glue tiles to foam core when both are dry


  1. Show the children an example of a finished project and explain they will be working with clay. Tell them that clay is a special kind of dirt.
  2. Have the children walk over to the supply table to pick out their ball of clay.the messy artist clay tile project
  3. Show students how to create a slab from the ball.  We like to teach the traditional clay method of pounding twice with the palm of the hand, then turning the clay over, and repeating. This keeps the clay from sticking to the table and creates a workable disc.fine art classes and parties children NJ best art class and party kids NJ
  4. Give students pointed sticks to carve around the edge of their discs to create a clean border.  They can do any kind of design they wish, or just a circle.  Have them remove the excess clay.art parties and classes for kids East Hanover NJ best art class for tweens nj
  5. Give each child the paper plate with their name written on it, and have them place their disc on it.  This serves two purposes: one, labeling each art project and two, preventing the projects from sticking to the table.
  6. Distribute trays of jewels, one between every two children.
  7. Have the children push their jewels into the clay, talking about patterns and demonstrating how to create one on the teacher demo clay.  Also explain what a border is and show the children how to create one.The Messy Artist fine art classes for kids art lesson play clay tiles
  8. When children have finished with the jewels, remove the trays and distribute glue glaze.
  9. Have the children paint the glue glaze on top of their discs, covering the entire surface.clay lesson plan 4 to 6 year olds favorite kids art class north nj
  10. These will need to air dry for about a week.
  11.  Give each child a foam core square and the primary color finger paints and let them paint it however they wish.
  12.  Once both pieces are dry, glue tile to foam core square.nj art studio for kids chagalls clay final 6 copy

A note about Demonstrating and Sample Art Works: When we are demonstrating, we never do our best work, as we don’t want kids to feel bad if they can’t replicate what we do. Instead, we do the sample in the style of a child the age of the students doing the project. We also like to have several examples on hand so if the students want to copy a sample, they have a few to choose from.  Having children’s artwork as samples is the best, but sometimes this isn’t possible, especially when introducing a new project.

Download the PDF of this Clay Tile project:

Clay Tiles Messy Artist

Talking to Young Children About Their Art

An important aspect of creating well-rounded artists is getting students to be comfortable talking about their art.  This is something that can start at a very young age, as soon as a child is able to create.  In our classes for our youngest children, we engage them in conversations about their art while they are creating it.

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We comment about very specific things that we see. Some examples are:

·      I love the colors you are using.

·      I see that you are reaching all the up to the top of your painting.

·      I like that you are filling your entire paper with colors.

·      I notice that you are making a pattern.

·      I see that you are making your collage symmetrical.

·      I’m glad you remembered to color in the same direction.

·      I like the new color you made. How did you make that shade of brown?

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These are great ways of engaging about the kids’ art for a number of reasons. One is that they teach the children the language associated with what they are creating.  For example, they may learn how to talk about patterns or color mixing.  The second reason this is successful is that there are no judgments or “tough” questions.

best nj kids art class morris county kids art class and partyThat leads us to: things to avoid when talking about children’s art. Some examples of these types of questions and comments are:

  • What did you make?
  •  What is it?
  • That’s great!

new jersey fine art class childrenThese can be tough questions for young children because many times they don’t have a word for what they made. Then they feel bad that they can’t tell you what it is. Often their piece is abstract and they don’t know how to tell you that. They may have created a piece just because they were enjoying the process, and not concerning themselves with the product.

If it’s a representational piece and you ask what it is, the child may feel bad that you don’t recognize it.  To them, it is obviously a car, but they can be hurt that you don’t see it too.  And if you praise every piece of art a child makes with out giving them any reasons why, they won’t know “why” it is so great.

So what are good things to say when a child when he or she proudly shows you some artwork? Questions that relate to the process are always a good idea, as are open-ended questions such as:

  • Tell me about what you made.
  • How did you make this?
  • What did you do first?
  • How did you choose  to use so much red?
  • This looks like it took a long time/was fun to make
  • Comment on compositional aspects of the artwork (I see lots of horizontal lines, circles, etc.)

Our students make a lot of art here at The Messy Artist, and we always enjoy talking to them about their process and the resulting pieces. Often while they are creating, we ask them if they want to give their picture a title.  If they do, we write their exact words on their paper. This helps with early literacy since children will remember what they said.  Then they can see the written words for what they said when they take their artwork home to their parents.

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Do you have tips on talking to children about their artwork?  We’d love to hear what works for you!

