Hands-on learning experiences offer a tactile engagement with art which is usually lacking in a gallery visit or flip-through a book. Physical experiences of the textures, as well as the scents and sounds, of the materials and processes involved in making art are invaluable. Such play opportunities contribute to the development of a rich sensory language – providing experiences for children to recall later when engaged in other projects. I really believe texture focused activities are essential for any early years art curriculum, not least because they:

  • allow children freedom to explore varied materials without a predefined outcome;
  • enable discovery of new and surprising effects, both visual and tactile;
  • extend aesthetic experience beyond the realm of the visible;
  • broaden vocabulary as children encounter and learn to identify differences in texture – rough, smooth, soft, hard, lumpy, runny, slimy, prickly etc.

Focusing on touch

Learning experiences that include different textures are also ideal when planning for a group that includes children with particular additional needs. I regularly visit an early years setting in which one of the pre-school children has a severe visual impairment. For him, art activities must appeal to more than the sense of sight and any examples or demonstrations shown at the start of an art session require a tactile element.

A great many artists have led the way in using unusual materials in their work and there is a great wealth of art to be inspired by when planning texture focused learning experiences.

One of my favourite explorations of texture is inspired by the works of such artists as Dieter Roth, Richard Long and Janine Antoni who famously use such unconventional materials as mud, chocolate and soap to create their artworks.

Exploring combinations

The children can work on sheets of thick white paper, card board or even canvas, making marks and mixtures from a selection of dry, powdery resources that have distinct textures – materials like: cocoa powder, soil, glitter, flour, sand, porridge oats, instant coffee, salt. PVA glue mixed with a little water can be used to bind these together into paint, which the children can mix themselves by dipping their brushes first in the glue, then in their chosen “powder” before spreading it on their page.

Some children will spend a good hour smearing wet sticky mud all over their paper or making a lumpy mixture of glitter, glue and porridge, observing how the textures change with the addition of more glue/water or other resources. Hopefully a few will notice that the cocoa and the coffee give their paintings a particular fragrance and inevitably many of them will enjoy spreading the whole mess around with their hands! There’s plenty to talk about when exploring all the combinations you can make with these materials.

Using textured tools

To include other senses, print making can be explored using a variety of household objects as printing blocks. Differently textured tools – potato mashers, meat tenderisers, combs and scrubbing brushes – all print different patterns when dipped in paint and pressed onto paper. They also all make different noises when tapped (or bashed) on the paper. When I brought this activity to the setting mentioned above, what was an exploration of cause and effect, positioning, pattern or representation for many in the pre-school group became a fascinating experience of noisy painting for their blind friend, who particularly enjoyed mark-making with the meat tenderiser.

About the author

Matthew Kay is an artist educator specialising in Early Years. Alongside making his own art he facilitates contemporary art inspired learning experiences for nurseries and pre-schools in South West London as Eyes Pie Arts (eyespiearts.com).

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