Expressive arts and design – Brushstrokes


The area of ​​expressive arts and design learning and development has links to many other parts of the revised EYFS, explains Penny Tassoni.

There is nothing more joyful than watching a young child use a paintbrush with abandon. Circular movements and strong lines appear with a meaning sometimes attributed to the action. Interest in using paint and other media to make representations begins early and, for some children, becomes a lifelong interest. In addition to the sheer pleasure of exploring, children can reap many other benefits from studying painting, drawing, and creating 2D representations.

While experimentation with color, form and function is a key element in the field of expressive arts and design learning and development, there are links to many areas of learning and development. within the revised EYFS.


Painting, drawing and collage can be relaxing for children while providing an opportunity to express themselves and release strong emotions. Children also develop feelings of pride when they create their individual representations.


Children often chat and sometimes talk about what they are doing as they paint, draw and make collages. Adults can also draw children’s attention to specific vocabulary.


Fine and gross motor skills are developed when children touch and use materials. Paint and other materials such as glue can also promote sensory processing in children.


There are also links to the development of literacy. These include how creating early marks using paint and other mediums is the first step in early writing. In addition, children’s storytelling of their performances is often linked to storytelling.


Children’s spatial awareness and interest in shapes and patterns are also linked to their overall mathematical development.


Color, shape and form are all around us, in nature and also as part of cultural identity and heritage. There are of course opportunities to draw children’s attention to these.


Babies and toddlers are free spirits when it comes to creating lines, spots, and survey tools. They are generally happy to dip their hands in or use stabbing actions to produce spots of color. It is an exploratory stage where movement and texture are more important than color, shape or form. This is because some children may use markers on their fingers rather than their hands. This is not a stage where one should focus on producing a final product.


At this point, the role of the adult is to enjoy watching how babies and toddlers interact with a range of media. It is likely that you will notice individual differences between children with some babies and toddlers showing caution or an active aversion to the feel of certain materials such as paint or gloop. These children are likely to need more time and a range of experiences so that the sensory receptors in their hands are less acute.

In addition to observing babies and toddlers, adults should join them as well. Being alongside a baby and toddler as they experiment with a range of markers, chalks or paints allows the adult to make simple comments and also respond to their emerging language.


When looking for resources, make sure they are washable and suitable for babies and toddlers. It’s worth having a mix of “messy” materials that will require more time and preparation, as well as resources that are quick and easy to set up. Here are some suggestions, although this list is not exhaustive:

  • Large markers.
  • Large chalks.
  • Thick pencils that mark easily.
  • Paint sticks.
  • Ready-to-use paint.
  • Sponges.
  • An assortment of short-handled paintbrushes; for example, pastry brushes.
  • Aquadoodle or homemade rugs using paint in zippered bags.
  • Colored gloop spread thinly on a platter.


A good tip when providing paint for babies and toddlers is to plan very carefully. The goal is to provide a wide range of opportunities to explore color, tools and materials without adults becoming too directive due to stress. Why not:

  • consider painting outside
  • choose times when babies and toddlers are not tired or hungry and the adult-child ratio is favorable
  • aim to create permanent paint areas where the floor and / or wall is protected
  • look for aprons or even all-in-one raincoats to protect clothing if it is not possible to strip down to layers
  • minimize the amount of paint in a container. Recharge as you go
  • make sure all paints are washable
  • have plenty of mops, rags and wipes available
  • think about where you will store and dry the artwork afterwards
  • Expect the cleanup to take longer than the activity. Use it as a full-fledged learning opportunity for babies and toddlers.


From the age of two, kids are really on the ball when it comes to using chalk, pens, markers and other materials. The need to explore is always present, but once children become familiar with certain materials, they show increasing intention, with children often stating what they are about to represent.

Increased coordination and growing awareness of their world means that many children are starting to produce more recognizable images. That said, a recognizable dog can suddenly disappear under paint strokes because the child wants to represent the rain! This is because children this age approach the drawing as if it were “real action” rather than a fixed point in time.


There are many ways that adults can help children explore color, shape, and develop growing skills and interest in drawing and painting:

  • Create a culture focused on the process and not on the end product; for example by avoiding too many “one-off activities”.
  • Arrange a child’s painting or drawing on a collage table so they can revisit and enrich it.
  • Display child labor with an account of how it was created.
  • Model of use of tools and resources; for example, point with a sponge or choose a thin brush to draw a thin line.
  • Draw the children’s attention to the color nuances and show how the colors blend together.
  • Give the children enough time to complete their projects.
  • Invite artists to work with children or talk about their work.
  • Draw the children’s attention to the illustrations in the books.


When it comes to resources, it is the difference that counts rather than the quantity. Painting is the exception, however, when only primary colors, black and a lot of white paint are needed.

  • Different shades and sizes of pencils, oil pastels, markers and chalks.
  • Charcoal and a fixing product.
  • A wide range of materials for gluing, including haberdashery.
  • Small, shallow platters that kids can hold while they paint (like an artist’s wooden palette).
  • An assortment of brushes and rollers.
  • A wide range of everyday objects that can be used for printing.
  • Large rolls of paper.
  • A few sheets of colored paper and cardboard.


One way to encourage children to explore large-scale painting and drawing is to create a wall dedicated to painting, drawing, and marking in general. This approach has many advantages. Firstly, children can have a larger workspace and they can also hang out with each other, which helps them learn from each other. There are also practical advantages. The paintings can be left to dry on the wall and they form a stand in their own right.

  • Protect the wall with a wide strip of plastic held in place with duct tape or staples.
  • Create an attractive border so kids know where they can paint.
  • Put the paper. Draw vertical lines if necessary to indicate the individual spaces to be painted.
  • Set up a coffee table under the wall for resources, such as drawing – pencils, charcoal, chalk, and markers.


While young children are often ready to take the plunge, older children are less satisfied with their performances. This may cause some children to ask adults to draw something for them rather than attempting their own representations. In order to maintain trust, it is believed that adults should avoid using language like “this is really good”, but rather talk about the process; for example, “sounds like fun to do”. It is also believed that overuse of coloring sheets and models can also cause problems as children are presented with stylized images that they are unable to independently reproduce.

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