Prepping for Your First Art Class with Kinders (yikes!)


I received a question from a reader yesterday asking for advice. She teaches upper elementary and middle school but now will welcome Kinders into art class for an hour each week. Not feeling very comfortable with potential squirminess, she wondered how she might schedule or organize the class so that everything goes smoothly.

First of all, this reader must know how much I love my Kinder classes. Everything about 5 year-olds is really endearing to me. This is partly because my own babies are in high school and college and partly because these little munchkins are someone else’s babies. It’s a circle of life type of thing: caring, creative teachers taught my children and now I get to do the same.

So now that we set the stage, let’s talk about Kinders.

Characteristics of Kinders

  • Have a huge range of fine-motor skills from being able to hold a drawing tool to really not at all
  • Art is a natural form of expression for Kinders but learning techniques is counter-intuitive
  • Girls will love most everything you do and will be prone to offering many hugs
  • Negative self-talk is almost nonexistent at this age, but will solicit approval at an annoying rate.
  • Boys are squirmy and will break out in karate kicks at random moments
  • Love routines and have more stamina than you think

Once you have a couple of years of teaching Kinders under your belt, you will realize that more than any other grade level, Kinders are the most consistent in behavior. Sure, you can have a high-level Kinder art class ( I did two years ago) but mostly the characteristics are the same.

Let’s take a look at each characteristic above and show how you can manage and embrace these traits in class. And then last we will look at different ways to schedule the class.

Fine-motor skills

Both boys and girls will have a huge range of fine-motor skills. Last year I had the sweetest, most adorable kid who on the first day of art class, looked at my bowl of scissors and told me that we shouldn’t be using such dangerous tools in art class. It was pretty clear his mom didn’t allow scissors near her boy (totally fine) so the scissors were a foreign object. No idea how to hold it. No idea what scissors were for. I’m thinking, really?

How would you handle a child not knowing how to use a specific art tool? Would you become frustrated? Rush him through the process? No, you wouldn’t. You’d probably sit next to him and show him some tricks and tips. The idea here is to take it slow with Kinders. Many things will be new to them and the exploration alone is quite fun to watch.

The opposite is also true. Many Kinders, especially since the enrollment age is creeping up, will know how to cut with scissors, how to use a paint brush and will know how to read. These kids have been in amazing pre-schools or maybe even Transitional Kindergarten and will be ready for anything.

My strategy is to teach a lesson with skills based somewhere in the middle. If a child or most of the class doesn’t know how to cut with scissors, teach 2-3 lessons on cutting alone. The low-skills will flourish (and fast) and the high-skills will create amazing pieces.

Never painted with Kinders before? Read this post on Painting with Kinders.

Natural Expression

I think it was my third year of teaching Kinders that I realized that creating art is a natural form of expression for Kinders. They think less and paint from their heart. This is when you can see the differences in paint strokes and textures. You can see how important art is to them by watching closely. I love watching for the tongue that sticks out from pure concentration.

Because of this innate ability to create, Kinders are far more focused than you think. Sometimes you need to let them run with their creativity instead on interjecting how to paint properly or some other technique-driven statement. And for heaven’s sake, please choose fun subjects, bring out the paints and clay, don’t talk forever about an artist whose name they won’t remember and don’t tell them the technical terms of every technique.

It’s your goal to teach from a child’s point of view.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use strong vocabulary, show pictures of artists and talk about techniques, just keep it simple and to the point.


Girls and LOVE

Girls will mostly love everything you do. They sit in front of me and admire my sparkly deck shoes when I’m reading a book. They will tell you how much they love your new haircut and will tackle you with hugs when they see you outside the art room.

They are all love.

So it’s your job to keep the love going. Kinder girls love conversations about their art. They LOVE individual attention and will sometimes go to great lengths to solicit attention. Try very, very hard to be equal and fair with your attention. Girls are extremely astute with attention fairness so you need to be one step ahead of them.

Boys on the other hand are different….

