Bright Ideas

Twenty Ways to Take Art Outside

Catherine Koons Hubbard, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center Preschool

There are lots of easy and fun ways to encourage art projects outdoors with children, but the most useful advice I can offer is simply: plan ahead. Take the time in advance to put together individual baggies filled with crayons, cut cardboard into appropriate-sized portable easels, and attach large paperclips and sheets of paper to your easels. A few minutes of advance prep means that when beautiful weather arrives, it is simply a matter of grabbing your easels, grabbing your crayons, and heading out someplace wonderful.
Here are some of the tried-and-true approaches that we at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center Preschool have used in our En Plein Air program. I hope they will inspire you to hit the trail some sunny day with a group of children, a backpack, and a bevy of simple art supplies. Remember, it’s not the final product that matters. It’s the process that we love!

Twenty Ways to Take Art Outside

  1. Cut old boxes into easels. We use both big and small easels, the small measuring about 5x7 inches, the large about 14x17 inches. 
  2. Attach heavy-duty clips to each easel. This is for holding the paper.
  3. Get a stack of paper—copy paper, water color paper, whatever you want.  We often attach one or two sheets of paper to our easels in advance, so that they are ready to go whenever we want.
  4. Put the children’s names on the paper ahead of time. 
  5. Put together individual baggies of crayons, oil pastels, markers, charcoal, or whatever else you prefer. We give each child his or her own bag, and we encourage them to spread out.
  6. If you choose to paint outside, we find that two children can share a single watercolor tray, but they each need their own brush. 
  7. Be sure to bring plastic cups for holding water if you choose to watercolor paint outside. Two children can easily share one cup. (We usually carry our paint water in a portable canteen.)
  8. Roller paints and Dot Paints are another great way to paint outside, without carrying brushes or water along, as they come ready-to-use. 
  9. Paper and chubby crayons are great for bark rubbing, but you can also use tin foil if you’d prefer not to take your crayons outdoors.
  10. If you want to keep your paint natural, simply spread out glossy finger-paint paper and paint it with fingers dipped in mud and rain puddles.
  11. Try pounding leaves and flowers onto pieces of white muslin, making stains.
  12. In addition to paper, children love painting rocks.
  13. You can also water color strips of birch bark.
  14. Children also can paint tree cookies (a cross section of a tree, often about the size of a dinner plate). 
  15. Consider collecting and painting bright fall leaves and printing them onto shirts and bags.
  16. Paint the colors you see outside.
  17. Paint a “sound map,” assigning different colors to different sounds you hear in nature.
  18. Paint pumpkins and gourds and roll them across big sheets of paper.
  19. Paint pinecones. They look especially pretty with white and silver tips.
  20. Always clean up and leave the area just as you found it. No paint in the ponds, no brushes on the ground, no trampled plants. Our aim is to leave nothing but tiny footprints. 


Nature Preschools, art