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Tips and Ideas to Engage Students

Last week’s blog post focused on Donna’s history in special needs education.  This week’s post will focus on tips she has learned though the years and incorporated into our classes at The Messy Artist.  Though many of these originated for the unique circumstances of a special needs class, they are very effective in classes with typical children as well.

One of the most important things that I have learned over the years about teaching is to use the students as your guide. If the students are not understanding your lesson or if they are not focusing, then you, the teacher needs to alter your lesson. It is not the children’s “fault”. Children are naturally curious and are eager to learn and grow; it’s just a matter of finding the right approach for each situation.

Often times in a special needs class, one will be dealing with a unique and distinct set of challenges for each student. A class with 10 children could mean 10 different abilities and learning styles. Here are some simple ways that I have found to engage young children, both special needs and typical.

1. Vary your voice. Simply altering your usual speaking voice can be very effective in capturing kids attention.

  • Volume: Using both loud and soft voices can be very effective to grab children’s attention. A sudden LOUD voice (not screaming) then moving quickly to a soft voice can be very effective. Whispering can also be a great way to get kids to settle and quiet themselves to hear you.
  • Speed: I especially like to pause to give children a chance to process and chime in with a response. For example: if we are beading and discussing patterns I may say, “I’m going do blue, yellow, blue, yellow, blue … (then the kids all yell out ‘yellow’)
  • Intonation: above is a great example for intonation as well.
  • Act out your words. Just yesterday our teacher Viviana, was doing a lesson on warm, cool, angry and sad colors. As she was talking about how colors can make you feel, she was expressing those feelings with her face, voice and body. She incorporated a multi-sensory approach to get her message across. It was truly amazing to watch!fine art classes and parties for kids new jersey
  • Don’t be afraid to sing something! Breaking into a bit of song can add a bit of levity or interest to the class; the kids will are always intrigued to hear a familiar song with different words. (I.e, “Row, row, row your boat” tune used for “Time, time, time for snack.”

2. Supply distribution

Since we encounter delivering art supplies to children in almost every class, it is something I have thought a lot about. I generally do not like to pass out the supplies myself. I find that when the teacher passes out the supplies the kids are just sitting and waiting. They often start calling out or grabbing from their neighbors. Instead, I like to vary the ways they get them.   Here are some of my favorite methods of getting supplies to everyone:art class and parties NJ

  • The Supply Table. In our art classes we regularly have a supply table, a separate table with the tools or materials laid out for students to walk over to and select what they need. After a short lesson, I then direct them to get their supplies from the table. I (or often, the assistant teacher will do this while I am instructing) put out exactly what they need so that they can be successful following directions. However, I always have a few extra items so that even the last child to go to the table has a choice. Depending upon their age and the project, I may have them go get two items. Often I may give them instructions to go back to the supply table several times throughout the lesson. I love this approach for so many reasons.
    •  It instills independence
    • It increases their attention span – after sitting and listening to a lesson, getting up to get their supplies lets them move around a bit.
    •  It teaches the children to follow directions. We often increase the complexity of the directions as the year goes on.special needs art education
  • The take one and pass one method: I give the first child a bin of pencils and ask him to take one and pass the bin to Jonny, then Jonny takes one and passes the bin to Sophie etc. This encourages patience and waiting and teaches them to follow simple directions. I find this works really well with the 4-6 year group and they sit nicely and wait their turn.
  • The name recognition method: I will often write the children’s names on the back of the their paper before we start. Then when I am ready to give them their paper, I hold one up at a time and have them identify their paper when they see their name. This works nicely for children as young as 2 ½. I think about the fine details such as the first paper to hold up is one of a child that I know will be able to identify their name. That way the children quickly get the hang of what they need to do. I also try to have the papers for the children that can’t wait too long towards the beginning. Lastly, make sure you write the children’s name large and clearly enough so that they can read it easily.

3.  Have a bag of tricks. Be prepared to change and alter your lesson at any time. Kids are unpredictable and a lesson that may have worked very well in the past may fall flat with a different group of kids. If they are not interested, change it up at the last minute to grab their interest.   Here are some wacky things we have done at The Messy Artist.

  • One day I walked into the classroom to find the teacher had all the children drawing under the table! How fun is that!
  • Another day the teacher started the class with the lights out and the tv on with a slideshow presentation of the lesson. Since our classroom does not have windows it was dark and exciting. It immediately got all the kids’ attention.
  • When I use the supply table I will often tell the children to crawl, slither or jump to the supply table to get their things. It’s great to incorporate gross motor activity into your lesson.

