When in Rome do as ‘ The Rotten Romans’

Roman mosaic border


Bring ‘The Romans’ to Life

Here are some good ideas for covering the topic of ‘The Romans’ with children, including making Roman weaponry, mosaic designs, storytelling, a class assembly, making props and displays.

Roman Mosaic Designs
I visited a Year Three class in Barton, Oxford and taught the children how to draw Roman style dolphins.
We looked at an image of Roman dolphins and I told a story about the handsome Neptune riding a sea chariot drawn by sea horses and winged cupid astride dolphins riding the frothy waves. Find a story to tell here.
Below is a drawing I did in chalks to show the children how to design a mosaic and to give them a visual idea of what I was asking them to create.
Roman mosaic design
The children began by hand drawing a border on their piece of black paper, I then showed them step-by-step, how to draw a Roman dolphin in white chalk.  I invited them to complete their design showing the idea of the tesserae by drawing little shapes for the background. They then embellished their border if they had time.
(Unfortunately the children were not able to finish their artwork with me due to time constraints and I do not have photos of their completed work.)
How to draw a Roman dolphin-step by step
Roman dolphinHere is a step by step version of what I took them through. Try it for yourself first. Children don’t need to know what part they are drawing. All they need to hear is your descriptions and copy you.
Describe the lines you draw like saying ‘now draw a gently curved line going up’ Etc.
Make sounds with your voice as you draw, the children will copy you and this helps them ‘feel’ what they are doing. It works!!! If my pencil goes up, then my voice goes up too. Try it!
TIP: Use your voice to describe the movement. or say ’round’ in a curvy way.

RD10 RD11 RD12
 Remember, everyone’s will be unique and that is good!
Roman Dolphin
The picture below was one I had on show for children to get ideas of Roman border designs, they also had access to reference books on Roman mosaics and images on the internet.Roman borders Storytelling
Every week, in two year three classes I spent half an hour storytelling Roman myths to the children. I was amazed at the way the stories really captured their imaginations and created many links and connections for them.
The myth of Pegasus’s birth is a fascinating one and involves the much loved yet feared character of Medusa (his mother).(Watch the story here-check before you show children)medusa mosaic design
The tale of poor Echo
The children’s response to the story of the unfortunate nymph Echo was amazing to see. Echo who was admired by Jupiter (king of the gods), is cursed by his jealous wife Juno (queen of the Gods) to never speak again but merely echo the sounds she hears around her. Echo falls in love with Narcissus who shuns her advances and chooses to wither away his life uselessly in love with his own reflection. Poor Echo then spurns the advances of amorous Pan the half goat half man (god of shepherding & music) and is shattered into a thousand pieces across the world where she remains to this day.
A well-chosen story
Children often came to me saying that they heard Echo under a bridge on the way home, or that they heard her in their hall at home. One child even asked how come Echo was in the school toilets. The right story can get children thinking and learning beyond the classroom and this is the most exciting kind of learning.

Class Assembly on the ‘Rotten Romans’
You may be wondering what on earth this clever recycled camera has to do with the Romans. Well, the Yr Three class I was with in Littlemore decided to do their own news round assembly of the facts they learnt about the Romans and it all began with one of the children shouting ‘Action’ and pretending to film it using this camera. IMG_1447 IMG_1446
Rat Sandwich anyone?
One of the children discovered during an internet research lession that Romans liked eating rat sandwiches. This was of great fascination to them and so we decided to make our own rat sandwich using painted sponges and pipe cleaners for the curly tails.
IMG_1444 IMG_1466Another child discovered that some Romans drank blood, so we died tissues red with food colouring and put it in a plastic cup to use in our news round assembly and on our class display.
IMG_1467Fearsome Fighters
We made Roman helmets, shields, swords out of cardboard boxes, paint, tissue paper and foil. We used these in our class assembly to act out a fight between a gladiator and a Roman soldier, our audience gave the thumbs down and the gladiator was slain at the Emperor’s bidding!
IMG_1454 Roman classroom display IMG_1448 IMG_1453 IMG_1443 Two wire hooks on the back of the shields for the handle.IMG_1442My favourite are the gladiator sandals!!!
Made from 100% cardboard and a few well placed staples.
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All those props made a super cool display!
Along with our non chronological reports, Roman key words, facts that the children discovered and wrote, pictures and dates.
IMG_1468 IMG_1469 IMG_1464 Roman classroom display
The children ended their class assembly with the Boudica rap from Horrible Histories. We made Boudicca head bands and the three Boudiccas wore cloth capes. All in all both classes thoroughly enjoyed the Rotten Roman topic and the creative activities, storytelling and class assembly really brought the whole topic to life.