Karate kicks

Boys are not girls. Most do not have the affinity to listen to the teacher talk for long (think of your husband and you will know what I mean). Boys want the instructions and then get on with it. They may rush through the art lesson but you can slow them down by showing them different options or by engaging their imaginations. Boys love quick answers and jokes.

But some boys are sensitive so be careful about the quick answers and jokes.

Some boys will look like they are doing fine and then will break out into a karate kick. My answer to this is to let them. Push the chairs away and let them stand. Sitting for boys can be too restrictive. Girls, on the other hand, like to sit.



Kindergarten teachers do an amazing job of establishing routines for little ones. When they come into my art room, they already know what to do. I think it’s important to become familiar with how a homeroom teacher manages her class because when they  come to you, you will either have to work hard to establish a routine or it might be effortless. In my situation, I hardly have to do a thing.

But here’s what I try to do for Kinders:

  • Begin a fun painted paper lesson on the first day so kids won’t think art class is just another class with rules
  • Teach rules as they come up and not rely on posters (which are fine but I find them distracting)
  • Be relaxed about spills, mess-ups, behavior problems as they all are part of art and school
  • Assess a class after the first couple of weeks of school. Some Kinder classes will be able to do projects of a different scope than others. Don’t feel like you have to do the same lesson with every class, or at least the same subject or technique. Teach for the class, not the grade.
  • Keep clean-up super easy: Paper on rack, supplies in tray, water in sink, stand behind chair/line-up

Art Class Timeline

You may think that one hour is too long for a Kinder art class. While it’s not too long, you can certainly conduct a great art class in 30 minutes. But if you have an hour, you have tons of options:

  • When children come into art class, be prepared to read a story. Here is a BOOK LIST that combines art and literature. Also here is my Pinterest board for Inspiring Book for Kids Art.  Plan to use 15 minutes to read the book, stopping at the illustrations that prompt ideas for the art lesson.
  • While the kids are still sitting on the floor, do a short demo of what project you will do. Give an overview and try to break the project down into at least two steps: drawing and painting, or creating the form and painting, etc. I like having Kinders-second grade sit on the floor while I’m doing the demo as it gives a more personal connection.
  • Children head back to their table to do the first part of the lesson as directed by the particular project.
  • If you have time (which you will with an hours lesson) get children to sit back on the floor for part two of the lesson. Do the demo and have the children proceed to step two.
  • If children finish the project and have some time at the end of class, you can introduce the opportunity to do free-choice drawing in either a sketch book or recycled paper. Children will free-draw FORVER, so it’s a wonderful way to fill in the gap between kids who are done and kids who aren’t.
  • Clean-up, line-up and you’re done!

So now it’s your turn.

How long to you have with your Kinders?

What is their behavior level like?

What does your schedule look like?

Go ahead and add your comments below…



New to teaching art in the classroom? Download my free classroom art teachers toolkit by clicking the yellow box below!

Click here to subscribe

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Carol Wiltse

    I have Kinders for 35 minutes a day. We are now in our third week of school. My philosophy is to take it easy and not try to give them too many new things at once. For example, we spent the first week learning about crayons – the parts and how they are made, how to make lines and how to use them on their side,and then a simple guided drawing with crayon and colored in. Last week I introduced scissors and we spent the week practicing cutting straight lines, curved lines, zigzag lines, and then circles and shapes. Then we made your City at Night project, which is a perfect “Parent Pleaser” project. This week, more cutting and introducing glue. We practice putting little drops of glue around the edge of shapes so that the Glue Monster won’t come. I have timed out Kinders attention span for listening to 13 minutes, but right now, at the beginning of the year, even that is too much.
    I hope this helps those of you who are venturing into this for the first time!

    • ccfails4

      Thank you so much! It’s so refreshing to hear about the attention span. Last year I taught 5th-8th grades and this year K-7th. Our school is a small private school so the max number of students is 10 and the smallest is 4. With that being said my Kindergarten class seems so difficult (crazy right?) But seriously 2 are all over the place, they sit fine for the book, but when the project comes they loose focus within 5 to 8 minutes.

