Art History for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Abstract Art Activity

Hello, lovelies! I hope you have enjoyed getting to know some of my new Rockin’ Art Moms pals over the past week- it’s been so great introducing them to you! Today I have one more amazing RAM for you to meet (and love)…Kristen from Art History Mom!  Kristen is passionate about instilling a love of art history in kids of all ages, and has prepared an amazing art history lesson and activity for toddlers and preschoolers to share with us today. I cannot wait to try this with the twins! And even more awesome, she’s going to continue her art history for under 5s series every month on her blog, so if you like this, be sure to hop over and connect with her there so you don’t miss any future lessons in the series! You’re up, Kristen!

Greetings Twodaloo readers! And thank you sweet Stephanie for hosting my very first art history lesson for toddlers and preschoolers! I’m a mom of three, a graphic designer, and an art history aficionado. I blog at Art History Mom.

Most people don’t think of art history when it comes to kids age five and under, but truly, it’s never too early to begin sharing great works of art with little ones. And the good news is that a parent doesn’t need to know much about art to get started.

five reasons to expose art history to your toddler or preschooler

Here are five reasons to expose art history to your toddler or preschooler:

1. Children need beauty. Images from art history elevate the mind and spirit, teaching us some truth about ourselves and the world around us.

2. You can bond with your child while viewing art together. I love curling up on the couch with my kids and looking at art books together. Inevitably, I end up learning more from them than they do from me!

3. It helps with vocabulary and language development. As you and your child discuss a work of art (and I can help you get the conversation started), she is learning to identify certain objects, name them, and describe them in her own words.

4. You can use art to teach about colors, shapes and counting, as well as other cultures. Sometimes I’ll show my kids art featuring animals and I’ll ask them “what sound would that kitty make?” or “if you could reach inside the painting and pet that sheep, what would it feel like?” We’ll look at images of African masks and talk about what it might be like to be a four year old living in Africa. Art history can open up our view of the world in an amazing way.

5. Images from art history inspire their imaginations. Last summer, I showed my children a few ancient Greek temples on the computer. To this day, my six year old son enjoys building his own Greek temples with our wooden blocks. You never know how images of famous works of art and architecture will inspire developing minds!

If interested, you can read more about how art history can benefit small children here.

So, are you ready to snuggle down with your little one and begin our lesson? Oh, and please pin this post for later if it’s nap time.

Art History for Kids Five and Under: Mark Rothko

I invited a few preschoolers over to our house and showed them these paintings (via Internet) by the famous abstract artist, Mark Rothko.

Untitled, Mark Rothko

Untitled, Mark Rothko

No.61 (Rust and Blue), Mark Rothko, 1953

No.61 (Rust and Blue), Mark Rothko, 1953

I asked the following questions:

What colors do you see? What shapes do you see? How many shapes are there? How do you feel when you look at this painting? What do you think the artist felt as he was painting it? If you could have one of these paintings hanging on a wall in your home, which would it be? Why?

If you can only engage your child for a minute or two, don’t fret. It’s important to let their interest build over time. And just like adults, kids will prefer certain genres of art over others. Just think of how much fun it will be to discover which type of art appeals to your child? If you begin to view and discuss art together on a regular basis, your interactions will probably grow each time.

After taking in Rothko’s sublime canvases, the kids were ready to paint. The following supplies awaited them at the table:

– watercolor paper
– washable paints
– egg cartons for palettes
– paint brushes
– artists’ tape
– bowls of water
– paper towels

Here’s what to do:

1) Place artists’ tape along the edges of the paper, and one strip horizontally, creating two rectangles (or one square and one rectangle).

tape off the edges of your paper

2) Have your child choose three colors of paint.

3) The child can now paint the watercolor paper with the different colors, one color for each shape. Some of my little artists wanted to mix the paints, while others were purists. I didn’t interfere.

painting the squares

4) When the two inner shapes are completed, remove the tape so the child can paint the remainder of the paper.

Rothko painting

Here’s what our mini abstract artists created:

Blake, Age 3

Blake, age 3

Abe, Age 3

Abe, age 3

Sophie, age 4

Sophie, age 4

Anders, age 5

Anders, age 5

And there you have it! I hope you and your child enjoy this activity. I’ll be posting a new toddler art history lesson every month so please visit Art History Mom and subscribe so you won’t miss out! You can also find me on Facebook and Pinterest. Hope to see you there. Thanks again Stephanie!

Art History for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Abstract Art Activity

Note: the Mark Rothko paintings in this post are attributed to Wikipaintings. The artworks may be protected by copyright. They are posted on this site in accordance with fair use principles.


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  1. These are great reasons to expose your kids to art even at a young age. And Mark Rothko is a personal favorite if mine; I loved this lesson inspired by his work!


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