Christmas Peg Dolls

A quick post showing a few ideas for making peg dolls. IMG_1456

This is a lovely activity to do with children, and the more adult support you have then the better the peg dolls look. The children I’ve been working with made some Christmas themed peg dolls using old fabric scraps, lots of imagination and some adult help with preparing resources. They were hoping to make the dolls to sell at the school Christmas fair.

Brain Wave: One of the teachers also had the fantastic idea of making up packs of peg doll parts so that other children could buy them and make their own at home.

Choir of angels

The angel was the most tricky to make with it’ s lace wings, under garment made of wrapped piece of cream rectangular fabric held in place with a rubber band ‘belt’. The wings and wool hair were attached with copydex, but a glue gun would have worked too.

The golden cape was a thin rectangular piece of shiny fabric, which I glued onto the chest, the pipe cleaner arms were wrapped around the neck like a scarf and then modeled into place. The paper book was first decorated and then glued to the arms with copy dex, the sequins were glued onto the skirt. Varnish face before using pen for features.


‘Gold I bring…’

One of the three kings: the crown is made of silver paper, arms of black pipe cleaner, black string to hang him up and gold ribbon for the belt. The over coat is cut from one strip of fabric with a hole in the middle to fit over the head, this covers a rectangular piece of fabric wrapped around the peg (like an under garment) and held in place with a rubber band. The only glue needed was to attach the crown to the head and the present to the arms-prit stick works.



To get a darker complexion for the shepherd you need to varnish the face/head first. Then use brown felt tip all over and put hair and features on with fine permanent black marker.

He had pipe cleaners for the arms and half a one for the shepherd’s hook. His cloak was one strip of fabric with a hole in the middle rather like the kings-just in more shepherd-like colours. He also had an undergarment held in place with a rubber band ‘belt’. Use string for the belt, no glue needed for shepherd at all.

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Black History Month-kids jewellery Workshop


Paper plane pendent

I ran an afternoon of jewellery workshops in John Henry Newman School (Littlemore,
Oxford), and I promised the children that I would post photos of their fantastic work.

I will also post a few tips for anyone hoping to do jewellery making with children. As well as how to roll your own paper bead.


Laminated collage medallion

Children cut out chosen parts of a leaflet and stuck them to a cardboard circle. They decorated it with fine pen and then laminated it (with adult supervision). It was strung onto cord as a necklace.


I love the choice of words on this one. Full of humour!


Football Fan Here!!

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Paper plane pendent

Children made a paper plane out of scrap paper to practice, then made a mini one out of a small leaflet rectangle. They glued down the flaps, varnished it and punched the holes. It was then strung onto cord as a pendent.


Paper Freedom Beads

We made ‘Freedom Beads’ from paper. We wrote a short message or word like ‘LOVE ‘ or ‘FREEDOM’ inside the paper strips, then we rolled the strip into a bead and painted them with nail varnish to waterproof them.


Children made bracelets with their freedom beads & glass beads as presents for someone special.

All these pieces of jewelery were made from recycled leaflets/magazines and the jewellery materials were from PJ beads.
  • I prepared the strips of paper for the beads before the sessions, and bought glass filler beads and waxed cord for stringing, which I pre cut to bracelet/necklace size.
  • I also drew out (cereal box) card board circles which children could cut out and use as the base for their collage medallion.
Beading table: glue, paper strips/leaflets, paint brushes for glue, toothpick/kebab stick for rolling bead, stringing cord, ball point/sharpie pens, clear nail varnish.
Airoplane table: scissors, scrap paper, necklace cord, nail varnish, circle punch.
Collage Medallion table: leaflets, scissors, glue, cardboard circle, necklace cord, gold/silver/black pens, circle hole punch.
You need: Two/three arty adults-ideally! Laminator and pouches, leaflets, bead stash, example beads, bracelets, paper plane and collage medallion to show children, spare cord, adult scissors, example of trade/slave beads if linking it to Black History.
  • If you have boys and girls together in the class you will need to plan a choice of activities to accommodate for the less dexterous, and the macho lad! (I had a few football leaflets that came in handy!)
  • Having a few arty adults to take each activity is essential.
  • Create an Interactive White board presentation that gives children the history of Slave beads.
How to roll a paper bead 
How to varnish a paper bead
If your bead is too wide to fit onto the toothpick, then hold it between your fingers and varnish it, then after it has dried you can varnish the inside of the hole.