      Patty any suggestions?

  • Gaby Ader

    Wow, thank you so much for all of this Patty. This will be so helpful. I am going to check out the book list right now.

    • Patty Palmer

      You are so welcome. Love minders so this was a fun post to write. Hope it helps.

  • Kim Hyman

    I think it’s important to remember that you have to over prepare for everything; sometimes a lesson will just crash and burn and Kindergarten students need to be engaged All The Time! I make sure to break my class up into short sections to keep the engagement high. You did mention going back to the rug for a 2nd demo/explanation. That is what I mean. I do book, demo, project, I engage personally by students and tables, then clean up and usually some type of formative assessment game or song. Then they are out the door after 45 minutes!! Most of the time it speeds by but if your lesson isn’t solid, it can really drag…..

    • Patty Palmer

      Yup. Totally agree. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kim Hyman

    One more thought…assume nothing. Present information as if there is not prior knowledge until you get a feel for where the group is in experience.

  • Mrs.C

    I love my KInders!!! I teach K-5 art and I always look forward to my Kindergartens! They have a way of always, always putting a smile on my face even on my craziest day! They are hands down my most enthusiastic and eager to learn level! 🙂

  • Sarah

    As a kindergarten teacher, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!! Thank you for writing it. Now I need to find one written by/for a PE teacher, a music teacher, a principal, a counselor……. 🙂

  • Linda

    Great advice! I’m always puzzled about what to do with “free draw” art, if it’s not in a sketchbook/portfolio. Do they take it home? Do they put it in their class box to work on again (they rarely do)? Any ideas?

    • Patty Palmer

      Free draw art for my students, especially younger students, is just the opportunity to take a piece of copy paper and draw what they like. It rarely is a piece worth keeping, but I tell them to put their names on it and their classroom teacher will tell them what to do with it (place in backpack, cubby, etc). I offer them a choice of adding it to the recycle bin which some do.

      • Denise

        Hi Teaching Art K-6 for 17 years. My kinders all have a sketch pad (can be papers stapled together with a cover) and an envelope for storage. They sketch at all different times and date the paper then return it to their envelope for safe keeping in the art room. Periodically we take it out and compare the drawings from beginning of the year to now. I try to have them draw the same picture in the beginning and end of the year without telling them that they drew the picture in the beginning of the year and have them compare and contrast the two pictures at the end of the year. The giggles and amazement on their faces as to the growth is just precious. Even the way they write their name which and only get better is a self-esteem winner.

    • nkerns314@gmail.com

      My kinders love the colored newsprint. I can get this cheap through our district warehouse and I teach them to fold the paper in half to take it home.

  • Margaret

    I agree with this article about Kindergarden! Wonderfully said.
    In addition to free drawing paper or a sheet they can color, I like having 8 oz. modeling clay in zip locks labeled with matching colored duct tape. The boys love this stuff so I try to keep about 10 to 15 clay packs. I put them on what’s known as the “green table”. Sometimes I have a tape dispenser, stapler or glue sticks there for them to experiment with. My Kinder classes love it!

    I just have to keep an eye on stuff…. they tend to grab more than they need sometimes, so I have to give a gentle reminder that “one is enough for anyone.” <3

    Have a good year!


  • Rosie

    Wish I’d read this last year!!! I’m so glad to have found your website. Thanks for all the effort putting it together, I’m excited to spend some time looking around here… and twice as excited to do more volunteer art classes! 😀

  • Nisa

    I just wondering, how many hours you spend in the school, from you go to school till you go home? Is it like office hour from 7am to 4 pm full?

