Learning and Development

Expressive arts EYFS activities – 10 easy and colourful ideas

  • Expressive arts EYFS activities – 10 easy and colourful ideas

Karen Hart presents a kaleidoscope of expressive arts-based activities that will introduce children to skills across the areas of learning…

Expressive arts and early years settings have long gone hand-in-hand. This area of learning is important in its own right. It’s an aspect of life that needs exploring solely for the purpose of creating – an outlet for imagination, thoughts and ideas.

But the additional benefits of participating in expressive arts activities reach into all areas of the EYFS, in a number of ways. For example, they…

● build on mathematical/perceptual skills – considering shapes, sizes, perspective

● teach colour skills – colour names, blends, shades, and light and dark, etc

● develop language/social skills such as sharing, cooperating with others to produce group art, assuming responsibility for tasks such as clearing up, and recognising one’s place and importance as an individual with personal preferences, and those of others

● involve the use of multiple science skills – liquids drying and used to thin other liquids, solids dissolving, and the changing states of products, etc

● build strong problem-solving abilities, for example, “How can I fix these two pieces of card together?”

● develop good fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination through, for example, cutting, gluing and the mastering of tools

● provide joy in being creative and a sense of personal success and achievement (not on the curriculum as such, but most important of all!)

Here are a variety of expressive arts activities that will encourage all of these skills and experiences, all based around the theme of colours…

Crepe paper painting

This is one of my favourite craft activities – both simple and beautiful.

It’s great for introducing colour mixing and colour recognition skills, and for developing hand-eye coordination and those small motor movements, such as the pincer grasp.

Before you start, show children a picture of the famous collage work ‘The Snail’ by Henri Matisse. The big, colourful, simple shapes created in this activity give a very similar effect.

You will need:

● Crepe paper in bright colours – old Christmas streamers are great

● Water in spray bottles – paint brushes and some pipette-style droppers are also good if available

● Little trays for water

● White paper

First, tear the paper into little pieces. Once you have a good collection of colours, spray the paper with water until it’s nice and damp.

Lay the crepe paper onto white paper, overlapping pieces to blend and make new colours. Once the paper has dried, peel the crepe paper away to create a beautiful, rainbow-coloured work of art.

Other ideas:
Try arranging your coloured paper on dry paper before spraying it with water. Younger children might like to try using pipettes for a bit of extra fun.

You could also make simple collage pictures such as a house, boat or flower, by cutting out the shapes needed and using a paintbrush and water to fix sections into place.

Try drawing a big outline of a simple shape such as a heart or flower, and have children fill in the shape with sections of crepe paper, trying to stay within the shape as much as possible. Once pictures are dry, try cutting into large, simple shapes, eg butterfly, heart or cat, and mounting onto white paper or paper card for a very effective result.

Rainbow cookies

These easy-to-make cookies look and taste great. Cooking activities are ideal for early years as they allow children to actively participate in an activity they usually only observe, giving them a sense of control and accomplishment. Cooking can also help:

● build social skills

● inspire creativity and imagination

● build fine motor skills, eg through whisking, rolling, cutting, pouring and holding spoons

● build conversation and language skills

● introduce/reinforce many areas of learning, eg colours, shapes, reading and number skills, and many areas of science such as how properties can change with temperature


● 350g/12oz plain flour

● 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

● 1 tsp baking powder

● 250g/9oz butter softened

● 300g/10oz caster sugar

● 1 egg, beaten

● 1 tsp vanilla extract

● 4 tubes Smarties

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, then gradually stir the dry ingredients into the mix to form a stiff dough.

Roll the dough into 20 balls and place on an un-greased baking tray. Space the balls well apart as they will spread out.

Now the fun bit – press several Smarties into each ball, flattening them slightly as you go. Bake for 15 minutes until a pale golden brown colour. Leave the cookies to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Shaving-foam marbling

Children always love an activity that involves using something a bit unexpected – and what better than shaving foam? You can use the finished results to make special occasion cards, door hangers, book marks – anything you like!

You will need:

● Aerosol cans of shaving foam

● Various bright food colours

● A tray

● Ruler for spreading

● White paper or paper card.

Spray enough shaving foam into your tray to give a layer approximately ¼-inch thick and slightly larger than your paper, using your ruler to create a smooth, even surface.