Islamic Art Lesson – Ideas for School Children

This post is the second of a few explaining exciting art ideas that you could do with KS2 children, linking with the RE topic of Islam. I have included some background information for anyone unsure about Islam and mosques at the end.

Build a mosque

Class of 30-divide children into 5 groups of 6. Allow about 3 lessons to complete project.

The Project Idea

  • To use recyclable materials, mixed techniques and media to create a model of a mosque.
  • To understand why a mosque is shaped the way it is.
  • To begin to understand the deeper symbols and meanings behind the art and architecture within/on a mosque.

What you need-Lesson 1

  1. Interactive White Board images of famous mosques from all over the world (see below).
  2. Images of Islamic geometric patterns. Some photocopies for reference per table.
  3. Laptops for paired/individual research.
  4. Children’s sketch books/project book or A3 paper.
  5. Pencils, colouring pencils.
  6. Graph paper with different base patterns, squares, triangles, hexagons and octagons.

The lesson

Look at images of mosques: (would be great if children have had an opportunity to actually visit a mosque). Compare purely functional mosques to the highly decorated Ottoman ones. This mosque has been rebuilt but stands in the place where the first ever mosque was built, the first ever mosque was very simple, it had palm tree pillars for walls, a partial roof and was undecorated. Also show this gorgeous mud mosque in Mali. Lastly look at the incredible golden Dome of the rock.

Features of mosques:  How mosques are used – BBC learning zone clip.

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/452209750663233538 (link to an interactive mosque drawing I did)

Discussion: Talk about what a mosque is, what it is for, who it is special for and why. You would need to have covered such topics as Who are Muslims, and what do they believe? Also discuss the parts of a mosque, what they are for and how they are used.

Design: Get the children to work on designing their own mosque on paper. This would probably be the outside of it. Get them to think about how many minarets it will have, what shape the main building will be, will it be a pointy dome or a round flat dome? What shape are the windows and doors? Will it be like a very early mosque that is less decorated? or will it be covered in decoration?

Decoration: Using the reference material photocopies and laptops children can explore Islamic patterns, sketch them and decide on some designs that they might use to decorate their mosques. These can be drawn onto their designs. Children could try using graph paper to design a tessellation. They could use 2D shapes to create a pattern, photograph it, print it and use it on the mosque. This could be linked to a study of tessellation in maths.

Colour: Children can then use the research they’ve done to colour in the designs in appropriate colours. They can draw in stained glass windows, mosaics, arabic writing, tiles, coloured dome, crescent moon and star. These should be sketches and explorations, not finished work.

Plan: Children need to indicate on their design which parts of the mosque they will make out of what sort of recyclable material. An obvious one would be to use an empty kitchen roll for the minaret. They can also make diagrams of how to manipulate materials to get the desired shape/design.

What you need-Lesson 2 & 3

For the mosque.

  1. Several domed shaped plastic bowls or blown up baloon.
  2. Newspapers.
  3. Wall paper paste for papie mache-made up into ‘gloop’, one per table.
  4. Cardboard boxes, one per table and wrapping paper and kitchen rolls, cereal boxes, larger piece of firm cardboard for mosque to stand on.
  5. Glue stick, glue gun-adult supervision required, scissors.

For the windows:

  1. Tracing paper or acetate.
  2. Black & coloured felt tip pens.
  3. Photocopies of simple Islamic geometric patterns.
  4. Scissors, glue.

For the optional carpet for inside the mosque:

  1. A3 Sugar paper cut into equal strips-can be several different colours.

For decoration:

  1. Paint, (I would recommend turquoise, orange, emerald green, gold, white, cobalt blue)
  2. Handwriting pen for finer details e.g. decorating the prayer mat, writing calligraphic decoration.
  3. Some coloured paper scraps for chn to cut into squares for a mosaic/tile pattern.

