How to Set Up and Plan for your Art Center in an Early Childhood Classroom

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie
The art center is a place where students can go to express their feelings, ideas, and be creative! Every child is an artist in the art center! It is a place that promotes high level thinking, problem solving, and is rich in vocabulary. Students can learn and develop skills in all learning domains (language, literacy, math, science, social studies, fine motor, gross motor, and social skills) through art. It is an amazing place in your classroom if you are intentional with the materials and experiences you plan and set up for your students.
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How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

We all know students learn by doing, exploring, and getting messy. Having a variety of materials and rotating materials in your art is SUPER important! I add or remove items from my art center based on student's interest and what we are learning about (theme). Some materials are always in my center. Those materials are construction paper, white paper, grid paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, paint, play dough, stencils, dot markers, tape, paper shapes, paper/foam letters, feathers, tissue paper, and trays. Some of the materials I rotate are oil pastels, watercolors, sand, clay, Model Magic, paint sticks, various collage materials, items from nature (ex: leaves, pine cones, shells, rocks, flowers, sticks), buttons, crepe paper beads, yarn, ribbon, recycled items (ex: bottle caps, cardboard, newspapers), wood pieces, pom poms, stamps, playdoh tools, playdoh scissors, playdoh manipulatives, and painting tools (ex: marbles, cotton swabs, tooth brushes).

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Label everything you can in the center to make clean up easier and to help students find the materials they need. I made my own labels using clip art but you can also make labels using photographs. Be sure to always have the picture with the word. My rule is that anything students see on the art shelves, they can use at any time. Things I don't want them use, I put away in a cabinet.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Post student's artwork in the center to inspire other artists! Create an art gallery for the art center. You can use real picture frames, paper (like I did), or hang 3D art from the ceiling (if you are allowed to).

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Every art center needs an art easel.  When students are creating art at the easel, they are strengthening their upper arms and core muscles! I took my art easel apart so it could sit side by side. Students can share materials, have conversations about their art, and observe their friends creating art at the easel which allows students to practice and develop many social skills!  These no-spill paint cups are perfect for the easel and students match the color brush to the color paint lid.

At the beginning of the year, I introduce and model our art easel routine and read the book You Ain't Gonna Paint No More. Posting the art easel routine supports students to be independent at the easel. Be sure to read to the end to find your Art Easel Routine FREEBIE!

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Every art center needs a drying rack too. I have trays by the drying rack to hold all those tiny treasures my students make. If you won't have room for a drying rack, you could hang a clothes line or use a clothing drying rack with clothespins for a drying rack 

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Don't just put paint at your easel. Give students the opportunity to explore a variety of media at the easel (plus it can be less messy). Crayons, markers, dot markers, water colors, stamps, and sticky paper with collage materials are some of my students favorite media to use at the easel. 


How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

BOOKS about art and famous artists! Having books in every center is shows students how meaningful and important books are. Books are a fabulous way to infuse culture into your art center and inspire your little artists too! These are my favorite fiction books about art and various art concepts. Who doesn't just love Harold and the Purple Crayon!


How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Non-fiction books are important too! These books are just right for preschool, pre-k, and kindergarten artists. Julie Merberg wrote a fabulous series of board books on famous artists. Love her! 


How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Playdoh, clay, or Model Magic are medias you can have in your center that provide students with the opportunity to sculpt and create 3D art. Some kind of playdoh is always in my art center. I make home made playdoh and sometimes buy playdoh. Playdoh strengths students hands, writs, and upper arms. Plus it is relaxing for students! If you have a student who doesn't like to touch playdoh, just put it in a baggie. Then they can take part in the activity too!

The manipulatives, tools, and kinds of playdoh I have in the center relate to what we are learning about. You can see I put out colored jewels, ocean animals, fake seaweed, blue playdoh, and yellow playdoh for our ocean theme.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Each week you probably have to plan art activities or add somethings new to your art center. Be intentional when you plan! You know your students. Think about and reflect on what students love, what art medias interests them (what do they always pick), what are they talking about, what are they noticing, what materials are they asking for, and what skills do they need to develop. Observe your students in the art center and examine their artwork. Let students take the lead, they are showing you through their play and art what they are interested in. Don't just plan an activity becasue you did it last year. Plan an activity becasue your students will love it and grow from it!

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

I could write an entire post on why open ended art is so important! So to say is quickly, open ended art allows students to be creative, plan, problem solve, express their emotions, focus, explore, develop self regulation, strengthen fine motor skills, and just be an artist. Process art is just that. It is about the process not the product. It is about students enjoying, exploring, and creating art.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Plan art experiences using items from nature. Bring items from nature into the classroom. Paint and stamp with sticks, shells, leaves, flowers, fruit, veggies, sand, and dirt. Dirt finger painting is amazing! This is a pumpkin still life art experience I set up last fall.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Help students develop a love of art by studying famous artists and illustrators. Students will be exposed to different cultures, art techniques, and many types of art media as you study various artists and kinds of art. You can see my students creating art like Eric Carle in the picture. First we painted and printed various colors on construction paper. Then they cut the beautiful paper to create their art.