  • Emilia

    What I learned about teaching K is that they need to be busy the entire time and directions need to be clear and simple. And that not all projects are going to work out, but I still teach them. I have 45 min classes so I keep them engage until the last 7 min when they have to clean up and put away their work. This way they are having fun and I get to keep my sanity and avoid chaos. Happy teacher-happy children! There is so much true to this article that I was just going back in time as I was reading it. The first year I taught K and introduced pastels the first thing the boys did was to grab the black pastel and roll it between their little hands and then it was in their shirt, pants, and face…ahhhh…and the girls were crying at the end of class because their hands were dirty…well the rest was a good lesson for me. But once I figured them out it became one of my favorite classes to teach, and I teach k-8th. They all think that I am the greatest artist in the whole world, so I teach, we do our projects, and if at the end they put 5 eyes in their portraits I still give them my blessings. Last year a little girl gave me a lecture about why we shouldn’t use black sharpies (according to her mom they were bad crayons).

  • sayambrita@gmail.com

    I have worked with grade 2 to grade 7 earlier. Tomorrow is my first experience with kinders. After a lot of contemplation I decided to take that age group for the art class I conduct from home. I hope to make a good beginning with them. I am filled with anticipation. I plan to start with the Cat in the Hat activity you had posted.

  • Natalie

    I love this post! I have been teaching adult painting classes but really want to start doing children classes. I do get nervous about losing control of the kids but after helping some in my sons class at school, I realized that art/craft projects usually tend to keep their attention pretty wel but you have to keep it simple and explain up front. I love the creativity at this age and really want to explore it more! Makes me so happy to see children’s art. So I really appreciate this post and all the wonderful information!

    • diana

      hi natalie , please see my comment on “hands up listen up ” rule below , very simple verses a bunch of rules . hopefully you will find that helpful.

  • Michelle Matthiae

    I am so excited to teach art at our co-op this year. I’ll have the kinders-first graders and I’m chomping at the bit for the fall. This will be my first time teaching this many kids and I’m not an “art teacher” by trade. However, I love art and this is my hearts desire. With this blog, and a few others, I feel confident that I can be successful in this new adventure.
    Thank you!

  • Suzanne Morley

    I teach pre kinder through 5th grade. Do you have lists for art books according to grade?

  • Sandip


  • Julia Thomas

    If time allows I have students sit down on carpet with their artwork in the center of circle for a “critique”. Some classrooms have room for this, some don’t. Oh K-2 students love to talk about their art! I encourage them to say something about someone else’s work first. Also, I like to ask students what they would change on their art if they did it again. 5 minute exercise is so worth it!

  • diana

    hi , iam from india and i have been teaching art for 15 years now. Since the indian children loves rules , I begin my classes with one BIG simple rule. ing bombard them with complicaed set of rules never worked .This one BIG particular rule is called ” hands up listen up ” and thats the only rule i probably would say on the first day. When i say Hands up listen up , the kids place both their hands on their head and wait for further instructions. both hands on head automatically means ,no playing with pencils ,scissors , brushes or even continuing to work because their hands are on their heads already ! works wonders !

  • Ann Johnson

    I have 15-20 kinders AFTER SCHOOL–translation–all the behaviors described distilled down to their strung-out, tired essence! Love them! Art is usually happy, calm focused time for us all. I like how you break down the lesson into read a book, interact with the art, give part 1, come back for part 2, free draw when finished. That’s perfect! We only have about 30 min for project time, so I usually break the lesson into two sections (i.e. “Come back Thursday” for Part 2)

  • Kelsey Deems

    Thank you! I’m heading into my first year teaching K-7 Art and I wanna make sure I pay as much attention to my Kinders as my middle schoolers. This was a great help!

Follow Us

In stores 8/21


The {lesson_title} Lesson is Locked inside of the {bundle_title}

Unlocking this lesson will give you access to the entire bundle and use {points} of your available unlocks.

Are you sure?

No Yes

The {bundle_title} is Locked

Accessing this bundle will use {points} of your available unlocks.

Are you sure?

No Yes



The {lesson_title} Lesson is Locked inside of the {bundle_title}

To unlock this lesson, close this box, then click on the “lock” icon.