The lesson

In groups children will first decide on a group design for their mosque, this may involve making a final sketch that incorporates several ideas from people on the table.

They will then begin to work as a group to make their mosque, following the design they’ve decided on. This will require them to work as a team and delegate tasks to particular people in the group.

These jobs need to be done in each group: papie mache the dome over the upturned cling filmed, cereal bowl; construct the minaret; make the building of the mosque; design the stain glass windows; make a grand door;  weave the prayer mat out of the sugar paper strips; make bands/strips of paper decorations that can be stuck onto the outside of the mosque (if in their design).

After each part of the mosque is made, children will need to discuss when to decorate the part they’ve made, before or after assemblage. They will need to decorate, paint the mosque and this will need to be planned for either lesson 2 or lesson 3. The domes will take a day or two to dry so this may mean some children assisting with other tasks while this happens.

NB if you are using balloons to create the dome shape then you don’t need to cover the whole balloon, but you do need to cover enough of the round base to give you an open shaped dome. If using a bowl you can place cling film on the bowl first and then over lay the glue papie mache news paper strips, this will stop the papie mache dome sticking to the bowl.

NB It may be advisable for supervising adults to have a craft knife/scalpel available to help with cutting windows, doors Etc. (Obviously, keep it out of reach of the children.)

By the end of the sessions you should end up with one mosque per group of six children. This is a great opportunity for the children to exhibit the mosques and for you to photograph them and create a work sheet using the photographs so that they can label some of the parts of a mosque and you can assess how much they have learnt.


Information About Mosques:      A mosque is a building used to bring muslims together to surrender to God by the act of prayer and group worship.

Decorated or undecorated?     The first mosques were very undecorated buildings, the reason for this was based on the belief that if people got distracted with decorations ,they might forget the true purpose of the building. There was also a risk of showing off wealth, which would disturb cohesion with non muslim communities. Decoration was also not encouraged in order to avoid an obvious disparity between the rich people funding the decoration and the poor people unable to do so. Islamic beliefs encourage humility in power and modesty in wealth.

Hagia-Sophia, Byzantine church turned into a mosque. 1453-1931

Over hundreds of years the mosque became a far more decorated building, culminating in the Ottoman times. Often an Ottoman Sultan (king) would commission the building of an elaborate mosque to show his wealth, power and to be remembered by. There was also a bit of competition between the Muslims and the Christians who competed with each other to build the best religious building. During early Ottoman times many Byzantine (Christian) artisans were commissioned to work on mosques and many churches, in conquered lands, were also turned into mosques.

Small mosques are often built upon the graves of saints and some believe that the goodness of the saint will make the mosque a blessed/special place. Here’s one in Konya, Turkey. The most famous is the mosque built around the tomb of the Prophet Muhammed himself.


  • Mosque/Masjid
  • Dome – points to the heavens, is supported by octagonal shape before the cube shaped building beneath it. Often filled with mesmerizing patterns to remind the viewer of the endless cosmos and God’s infinity.
  • Minaret-tall thin tower like part from which the muezzin chants his call to prayer,
  • Muezzin-specially trained person who performs the call to prayer. Hear an Egyptian Athan. (Each country has a different style of singing the Athan.)
  • Adhan- (pronounced athan) the call to prayer.
  • Mihrab-niche in which the Imam leads the prayers in front of the congregation,
  • Imam- similar to a priest.
  • Minbar-stairs from which the Imam delivers his sermons, he never stands at the top because it is symbolically reserved for the prophet Muhammad,
  • Qiblah-the direction that worshipers face when praying, it faces Mecca.
  • Ablution- the ritual washing worshippers do before prayer. (Traditionally the ablution ‘sink’ was octagonal, a reminder to Muslims of the allegory of the throne of God which will be carried by 8 angels on judgement day-reminding them that they are responsible for their own actions.)
  • Prayer mat-has a special design to ensure all worshippers are stood next to each other in rows, this reminds them that all people are equal before God, (The prophet Muhammed describes this to be ‘like the teeth of a comb’.)


