Crystal Bridges is open Wed. through Mon. Reserve your free, timed tickets.

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Crystal Bridges is open Wed. through Mon. Reserve your free, timed tickets.

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Learn More >
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Little ones learn skills, have fun in CB program

A man ni a ball cap draws with a small child.

Photo by Marc F. Henning

Artmaking is a fun and effective way to help small children—ages 1 1/2 to 5—practice some important skills such as fine motor control and shape and color identification. Two monthly programs at Crystal Bridges, Tots & Tales, for kids ages 1 1/2 to 3; and Mini Masters, for 4- to 5-year-olds, are geared with just those skills in mind. Both classes are designed for parents or caregivers to experience along with their child. Both programs offer creative play, storytime, an artmaking activity and a “close looking” activity in the museum galleries, all centered around a theme such as “messy” or “shapes.”


A good example of the programs’ gallery activities is a scavenger hunt created for the Tots & Tales class.  Instead of looking for specific artworks, children are given a physical shape: a paper square or circle, for instance, and are asked to explore the gallery to find a shape that matches. “We also try to simulate the color or texture of the art object they’re looking for,” explains Museum Educator Chloe Fennell. “The square might be a blue square, for instance, which matches with Carmen Herrera’s square-shaped painting, Cerulean.  The circle may be cut from translucent red plastic to simulate Fred Eversley’s Big Red Lens. This is something kids are naturally learning to do at this stage: to match a visual representation of an object to the object itself.”


Carmen Herrera (Cuban, born 1915) Cerulean, 1965 Acrylic on canvas Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

Carmen Herrera (Cuban, born 1915)
Cerulean, 1965
Acrylic on canvas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas


Gallery time also includes a story, followed by sensory playtime, which allows for exploration of materials in the studio.


“We have lots of materials to explore here,” said Fennell. “We put out wooden blocks, etch-a-sketches, fabrics in different textures, buttons…all of these are wonderful for children to handle, sort, and experiment with. Play is really just experimentation and exploration. They might learn that square blocks can be stacked up, for instance, but round pompoms can’t. It’s all about learning through play.”


After playtime, the real fun begins. Children (and adults!) get to create their own work of art using some of the materials they’ve explored, as well as tempera paint sticks, glue, crayons, and more.


A father smiles as his small child draws with a pencil beside him

Photo by Marc F. Henning

“It’s fun for the grown-ups and the little ones,” Fennell said. “And it also helps kids begin to learn some of the things they will be doing in school: using glue, for example, or holding a pencil. We also have some adaptive devices to make it a little easier for them, like scissors that spring open on their own, so little hands don’t have to open and close them, and pencil grippers to make those skinny pencils easier to hold on to.”


All the activities are appropriate for the children’s ages and stage of development. Lowenfeld’s Stages of Artistic Development* is a metric that helps art teachers create age-appropriate activities for their students, and it can help parents understand their child’s development, as well. Victor Lowenfeld described what he saw as six stages of artistic development in his 1947 book Creative and Mental Growth. In making art together, parents can see the stages at work.


Ages 1 to 3 are in the “Scribble Stage,” which is just what it sounds like. It’s all about the pleasure of making marks and experimenting. Later in this stage, children may attach a story to the scribbles.

Ages 4 to 5 are “Preschematic,” meaning that they begin to see connections between the shapes they can draw and the world around them.  They begin to make “circle and stick” drawings to represent people.

Ages 5 to 6 progress to the “Schematic” stage. They have assigned shapes to certain objects (a house is a square, people may be made up of rectangles and circles or triangles), and have developed a sort of framework for their drawings:  the sky is represented by a blue strip at the top, and the ground by a green strip at the bottom.


But just as important as all that developmental stuff is the chance for parents to focus on their child, share an activity, and be creative together.


A man holds a small child and points at a work of art in the foreground, which they are both looking at


“Best of all,” Fennell says, “we provide all the materials and we deal with the mess!  No worries about getting paint on the dining room table or glue on the carpet!”

Enrollment is open now for the upcoming sessions of Tots & Tales and Mini Masters.  Register today and get in on the fun!
*You can read the full text of Lowenfeld’s Creative and Mental Growth online here.





Linda DeBerry
Senior Copy Editor / Publications Manager

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