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Open-Ended Art Ideas for Parents


Here are a few suggestions to get you started as you begin to explore more open ended art projects with children. A few of these also carry some amount of structure which is some cases can be helpful depending on the amount of children you have or developmental level.

A few general tips when considering these activities:

*Much of the work is in the set up. With open ended art the adult usually spends more time setting up the materials in an inviting and intentional way and less time guiding the child through the activity. A successful setup will result in the adult having time to sit back and simply observe the children play and create. Pretty much my favorite part of any project with children is when I get to sit back and enjoy them as they enjoy the materials I have gathered and put out.

*keys to a successful set up:

- An Individual work station or tray is great for potential messes while also providing the child with a sense of ownership over the space for the time they are using it.

- Putting out a minimal amount of materials at a time and adding more as they are used up. It's surprising how much a little goes a long way!

- Categorizing materials into logical groups, such as by color or shape or material. This makes it easier for children to find and put back materials on their own with minimal support from adults.

* It's helps to provide structure around the mess, as “the mess” is a key element in open ended art. The mess is like another child in the room with its own needs and occasional behavior challenges. Like a child, we must embrace the mess and provide a space for it to thrive, be healthy and grow. But we don't want the mess to take over the house and get in the way everyone else's ability to enjoy the space. So we provide it with tools for success, and we consider ways that it can still be its messy self while also remaining manageable.

Examples: using wipeable table cloths, or butcher paper on the table (which can sometimes be re-used as wrapping paper or collage materials if the right kind of mess ends up on it!), considering sizes of paint brushes and amount of paint that is out at a time, baskets or tiny containers for scraps and collage materials, trays with rim around the edge for liquid spills, have wipes or a yogurt container of pre-wet cloths handy for quick clean ups and messy hands as they leave the art area.

List of Activities and project ideas:

Liquid Water Color

Can be found at Discount School Supply ( Use with tiny cups and dilute with water, I use trays of 6-8 tiny cups to provide a full rainbow of colors while also small enough to keep mess to a minimum. Also found at Discount School Supply.

*On water color paper: water color brushes (are usually smaller and thinner than regular paint brushes) or try a variety of brush sizes in one activity for children to experiment. Keep in mind, larger brushes with water color creates larger messes.

*On large or varying sizes of coffee filters: use with eye droppers, children drop color on the filter to create a cool tie dye effect. You can also cut shapes out of the extra large coffee filters (I have even found pre-cut leaves and flowers at discount school supply.)

Tip: you will definitely want trays for this one-expect some children to end up

with large beautiful puddles of rainbow colors at the center of the coffee filter.)


Great way to introduce new materials for exploration and provide elements of nature as well as showcase a variety of themes. You can collage with just about anything if you have the right base and type of adhesive. I love a basic nature collage and kids love it too.

*Put out small baskets by color or categorize materials by type of item

*Use card stock or cake board rounds as a base. Construction paper can work too.

*Variations on Collage Activities:

-Focus on texture: feathers, puff balls, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, different types of fabric, beads

-Focus on nature: leaves, twigs, flowers, moss, seeds, different types of soil, sand

-Focus on color: using either a variety of 2D and 3D materials or simple abstract cuts of colored paper and tissue paper. Display paper scraps categorized by color.

- Use different types of attaching material such as variety of child safe glues, Scotch tape, Masking tape, Colored tape


When all else fails-let them paint!

*Fun ways to get creative with paint:

-Use household items as brushes: Whisk, BBQ Brush, Chopsticks, etc..

-Finger paint = instant child fun and endless amount of entertainment! It's the best combination of 2 child development values: sensory input and creative expression.

-Finger paint on bubble wrap: Press blank paper onto the painted bubble wrap to

finish the piece, makes a cool bubble textured painting.

-Display paint in Rainbow colors-be sure to include Black and white for shading and lighting technique exploration!

-Only use primary colors with the intention that children will mix colors to hopefully create new ones and discover the color wheel through free exploration of the materials. It helps to provide a palate for this to invite children to mix paints.

-Using Tree branches w/leafy ends as paint brushes (redwood and pine are great for this)


Start with round cake bases, or cut cardboard into circle shapes. Sprinkle seeds, tiny beads or Colored sand over glue that the child gets to apply themselves.- this part is important to this activity being true to opened ended art. Yes, it will get messy!

Here are some tips to support and also contain the mess:

- use tiny glue bottles, start with less than half of the bottle per child. They should be able to use all of this amount without tearing a hole in the paper if it ends up in one big pile-which also may happen.

- Try it with glue sticks and light weight materials: very fine soil and sand work. great

- Variation to provide a bit more structure: try drawing symmetrical lines on the cardboard rounds for the child to work on following with the glue. They can choose to follow or not, older children will enjoy the fine motor and hand eye coordination challenge. Younger children may attempt it but may also ignore the lines and that's ok too.

- Again, use minimal amount of supplies to start and add more as needed.

For more great ideas you can google search:

Open Ended Art Ideas for (insert age group) or Process Art or you can search for any Reggio Emilia Art Activites. And you will find tons of pictures, articles and lists of ideas.

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