Islamic art can be viewed as simply a way of people expressing themselves non figuratively. However it can also be seen as a series of symbols that together point the viewer towards deeper spiritual meanings. Laleh Bakhtiar (Sufi 1976) and Keith Critchlow (Islamic Patterns 1976) write about some of these deeper meanings.

Symbolic significance of some colours in Islamic art:

Gold/yellow has a sense of Divine enlightenment, most holy, Divine royalty

White represents purity, goodness, potential, not of this world-away from materiality.(During burial the body is wrapped in a white shroud).

Blue is a reminder of life, water is the life giving and sustaining element on earth. Heaven is also said to be full of beautiful, fresh flowing streams and rivers. God’s limitless ability to sustain.

Green is a reminder of the lush gardens of paradise, God’s limitless generosity and to give life. Saint’s tombs are often covered in green silk, and the Prophet Muhammad often wore a green robe. Also linked with Al Khidr or the green knight, an illusive saint who appears to people and give them guidance.

Symbolic significance of numbers in Isamic art:

One signifies the one Creator, the Absolute in his Absoluteness. God. Allah. The dot or the centre of the circle, the origin. All creation resides in One God. This is multiplicity within unity.

Three signifies the first potential for creation, the triangle. It can also represent human consciousness.

Four represents earth, stability, the square, four elements-earth water fire air, hot cold wet and dry, matter.

Five and ten as a star points to the enlightened soul, to the Prophet Muhammed. Five can also be a symbol for the five daily prayers, five pillars, the golden proportion, growth.

Six consists of two groups of three and so recalls the meanings of three, hexagon is a symbol of heaven.

Seven links to the seven days of the week. Connected to 28 and the phases of the moon.

Eight connects to the throne of God being carried by seven angels, connects to the qualities of four.

Twelve connects to three, four and six and their related properties. The signs of the Zodiac.

Twenty eight points to the phases of the moon. Links to the crescent moon, a symbol used to represent muslims.

As you look at the geometry you can begin to glean a little of the hidden meaning behind the beautiful patterns and colours.

If you find this lesson idea useful and use it in your class, please take some photographs and send them to me so that I can post them up on here. Your kids will love to know that their art work is on the internet!!



Islamic symbols, Hand of Fatima & creativity with children



This is a lesson I took with 60 Yr 5 children (two classes), we were studying pattern and symbols. They had already used patterns to create a Space illustrationillustrated traditional tale book cover, and had visited a woodland to photograph and study patterns in nature. This final lesson was based on the patterns and symbols of traditional tribal art and body art.


We looked at several different cultures that use patterns on the body including some of these: Aboriginal Body Art, African Tribal Art, (Here’s an interesting link-read it first before showing anything to children), African Tribal Scarification, Moroccan Henna-‘lucky eye‘, Moroccan Henna symbols and their meanings.

We discussed the reasons why certain tribes around the world use body art, including at initiation ceremonies, to identify tribal members, to communicate an idea or belief e.g. in certain gods, ready for marriage, becoming a mother etc. People also use it to communicate with the spirit world, at certain ceremonies, for war ceremonies, protection from evil spirits, good luck, family tradition.

I told the children that we would be using Arab (Moroccan) henna patterns to inspire us and that we would make our own ‘Hamsa’ or Hand of Fatima. We explored what the hand of Fatima means and also looked at the ‘lucky eye’ that is very popular in many mediterranean countries.

Hamse, Khamse, Hand of Fatima & ‘Evil eye’


Edward’s Hamsa

For those unsure, the Hamsa has significance for Muslims and Jews. Some believe that it will protect them from evil, especially those evils that others might feel towards us like jealousy, envy and hate. Others (the more religious) believe that it is a beautiful symbol reminding them of the purity and goodness of Fatima (the Profit Mohammed’s daughter), but these people do not believe that it will protect them, as only God has the power to provide protection.

Often the Hamsa and the ‘evil eye’ or lucky eye are put together to add double protection against evil spirits, as well as jealous or envious persons.


2 Hamsa templates.

I drew the Hamsa template (this is quite easy if you fold a piece of paper in half and draw half of the Hamsa along the fold, then cut it out-still doubled over so that when you open it out you will have a full Hamsa shape. Now all you need to do is draw the sections for the fingers, and palm with a ruler.) Photocopy this for each child, they will need two Hamsa hands each. Here’s an example of an already decorated Hamsa.

