Enabling Environments

Painting outdoors – What young children learn from it

  • Painting outdoors – What young children learn from it

Getting out of the confines of the classroom and painting outdoors can help children’s creativity flourish. And you can unlock a host of developmental benefits in the process, as Claire Martin explains…

1. Let’s paint!

For children in the early years, the opportunity to be involved in painting activities has a range of benefits. Most obviously it can support their creative development. However, it also helps to build their imagination, and their physical and social skills.

Using paint in combination with a variety of different art materials provides children with wonderfully tactile (and often very messy!) experiences. This in turn helps to stimulate brain development.

Taking such activities outside opens up possibilities that may not be available inside due to space or the mess factor.

2. Choose your canvas

Give children the opportunity to paint on different surfaces. Typically, children paint on a horizontal surface, but providing vertical surfaces, for example, will help to develop their physical skills (strengthening shoulders and elbows and developing core strength) and provide ample opportunity for crossing the midline.

This refers to the ability to perform a task on the opposite side of the body. This plays a role in skills such as writing, dressing and undressing, and reading.

It also enables children to develop their hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness. Children in our setting enjoy painting on our easel as well as on the trees, logs and pavement.

3. Spray bottles

Mixing paint with water in spray bottles is a popular activity in our outdoor classroom. The children love the challenge of squeezing the trigger on the bottle and finding out what colour paint is inside.

The way the paint runs down the paper makes for lots of interesting conversations and the way the colours merge into each other opens up the possibility of exploring colour mixing in more detail too.

4. Hand and feet painting

The sensory experience of painting hands and feet is one that many children enjoy, so placing a large sheet of paper on the floor alongside a tray full of paint and paintbrushes provides an incredibly enticing activity.

As well as resulting in some amazing creations, walking with slippery, painted feet helps children to develop their balance, coordination and core stability, and also encourages them to make connections between their movements and the marks they make.

5. Mops and plungers

The physical challenge that comes with painting with mops and plungers is one that instantly engages children.

Plungers leave a great mark on the paper which they won’t necessarily be able to create using other art tools, whilst mops are a fantastic way to explore colour mixing (and they provide children with a great workout too!).

6 Glorious mud

The mud kitchen is a popular area of our outdoor provision that children love exploring – and mud painting offers them yet another way to explore this wonderful sensory material.

By mixing mud with a little water and food colouring, it makes great paint! The children will not be able to see which colour they are using until they begin painting, which helps to fire their sense of curiosity and wonder.

7. Focus on the process

Whenever you invite children to be creative, remember that your focus should be on the process and the learning that takes place, not the end result or producing 30 identical pieces of art.

Allowing the children to take control and express how they view the world will ensure there is more scope for creativity. Children are individual and unique, and this should be reflected in their artwork.

No brush required

Painting outside opens up the option of painting with alternative tools. Some of our favourites are covered above, but here are five more you might like to try…

  • Rollers
  • Leaves and twigs
  • Toothbrushes
  • Sponges
  • Fly swatters

Claire Martin is an early years teacher at the British International School of Boston. Follow @Clairemartin157.