we help adults teach art to kids

Easy Sailboat Project for First Grade

Here is another quick and beautiful art lesson for early elementary children. I came across a souvenir sailboat that I purchased one summer thinking that it would make a great visual for an art lesson. Three years later, I finally put it to use.
I did this project in one 60-minute art session but you could easily do it in two.

Step One: Cutting out the Sailboat

I began with cutting out the sailboat in patterned paper (scrapbook paper). At this point in the year, the children know what a trapezoid is, so I showed them how to take a rectangle and then cut away the ends to make a trapezoid. This becomes the hull of the boat.

Next, demonstrate how to cut two sails with one bigger than the other. If the kids cut their sails too small, encourage them to keep them. They just started another boat!
I encouraged the kids to make at least one large sailboat but two are fine. If one is smaller; even better. This gives you the opportunity to demonstrate perspective (large sailboat close to the bottom of the page, small sailboat towards the top).

Step Two: Painting the Sunset and Ocean

Time to get out the paint palettes and brushes. I use reddish orange and yellow plus blue, green and purple tempera paint. Start with the yellow paint and brush a line across the middle of the paper. This becomes the horizon line. Mixing a bit of yellow paint with the red, blend the colors directly onto the paper. Encourage long, sweeping strokes.

Next, apply blue paint mixed with either green or purple to the paper. It’s important to paint the ocean last so it’ll still be wet when the kids add texture.
I use a craft scraper to create the waves but plastic forks work equally as well. make sure not to wait too long before scraping the paint and just as important, try to encourage the kids not to dump on the paint! Or you’ll have a real mess!

The artwork is from Mrs. Hetrick’s first grade class at Brandon School


  1. this is really precious! I love doing collages w/ the kiddos, they always turn out so well…

    Lindsay and Willis

    June 17, 2009

  2. I LOVE this project!! I love color, pattern, and collage, and can't wait to try it with my first graders next year. The scrapbook paper is a great idea!!

    Clare Wilkinson

    June 18, 2009

  3. Love the texture of the water! I'll be trying this one soon!


    June 18, 2009

  4. Wow, I love this! Totally my kind of project. I'll be linking.


    June 18, 2009

  5. Thanks everyone! I too love this project. Need to get my own child to do it so I can frame one!

    Patty P

    June 18, 2009

  6. Thank you so much for all your fantastic projects! I began homeschooling my twin first graders this summer and was a little panicky when I thought about art class since I never took any myself. Keep up the good work! My kids are so excited to replicate what I have shown them on your blog and I'm excited to be able to teach my kids great projects! Hope you have a great summer break.


    July 2, 2009

  7. Hi Twinmomwv! Never panic about art. When in doubt, put some paint, a brush and a piece of paper in front of your kids and let them go at it. It's just exploration at this stage, afterall!
    Have fun and get messy!

    Patty P

    July 2, 2009

  8. Love your site. Have done 2 projects already. Thanks!!

    Maya Rao

    July 24, 2009

  9. Fantastic kid pleasing project! I slightly modified it for my kindergarteners by doing the background on day one (40 min)and focusing on warm colored sky and cool colored ocean. Day two (40 min), I put out cardboard templates of triangles and trapezoids along with tons of scrap collage paper. With a demonstration on how to use the templates, they were able to do 2-3 boats in perspective and loved it! Thank you!!!!


    March 25, 2010

  10. Hi Patti,
    Do I sound pedantic if I let you know the hull shape is a trapezium not a trapezoid. The latter has no parallel sides ,the former has two.


    November 11, 2013

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