3 thicknesses of black pen (eg Berol fine handwriting pen, broad Berol pen, thin and thick felt tip).

Limited colour palette of thin and thick felt tips if anyone wants to use colour.

Photocopies of some relevant patterns, symbols and meanings for each table to use as reference material.

Inspiring images on Interactive White board.

String/thick thread

Hole punch

Scrap paper

Pritt stick/glue stick and scissors.

1 tube of Henna paste per table


I set children off using the different sized pens to explore and adapt the patterns onto their own two Hamsa hand templates. They could use the patterns as inspiration as well as bringing in their own ideas and bringing in previously explored patterns and symbols.

While they were doing this one or two people on each table had a go at as much or as little henna on their own hands as they wished. Some girls were from cultures that practice the art of henna and offered to paint it onto their friend’s hands. Other children wrote their initials on their hand or copied the ideas they were doing on their Hamsa drawing.


While the children were creating they also listened to traditional Arab music including this and Arabian Nayy (flute).

Here are some more images of their work in progress.





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Here are now some of the more finished Hamsa’s before they have been put together.IMG_0417 IMG_0426


The final step is to cut out the two Hamsa hands and glue them around the edges of the palms.

Punch a hole at the base of the longest middle finger.

Stuff some screwed up pieces of scrap paper in between the two partly glued hands to fatten them out.

Then glue them both shut-trapping the screwed up bits of scrap paper inside them-make sure the two hole punched holes are aligned.

String some thread/string through the holes and tie in a knot so that you can hang the Hamsa up.

Here are some images of the final pieces.



I hope this lesson is helpful to anyone planning an Islamic, RE, Eid lesson. If you do use this idea then please email me photos of your classes work and hands, so that I can add it onto this blog post.



How to develop children’s skills and creativity in art lessons


This is a useful post for anyone teaching art to children. I share a few ways to look for the positive aspects in children’s work and how to move them on to the next step. Whether you are an artist or not, it is important for you to be able to see forward one step ahead of the pupil so that you can give them the right guidance. It is not always easy for non-specialist teachers to see the small improvements in a child’s art work. I hope to give you some advice here.

I’m going to focus on practical examples of children’s work so that it is very clear what potential the work has and how it could be improved.

Example 1

 Clear and attainable steps

Below is an example of a child who really struggles with drawing, finds it difficult to follow through instructions and is quiet, making him an easy person to overlook in lessons. However with a little bit of teacher attention and very specific advice he was able to improve. Let’s take a look at his work.IMG_0325

Above is his first drawing of a snake, he was lucky enough to see and feel a live snake and take photographs of it but struggled to know where to begin when drawing it.

The advice I gave here was firstly, to have a look at some photographs of snakes and capture the curves in their body even more. The second piece of advice was to look at how curving the lines that go across the snakes body will give an impression of 3 dimension.

You can just see some squiggles and a snake drawing (above) I have done on the side of his work to demonstrate how to tackle the snake. Some teachers disapprove of drawing on children’s work, however I strongly believe that if it sketch book work, it is important for the child to have your demonstrations available for their own future reference (you can always initial them). This should be different for final pieces which I would never draw on.IMG_0324

Example 2

‘Blow it up big’

IMG_0269The brown painting was the first one done and although it displays some lovely paint mixing (I only gave them primary colours to produce these browns) it lacks informed detail. This drawing was based on direct observation of an insect sample and you can see that the legs were ‘too difficult’ to draw so they’ve been only half drawn.

The advice I gave here was to pretend to be a magnifying glass and ‘blow up’ the leg. I demonstrated how legs are made up of segments of different shapes and thicknesses and I advised using charcoal or graphite instead of paint which requires more complex skills.

The leg drawing is a success and the child’s understanding of it is far more detailed, apart from the fact that it looks pretty cool to have such a strange looking, huge hairy leg across the page. (The fact that legs are made up of different sections can be transferred to humans too!)

Example 3

No rubbers & Use notation

Ever been in the situation where you look at a child’s drawing and think ‘Gosh, that’s better than I could do’? I have…

What do you say then?

