Second steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids

Here is the second of the promised posts describing the step by step, week by week progression of art work that built up to the mural. Please note that each weekly session was generally one and a half hours long. This post covers the second and third sessions with a focus on: insects and bugs, birds and frogs.

To read The first steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids, click here.

My Learning objectives.

I rarely tell the children what they are learning in a formal way such as a LO because I like to avoid too much teacher talking time during art. I feel that the more of an art lesson that is spent in right brain activities the better. A formal LO also implies that someone must be successful at it, in order to achieve that LO. This is inappropriate for creative flow and confidence building.  However, I’m always  very clear of pupil learning targets, and often share these with pupils in order to help them improve.  I find it is very important to clearly explain what is required of them and why, as this sets the scene for the lesson.

Learning objectives: Session 1

  1. To use mixed media to create informative sketches of insects and similar creatures.
  2. To understand the difference between information sketches and a finished painting/drawing, and to begin to decide when to use each technique.
  3. To use observation skills to perceive small details and to choose suitable materials to capture that information quickly.
  4. To be able to objectively observe own work and begin to assess the areas that need improvement.
  5. To adapt, change, adjust the areas that need improvement incorporating any advice given by adult.
  6. To begin to use descriptive language to describe a colour in more detail. e.g. olive green, lemon yellow, warm red etc.

Session 1: Drawing insects/bugs from dead specimens-large scale

I contacted our local Natural History Museum and asked if they had any rainforest samples for us to borrow. They were marvelous and provided us with a box of goodies which consisted of: a very long python snake skin, lots of trays of butterflies, a tarantula, a black scorpion, a small monkey skull, a centipede and a couple of beetles. I am ashamed to say that I never actually took any photos of the samples, we were loaned them for a week free of charge.

The lesson began with ‘scribble’ drawings in pen for the first five minutes, to warm up. I then encouraged them to use the insect specimens to create accurate but large scale, sketches on A3 paper using chalks, water colour, charcoal and pen. I demonstrated the technique of drawing with charcoal first (as any inaccuracies could easily be rubbed away), then using chalks to put in some colours and adding water colour paint to other areas.

Here are a few examples I did before the lesson which I pinned up on the white board to  give a clear idea of what I was after. Below is a ‘scribble’ butterfly, done be holding a handwriting pen at the end and without resting your wrist on the paper/table. I then worked over this one with chalks.



The one above is black chalk pastel (over charcoal sketch). Water colour for the orangey brown parts and yellow-white for the spots.


The one above is all chalk pastels over a charcoal sketch.

I noticed that some children did insist on drawing a butterfly from their heads, even though there was the most beautiful butterfly in front of them. These children just needed encouragement to actually look at what they saw and use some proportional measurement techniques to assess how long the legs were, or how fat the body was. Children who were naturally confident with drawing the insects were then asked to look very closely at a leg, or the colour of a wing. Often they would notice a tiny detail/colour that they hadn’t seen before. Here are some of their sketches.


           IMG_1397 IMG_1404 IMG_1405 IMG_1406 IMG_1407 IMG_1408IMG_1230 IMG_1227

Every child had a piece of work good enough to be put up on the wall. Every one engaged with the insects in an amazing way and produced what I would describe as very mature work. ( 9-11 year olds produced this.) I managed to display it in such a way that one person’s success could cover up another person’s less successful area, leaving the especially good bits exposed.

If you have no museum from which to borrow samples then why not book a trip to a natural history museum and make a day of it? Or even a zoo? Alternatively collect creatures from the school gardens, or borrow pets maybe? As a last resort you could work from photos and pictures but there really isn’t anything to be compared with working from real insects.

Session 2: Birds and frogs-from photos (unfortunately)

Unfortunately I was not able to borrow a pet parrot or any live creatures. However I did get my hands on 30 feathers. Fifteen were the large quill feathers from plain birds, the others were those colourful packets of craft feathers that you can buy in craft shops. So we began the lesson by observing and drawing feathers. The children were quite accustomed to the mixed media techniques from the last lesson so I invited them to choose what ever medium and technique they felt they were good at and was appropriate for the feather they were observing. Here are just a few sketches they did.


I reminded the children that birds are covered in feathers ( an obvious point, but actually an important link when drawing birds). We then looked at a quick power point about toucans. I chose toucans because they feature in Tim Viner’s book The Tree and because they are typically inspiring rain forest birds. I then chose a picture, printed out and laminated several resource pictures of toucans and asked the children to begin sketching in charcoal, pen, pencil chalk pastels and water colour (their choice) the toucans.

In all my art lessons I encourage the children to think of ‘mistakes’ in their work as not mistakes but areas that need adjustment. They even use that term now too. It shows them that there is no real thing as a mistake but rather something that just needs a little more work or observation. I strongly encourage the children not to cross out their work but rather to write a little comment about what it is that needs adjusting in that particular sketch. This process allows them an opportunity to: self assess, to show me their improvements in observation, and show their friends that they realize that something isn’t right yet and gives them a chance to correct it. Here are some of their toucan sketches, the first one is a perfect example of a child who is self assessing in a positive way as they draw.

IMG_1242 IMG_1241 IMG_1240

As children began to improve and practice their weak areas on the toucan I then allowed some of them to branch out and try a tree frog. These were entirely independent with no help from me. Others continued to try a toucan on sugar paper with chalk pastels. Here is a display we put together.

IMG_1238 IMG_1239The chalk drawing below is one of my favourite. I love this boy’s sense of colour, the bird looks like an edible sweetie and I just love his comment next to the bird on the right…’needs to go on a diet’.


I hope this post is helpful in giving some ideas about painting and drawing birds. I found that giving clear instructions, demonstrating techniques and reminding the children of skills they learnt in previous lessons worked really well. This lesson set them up fantastically for painting their actual mural which featured a toucan. Do contact me with any questions, comments or if you need any further help with lesson plans.


One thought on “Second steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids

  1. Pingback: Third steps to painting a rainforest mural with kids: Animals | flaircreationsblog

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