Pre K Art: Using a Literacy Theme

Pre K Art

I find that Pre K can be one of the most difficult grade levels to teach as a visual arts instructor. It’s hard to know what level of ability you are working with and depending on your community/administrative input, hard to balance the expectations of “projects” with process.


My experience thus far has been with teaching Pre K students who attend half day programs in our school.  There is generally a class of three year olds and a class of four year olds. Our program is mixed levels with some students who are already classified with special needs, others who may be classified in the future and “typical” students.  However in the past I have worked with Preschool Disabilities populations so I can understand the specific challenges of that as well.

Starting the Year 

My advice is to start the year with a project that serves as a basic assessment to see where your starting point is.  I like to begin with a simple project that is not, I admit it, super process oriented but allows me to observe fine motor skills.
pre k apples pic
What I am looking for:
-cutting skills (four year olds only)
-mark-making ability/grip
-taking the lid off the glue stick
-using the glue stick properly
-pinch and grasp (crumpling tissue paper)
-attention/endurance when working on art
From here I can make anecdotal notes on the ability level of the class and better know how I might prepare and modify projects for my youngest students.  If you’re really ambitious you could fill out a rubric on this for each student.  Then evaluate again at the end of the year.

Using Storybooks as Inspiration

Beyond that initial project, I have really enjoyed working with our media specialist and the preschool teacher to develop a theme for the year.  It’s always great to work with co-workers to develop cross curricular projects and I think especially helpful to our smallest artists who are learning to connect to the world around them through all these experiences.  This past school year, we worked with various picture books that when applicable, also tied into the preschool “study” of the moment (our preschool uses Creative Curriculum).
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Here’s how we made it work

The media specialist would read the book in the media center, use cool manipulatives and also show a video of the storybook if available. In art class that week, I would take the students on a book walk to refresh their memory of the story and then introduce our lesson and objectives.
Modifications were necessary to the lessons to accommodate the differences between the three and four year olds.
Below are a list of books we paired with art projects:
If you Give a Mouse a Cookie… by Laura Numeroff (and the rest of the If you give… series)
Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly
Where’s My Mummy? By Carolyn Crimi
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow (along with ...Reading in the Bed, ...Sitting in a Tree,...Wash the Car.  It’s a little series by the same author)
Corderoy  by Don Freeman
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Frog on a Log?  By by Kes Gray and Jim Field
Pete’s Pizza by William Steig
I stink/ I’m Dirty/ I’m Brave  by Kate McMullan and Jim McMullan
The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keates/The Mitten by Jan Brett/Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson(for a Winter theme)
Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist by Lois Ehlert
The Shape of Things by Dayle Ann Dodds and Julie Lacome (for a shape city collage.  Also paired with Paul Klee print)

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We also various seasonal themed books.  So for example, the media specialist and I would agree that we would work on a Spring theme for a couple of weeks or an Autumn theme.  In that case there would certainly be more than one book that was shared with the children in the media center and then a general seasonal project or two would be done in the art room.  

Building a Large Scale Display on a Theme

Another option is to build up an "installation".  I have done jungle installations and under the sea installations for example.  The students work on five or six different projects that are added into the installation. You can consult with your media specialist to find a collection of storybooks along either of these themes.  Oceans and jungles are pretty popular in children's lit!  Whenever possible, have the students participate in the hanging and placement as they find great joy and pride in the display of their work.  In between projects for the installation, I would do something more process oriented.  This helps stretch out my theme, allows me to do still execute process based projects with the students, but still show that we are making a product.
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Have you used any other books with Pre K and really enjoyed the results?  I am constantly discovering great new book and art resources on Pinterest and recently came together with the colleagues in my district to discuss how we can use more art-literacy connections in our Kinder curriculum as we are currently transitioning from twenty five minute classes to forty minute classes.  By the way, you can follow me on Pinterest and specifically my board on picture book art projects.  If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear from you.
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