A few of my favorite artists to study are Jackson Pollock (splatter painting), Michelangelo (painting under the table), Pablo Picasso (face collages), Andy Warhol (coloring photographs), Piet Mondrian (straight line designs), and George Surat (pointillism). If studying famous artists is intimidating to you, just search my Pinterest art board HERE.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Exploring colors, color mixing, and experimenting with colors is beautiful and magical for students! Plus you are integrating science and STEAM into your art center. BONUS! I put out colored water, tiny pie plates, paint samples, and pipettes for students to experiment with color mixing.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Paint. Sometimes I forget how important it is to just let students paint to explore types of lines, textures, and shapes. Add flour, sand, or oil to the paint to change the texture. Paint at the table, at the easel, under the table, or outside. Just paint!

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Put photos and real objects in your center to inspire and support your little artists. If you read my blog, you know I LOVE using wall calendar photos in my classroom becasue they are beautiful and cheap. Photos allows students to see things they have not experienced or to examine in greater detail.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Loose parts is amazing if you haven't tried it yet. Basically put out tiny, interesting materials and students just create with them. Super simple, meaningful, and completely open ended. It is also amazing fine motor work.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Embed math experiences into the art center. When we were learning about shapes, students printed circles using paper towel tubes. It gave students an opportunity to create circles, notice circles, feel circles, and talk about circles. Patterns are also super fun to explore in the art center.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Discover and explore science concepts and STEAM through art! When we were learning about ramps, students painted ramps by dropping watered down paint down a ramp. Students could actually see the path the paint made and noticed the speed of the water. The conversions where full of rich vocabulary. A student told me, if they dropped a big drop at the top it went fast and if they dropped a little drop it went slow! AMAZING!

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Plan and set up art experiences related to what you are learning about. We were learning about winter and snow and it actually snowed. I was super excited! I brought snow inside and students painted it! Super messy and super fun!

WOW! That was a lot. If you want to remember these ideas for later PIN THIS IMAGE BELOW!

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

Now go to my TPT store and grab your Art Center FREEBIE! Just click the image below.

How to set up the art center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus an art center freebie

If you want to know how my TOP 12 Art Tricks (and secrets) go read this post! I share how and what I cover my art easel with. It will change your life, not kidding.
12 Life Changing Classroom Art Hacks every teacher should know (my favorite is the one about glitter)



18 comments

  1. Hello,

    I love your blog. I am transitioning into a preschool classroom this year, and I look forward to implementing a lot of ideas from you. I am wondering if you could point me in the direction of where your art supply shelf is from. I just love it. It is the one under the heading of "label everything"

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    1. You are so sweet! All of the furniture in my classroom is from Lakeshore. I was super lucky a few years ago to order all new furniture.
      You are going to LOVE preschool. It is absolutely amazing.

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  2. What a fabulous post! I WILL be revamping my art center this upcoming year. Thanks for all the wonderful ideas.

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  3. I absolutely love how you organize everything, all the step by step directions, and how you put out books in the block area. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I love all the labels in your art center. Did you make them? Do you have them for sale?

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    Replies
    1. I did make them. It is on my to do list to post them to my store.

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. -♥-♥-♥- Love!
    Is that a dropcloth on the shelf in your second photo?...Under Goldilicious?

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    Replies
    1. It is just a white sheet I cut up into to fit my tables. I use it just like a drop cloth. It is awesome!

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  7. I think I may try that this year to cut down on some of the mess! Thanks!!

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  8. Love your art studio ! It's nothing short of fabulous !

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  9. I am in love with your classroom! And I love the idea of having side by side easels in your art center. How do you keep them from falling down?

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    Replies
    1. They have rubber stoppers on the bottom of the easel legs. You can also attach them to the wall if you want.

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  10. Hi there I've just come across your blog and I am OBSESSED. I am elementary trained but currently working in an International School in Thailand in pre-school. Getting centres up and running is proving difficult and I feel like my current set up is quite weak and of course I don't have access to many great stores like K-mart or dollar stores like I had in Australia. I have lots of questions and would be grateful if you could reply!

    For loose parts - do the kids glue the loose parts to the paper or is it just arranging them and then tidying up?
    For painting - my kids (3-4 year olds) always put the wrong paintbrush back in the paint so my colours end up mixed and yukky. I don't have paint cups like you have, I have small jars I purchased at Ikea. Any advice? All my kids are ESL so following instructions isn't our strong suit!

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    1. My three year olds put the paint brushes back in the wrong jar all the time. As the year goes on it will happen less and less. So no worries there. I just scoop out the mixed up paint on the top and leave it for the rest of the week.
      Loose Parts - Sometimes they glue it down and sometimes they just create and put it back. It just depends on the activity.
      For your ESL kids, try using pictures to help with directions. Here is a link to some from Miss Kindergarten or you can make your own. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Picture-Direction-Icons-bright-polka-dots-chevron-print-738701
      Thanks so much for all your sweet words!

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  11. I have a drying rack just like that in my classroom. What are you using for the trays to catch little things? Also do you have problems with the papers fitting? My students art work just falls through the large holes.

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    1. These are the ones I use Here you go. Have a great week!http://www6.discountschoolsupply.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?product=27201&Category=

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  12. Hi! I am going into Preschool this year and Im so excited and nervous! I've been reading your blog and feel my confidence building :D I love your labels for all your classroom bins! They're so clean and fresh. I saw in the comments above you were working on getting them into your store.. I went through and haven't seen them. Could you guide me to them?

    ReplyDelete

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