Add small drops of each colour to the foam and, using an old pencil, draw lines and swirls through the coloured areas. Try not to over-work the patterns as simple patterns and squiggles look best.

Carefully lay paper on top of the foam, pressing gently to create a print, and leave in place for a couple of seconds. Peel the paper away from the foam and put it aside to dry, running the ruler carefully over the picture to remove excess foam.

Sand paper drawing

These are so simple to create, but give great results.

You will need:

● Sheets of fine sand paper

● Coloured chalks and crayons.

Use sand paper as you would ordinary drawing paper. The course texture of sandpaper grips the chalk or wax crayon really well, producing strong and vibrant colours, quite different from that which is usually produced.

Try drawing a rainbow, butterfly or something similarly colourful.

Wax crayon resist painting

This seems like magic to children, so it’s always a winner!

You will need:

● Coloured wax crayons

● White paper

● Watercolour paint.

Draw a colourful pattern using wax crayons, then paint over the entire picture with watercolour paint – it’s best not to make the paint too watery.

The wax crayons resist the paint and give a lovely effect. For some real magic painting, you can try drawing a simple picture with a white wax candle. Your picture will only reveal itself once you have painted over the paper with watercolour paint

Cardboard tube owls

These are very simple to make, which makes them perfect for encouraging creativity in young children. All their efforts can go into decorating their work as imaginatively as possible.

There are lots of decorating suggestions here; try some and then add your own…

You will need:

● Cardboard tubes

● Googly eyes

● Colouring pens

● Decorating materials of your choice

● Paper glue

Simply push the top of your cardboard tube down in the middle to give the effect of two little owl ears. Fix a couple of googly eyes to your owl, draw or attach a little beak and that’s it! Now the fun, decorating bit:

Pre-cut lots of feathers from coloured paper or glossy magazine pages. Alternatively, use plain printed newspaper, which gives a surprisingly realistic, feathery effect.

● Try cutting lacy wings from paper doilies

● Make big, owl-like eyes by sticking googly eyes onto circles of paper before fixing them to the tube

● Display by fixing hanging loops to the top of the owls and hanging them from bundles of twigs placed in containers

● Snip round the bottom to give a feathery effect. Cut wings into the bodies. Wrap fluffy wool round the owls’ bodies to look like feathers.

● Get the collage box out and let children use their imaginations.

● Have a competition to see who can use the most colours in their decoration.

Quick and easy

Four more ideas to try…

Still-life drawing
Don’t think early years children are too young for observational drawing. It’s fascinating to see the little things they pick up on.

Often young children will home in on specific aspects of a subject and concentrate their efforts on those alone – a little bug on the leaf of a plant, for example.

Try bringing some leaves, twigs and wild flowers into your setting for children to draw.

Rainbow pictures
This is a great activity to use on a casual basis when sitting with a group of children at a drawing table. Just fold a sheet of A4 paper in half, and help children colour all over one section of the paper using coloured wax crayons – the thicker the better.

Next, fold the paper in half with the coloured section inside and using a pencil or pen, draw a picture on the outside of the folded paper, pressing quite hard. Open your paper up again to reveal a rainbow-coloured copy of your original picture

Fingerprint bugs
Try making pictures with finger and thumb prints. Use a paint-covered sponge in a dish for applying paint and invite children to each make a sheet of coloured prints.

Once dry, show the children how to add little legs, faces and feelers etc with felt-tipped pens, to create little bug pictures.

Use the same method to make lots of other simple creatures. Move on to use hand prints, and, if you feel brave enough, feet prints.

Free-style printing
Supply a large selection of plastic toys and other suitable objects, such as cardboard tubes, building bricks, scraps of bubble wrap, and anything that can go in the sink for a wash or be thrown away, and provide some paint.

Paint-covered sponges in little pots are ideal as children can dab objects on top, transfer to paper and make a print.

Don’t worry too much about supplying objects that will be good for printing, as the fun is in trying lots of things, painting them and seeing what marks they make. Let the children pick suitable extra bits and pieces to try from your setting too. Give it a try – children love it!

Karen Hart is a freelance writer and reviewer, a teacher of speech and drama education (LSDE) and a qualified preschool practitioner.