Home » Teach » Units » Early Childhood Painting

Early Childhood Painting

“Children are developmentally tuned to deliberate exploration of new phenomena… purposeful focusing provides their work with logic and order.” 

-Nancy Smith


Grade Level

3 and 4 Year Olds

Media Theme/Big Idea

The Magic Years: Exploration, Play and Discovery: Essential Components of Art Making


  • Unit & Lessons


Materials and Tools

  • 18”x 24” white paper 80#
  • Red paint in soufflé cup
  • Blue paint in soufflé cup
  • Yellow paint in soufflé cup
  • White paint in soufflé cup
  • 1” brush
  • 1/2″ brush
  • Water in deli cup
  • Sponge
  • Tray


How to support three-four year old students’ learning through art making:

  • Use open ended materials
  • Generate invitations to explore
  • Learn concepts and skills at the same time
  • Work with 3-4 students at a time in the Art Center
  • Each student wants “her own!” Each child should have her own tray with supplies (threes love collections of things: their own paper for collage, tray with paints, etc.); do not ask threes to share art materials in the beginning of year
  • 5-7 minute engagement;
    15-20 minute work time;
    5-7 minute reflection

Unit Structure

Three Part Lesson

Each lesson included in the twenty-week curriculum is conceived of as a weekly exploration. These developmentally appropriate art making experiences are designed to promote hands-on exploration, discovery and experimentation of media through a three part lesson structure. Weekly explorations are process-based and sequential.  Lessons build art making skills and are designed to deepen students’ understanding of the creative possibilities of two- and three-dimensional media.

Lessons are designed to fit into a 45-minute to one- hour period: engagement (7-10 minutes), work time (20-25 minutes) and reflection (7-10 minutes). Each part of the lesson can be led by the classroom teacher or artist instructor (by the end of the year, students might lead parts of the lesson!).

Engagement: Invitation to Explore is the first part of the three part lesson and is designed for whole class’s participation. During engagement, the artist instructor or teacher introduces the day’s media and generates excitement about it. Engagement is inquiry-based and should be as participatory as possible. Engagement is the time to pique the students’ curiosity about the medium: what it is, what tools we use to work with it, and what we can do with it. Engagement is an ideal setting for asking open ended questions, making predictions, building common vocabulary and encouraging curious students to explore. During engagement, students gain knowledge of various media that leads to an understanding of the possibilities inherent in the materials.

Work Time is the core of the lesson. Students are invited to explore the medium. Work time promotes experimentation with and exploration and discovery of the materials at hand as well as skill building. Work time focuses on process, not product, supporting self-expression, creativity, experimentation and validation of each student’s art work. Work time should involve small group instruction and take place during center time. Small groups should not exceed four students!

Reflection provides an opportunity for students to share their art works with each other in a whole group setting through a question (or questions) that reflect the engagement part of the lesson. The question(s) sparks a conversation about the students’ art works. Questions ideally prompt whole class conversations. Reflection builds common vocabulary, highlights discoveries made about materials, and nurtures an appreciation for artwork. It also provides an opportunity to encourage students’ voices while validating their hard work and individual creativity.

The three part lesson outlined above provides the framework for a positive and productive art making experience.


Studio NYC Team 
Julie Applebaum, Senior Director 
Andrea Burgay, Associate Director 
Hasna Muhammad, Ed.D., Chair, Board of Directors, Studio in a School Association 
Alison Scott-Williams, President, Studio in a School NYC 

Copyright © 2023 Studio in a School NYC LLC