IMG_0286Firstly, I ban them from using rubbers. This helps you and the child see their progression throughout the lesson. 

Secondly, I ask them to pin point the aspects of the drawing that they feel need adjusting.

(If they’re not sure which bits need improvement then ask them to imagine if they had a rubber, what would they rub out?) Notice the word adjusting, not which bits are mistakes. There are no such things as ‘mistakes’ in art, just things that need adjusting, changing, exploring, developing! IMG_0287Ask them to pretend that the work in front of them is someone else’s and that they need to give them some advice. Children can be very insightful. If they’re struggling, then ask them questions that guide them towards better ‘seeing’, looking, exploring, developing.

Open questions like, what does it remind you of? how does it feel? which part is bigger, this bit or this bit? How many times does this bit fit into here? Which bit is thinner? What effect does this part have on the rest of the picture? , Etc.

IMG_0288The drawing above is by a different child to the first two, he identified correctly that the foot is ‘strange’ but he hasn’t said why it’s strange. This could be one of his next steps-to ‘blow up’ the foot and begin to understand its shape in more detail. I would also ask him to ‘blow up’ a leg-just one leg. You might then ask him questions that help him see for himself that the legs of the horse are too thin.

Example 4

Capture movement

IMG_0290This example directly relates to example 3 because a child may have a fantastic grasp of one particular technique of drawing but may be less able at another. There are many ways to draw, paint, sketch and you can ask them to capture movement, lines of balance, outlines, silhouettes, shadows, negative spaces, colour and so much more.

My advice here after I saw the initial line drawing at the bottom of this photo was to try capturing the movement of a man riding a horse. We used what I like to call the ‘slinky’ style. You draw movement lines first and then alter your ‘slinky’ over them to make fatter/thinner areas. How close together you make the spirals of your ‘slinky’ will show more or less movement. (The analogy I use to explain ‘slinky’, was those metal spiral toys that you can put at the top of the stairs and it ‘walks’ down).

Example 5

Give homework with clear instructions



Asking children to do art homework is not only a great way to introduce a new topic, but a fantastic way to see unusual members of your class engage with homework where they normally don’t.

For this homework I was quite specific. I supplied them with the paper (not all parents appreciate the need to buy their children art materials), I asked them to draw a rainforest animal first using lines, then notate it. Then draw just the part they found hardest to draw and ‘blow it up’ big. Of course you could ask them to find out a fact about the thing they are drawing too.

Example 6

Try scribble drawing!


The above drawings are a good effort but you can see she is struggling. The legs are like twigs, she is unsure of the shapes, and her lines are nervous and bitty.

The advice here is to hold the pen at the very end, don’t touch the paper with the wrist and do a scribble drawing. Scribble more when there is a dark patch and less when there’s a light patch. Don’t take the pen off the paper. You can even get the child to do it with their eyes closed. Very nervous drawers benefit from this exercise because they have to let go and stop trying to control everything.

This is a fantastic warm up for everyone!IMG_0278Example 7


IMG_0413 When there are no rules and creativity is left very much up to the child, then other aesthetic factors come into play. Balance is important, in monochrome art works the balance is between the darks and lights. A good way to get children to see this is to show a balanced piece of work as being balanced on a scale (use your hands), then show work that has a very large area of light or dark on one side only and show them how it is unbalanced. Ask them where their eyes automatically go when they look at the picture. Often our eyes are attracted to the part that is not balanced first. (Of course contemporary art makes use of this but at this stage they need to learn to see and balance their work first)IMG_0428

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The two examples above brilliantly demonstrate how balance is so important. The first shows a fantastic eye for detail, however he could have got carried away with the detail and filled the whole illustration with tiny detailed pattern. However the balance between the plain dark black, the white and the detailed pattern make for a beautifully balanced and intriguing illustration.

Example 8

Pick out big shapes


This is an amazing example of where a child took on board the advice to pick out the big shapes of the toucan. I demonstrated how the beak can be used like a kind of ruler with which you can measure the rest of the body. She then had a go herself, you can see the improvement in the proportions from the first pencil drawing to the second painted drawing. (She did a pencil drawing first and then painted it.)

