Mixed Media/Art Practice with a 4 Year Old: Why and How to Get it Going

You know how sometimes something can mean so much that your tongue trips over trying to explain it? I feel that way about art.

And about kids doing art. Especially my own kids doing art.

It's more than the gross and fine motor skills development of cut, paste, arrange, paint, sculpt (although that's all pretty cool too!). It's the deeper piece of creating and having a vision – the child reaching inside his/her self and pulling out pieces of the intangible that mean something to them. It's the building of confidence through supporting that reach-grab-layout of colour and artistry. It's also supporting that sense that you own what you make; that you (can and should) express joy and thought through what you make.

These, you see, are useful life skills. I think kids need to be taught that their imagination has true value and meaning – that throughout their lives, they need to own their lives, their actions, what they make of it all.

Way deep thoughts maybe, but this is one of my core gut beliefs. Perhaps by writing more about it, I'll get better at expressing it. Just like actual art practice, right? The more you do it, the better you become at it.Remember the Ira Glass meme? I'll add it at the end of this post in case you haven't seen it.


My main issue with teaching art to my kids is that they are in such different places – and those places are not really compatible with each other. When I set Micah down for some serious cutting work, Moxie will go nuts – nuts! – with the scissors and fine papers. Then I get so distracted trying to keep her safe and the materials intact that I end up not doing much with Micah. We could limit ourselves to things that she can do too, but I don't think that's fair to him – he needs and wants to be encouraged to do more.

Brainwave: art during Moxie's long nap! We usually have 1 or 2 hours to engage in a more serious project, just the two of us. It's pretty wonderful.


In participating in the Tea Collection's Around the World Activity Contest (which is really neat, by the way – "like" their facebook page to participate yourself!), I thought we'd do something sort-of-kind-of Japanese: a mixed media collage. Japanese (in Japan) love mixed media and while I'd be thrilled to integrate washi into what Micah and I work on, we don't have it. Tissue paper substitute. We'll make washi next time, or rather, just plain paper since we don't have mulberrry bark around us.

I set us up. My general plan of action in working with art and kids is along these lines:

  • have an example of either the item we are going to make or an explanation of the process we are experimenting with.
  • set up the tools ahead of time (nothing seems to make kids more antsy than being told they are going to do some art then…waiting)
  • have a playlist rolling with something that is stimulating but not distracting. What that actually is depends a lot on the personality of the kid (s) I'm working with

So the first thing we did was:

Yep. We watched a YouTube video. This one:


I debated watching it initially because I didn't want him thinking he had to go on and do exactly anything – but then I thought seeing someone else work techniques in fully might be exciting for him. (In case you are wondering – he was kind of meh about it – he liked the video but he wasn't terribly excited about what he was seeing – he was more excited to see his sparkly watercolour paints).

He loves those sparkly watercolours!

He painted all the sparkly watercolour he wanted. Happily. He seemed to be most interested in a balance of colour.

Then he wanted to put tissue paper on top (which was definitely an influence from the video we'd watched). He was thrilled he could use my glue.

He wanted more glue and more tissue.

And he loved smoothing it all down.

He thought long and hard about what he wanted to do next.

Decided it would the application of tempera paint on top of his layers of tissue paper.

Then he wanted to roll it all. Roll! Roll! Roll!

And after that, he was completely done. Finished.

He was happy with what he'd made – completely so – and it fascinated me how he can be utterly absorbed in what he's doing – 100% with it – and when he's done, he's like a switch. Done.


Hopefully next time we can make our own paper and try for a new element within the mixed media approach, but the substitutions are in line with the spirit of it all.

Here's the Ira Glass meme – it's a *must watch*, especially if you are engage in any kind of art practice yourself.


Happy art practicing!


You can vote for Micah in the Around the World Contest by clicking here and voting. It'd be cool of course if we win – the $100 would go towards an iPad for the kids. But I won't harass you about voting and stuff.

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is a deaf blogger, global nomad, tech-junkie, cat-lover, Trekkie, Celto-Teutonic-peasant-handed mom of 3 (one with Down syndrome and one gifted 2E).
She likes her coffee black and hot.
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1 Comment

  • I love the pictures of Micah doing his art!! You can tell he enjoys it! I used to be a very artistic kid, my mom still has some of my priceless work lol! I think is important for kids to be able to express themselves trough art, of course not all of them are interested… such as MY OWN SON! I hope one day he’ll start enjoying it like Micah!

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