Do you have any special tips to to add to our list of ways to keep kids engaged? Please let us know!

A History in Special Needs Education

Hello Kids Art is going to take the next two weeks to delve into the unique relationship The Messy Artist creator, Donna Bernstein, has with the combination of special needs and art education.  The first installment this week will be a look at her history and the benefits of our art education here at the Messy Artist for children with special needs, and the next post will be tips and techniques Donna has learned from her years of experience and incorporated into the program.  Here is what Donna has to say, in her own words:

2014 has been a year of reflection for me. Both my son and I have entered a new stage of our lives: he as a freshman in college and my husband and I as empty nesters. This has made me look back at the last twenty years of my life.

As you may expect, there’s a lot of talk in our household about college majors and careers.  I find it interesting that kids need to choose so early what they want to do with the rest of life. Certainly after thirty years out of college, many of our jobs are not jobs or careers we started with. So much of our career path becomes dictated by the job that becomes available to you: especially in today’s economy.

When I went to school I was on a straight path to get my teaching degree. However, my first job out of college did dictate much of my career path and I am so thankful for that. It truly was by chance that I ended up working at Albert Einstein Medical Center in their Therapeutic Nursery with children with autism. Working at the Therapeutic Nursery became the start of my love for children with autism. I worked part time in the nursery school and part time on a research project studying children with language delays and autism.  While there, I was fortunate to have Albert Einstein Medical Center pay for the classes for my M.A. in education from Columbia University Teachers College.


Under the direction of top leaders in the field of autism, Dr. Doris Allen and Dr. Isabelle Rapin, my first job became a career changing experience. I developed top-notch teaching skills, diagnostic skills on identifying children with autism, innovative techniques on working with children with autism and so much more. I became completely entrenched in my work and learning about children with autism. After several years at Albert Einstein Medical Center, I moved on to work at other schools and spent much of my early career working in early intervention with children with autism.

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I see two important aspects of our program at The Messy Artist that benefit children with special needs. The first is learning through play.  Children soak up so much as they are playing – from motor skills to language acquisition to confidence.

This website is a great resource for outlining elements of learning that are achieved through play: developmental, emotional and educational.


The second aspect of our program that benefits children with special needs is the sensory exploration.

  1. Research shows that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.
  2. Sensory play encourages language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction.
  3. Sensory play aids in developing and enhancing memory
  4. Sensory play can be calming and soothing when a child is anxious or frustrated.
  5. Children learn concepts such as hot, cold, sticky, dry, full, empty and so much more.

Sensory play is a key element of our program.  Each week we have one or more sensory stations for the children to explore, and we change them every week.  Here are a few of them:

Artist Harvest update: May

We are almost finished with a few of our large scale sculptures in our Artist Harvest project!  Although we didn’t hold classes for a week during spring break, we used the time to keep sculpting. Here’s our progress report for the month of May.

We have once again been focusing on three main pieces: the Munch-Room (inspired by Edward Munch), Vincent Van Gogh Bananas (inspired by Vincent Van Gogh) and Salvador Straw-Dali (inspired by Salvador Dali).north jersey fine art class for children

The Munch-room is completely built and has been painted by both students and staff with “The Scream”.  This process has involved some trial and error, as we work with ways to make it possible for the children to do their part.  One method we have tried is to have the staff sketch on the main parts of the image, and have the children paint it in, almost like a paint by number.  Since we have been allowing our advanced students (in our full-year Art Intensives classes) do the painting, we have been allocating painting duties based on their skill level.

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Our Salvador Straw-Dali is now starting to resemble a strawberry (and not a pear!) since we have built and added leaves.

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Vincent Van Gogh Bananas has kept evolving and growing over the past month.  After one round of plastering it was looking too rectangular, so we figured a way to round out the sides by adding crumpled paper and plastering over that.  Soon we will be painting both Salvador Straw-Dali and Vincent Gogh Bananas.

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Next up for our attention is Peppered Pollock (inspired by Jackson Pollock).  The framework is complete and we will be beginning to plaster it as our next step.

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We’ve come up with a way to keep the sculptures both on display and out of harm’s way, by corralling them by the windows in our front classroom. Passersby get to see the progress we are making, even without coming into the studio.

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Do you have a favorite fruit or vegetable sculpture yet?