Example 9

Shading, Tone, Light


There is something so accurate and refreshing about this drawing and I would be tempted to leave it as it is. However in order to show you how it can be moved on I will include it anyway.

The hair and hair line needs more tonal variation, in fact in general there is limited tonal variation. I would do one of two things here. Firstly you could give a child different contrasting pencils like an 4H, 2B, and 6B and get them to experiment freely with the difference between them. Ask them to do a shading block where shading starts lightest and gradually gets darker and darker.

Secondly you could ask them to experiment with using white chalk on black paper and simply pick out the light areas. Older year 5/6 children might enjoy shading the whole of their paper with a thick graphite stick and then using a putty rubber to rub out the lighter areas. This can be graded to different shades of light and dark.

Of course you could ask a child to pick out the nose, eye, ear and just concentrate on that. If you’re not sure how to draw it yourself then perhaps you can find an online tutorial/U tube clip that talks you through how to draw it and you can all learn together. Here’s a brilliant one for noses.

There’s plenty more that could be explored as a result of this portrait, shading, contour drawing, mouths, lips, light source and shadows, bone structure, the skull, facial proportions.

Example 10

Peer assess & Group work

The following example shows part of a group piece of art work. Different children worked on the same piece in rotating pairs. Each time a new pair came to the work they would naturally asses the work done before, as long as you facilitate this process it can be very positive and productive. Children learn to be constructive with criticism and asses their own abilities in order to determine how they can improve upon the work of previous pairs. There are complex skills needed for this process and it is fantastic for raising children’s maturity levels. I don’t suggest that every class or age group of children will take this process and run with it so it may need to be used with discretion.




Out door sculpture- children inspired by Andy Goldsworthy

Going outdoors is a superb way to bring an art lesson to life.


 The year 5 classes (60 children) were studying woodland, and as part of the curriculum they had to actually visit and experience a woodland environment. The C S Lewis Nature Reserve provided the woodland setting and art gave them a focus with which to explore this lovely place.


The children had a session looking at Andy Goldsworthy’s art, and a few other land art artists including Robert Smithson. The children shared their thoughts about their art work. Discussed why they thought these artists work with nature in this way and what possible purpose it could have-other than being fun. Environmental issues, conservation, the purpose of art, sending a message were all touched on in the discussion.

Andy Goldsworthy

Robert Smithson. Spiral Jetty


I split the children into two large groups (30, we had enough adults to accompany each group). I took one group, whilst the other group was taken by their class teacher. My group was looking at pattern in nature, capturing it using pen and ink and photography. The other group were making Andy Goldsworthy inspired sculptures using natural objects like leaves, berries, twigs and stones.

Here are some patterns my group photographed.


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And now have a look at a few of their drawings.


These are perfect-what I was looking for was quick recordings of the general shape of the patterns and where they appeared. They had half an hour to do this.
SAM_0394Here is someone who spent his break time sketching instead of running around making a racket and disturbing the wildlife.

Lets take a closer look…
SAM_0401 This is wonderful work, the little notes remind him of what he saw, he’s captured things close up and further away, he’s generalized the pattern into a overall look yet not compromised the detail either. I was very proud!


land art
land art, kids
Here’s a lovely patterned frog we came across too!
This sort of lesson can beautifully compliment other areas of the curriculum. Here are some ideas:
  • Link it to woodland tales such as Beatrix Potter, Peter and the Wolf (musical links here too), Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dhal, The Woodland Trust Stories, Watership down – Richard Adams. These are just a few…
  • Take photos of children’s work and use these to stimulate some descriptive writing, or instruction writing about how to create a woodland sculpture.
  • Children can then create a collage in groups using coloured sugar paper to recreate their sculpture. Perhaps the class can make a huge collaborative one.
  • We used our pattern drawing to inform some black and white illustrations of traditional tales.
  • Children can find fascinating creatures or objects and create a character for them. They could use these characters to create a shared class tale.
  • Science, study of woodland habitat, animals, birds, local area compared to another, local trees, a woodland tree as a mini ecosystem, food chains, how are woodland animals suited to this habitat, what’s special about the woodland compared to the rainforest.
  • Maths, measure & estimate the height of a tree using traditional methods, comparing the size of different leaves in relation to the height of the trees they were taken from. Can make a graph to represent the results, can press the leaves to create art work after.