When you design an art area, your goal is to create a place that encourages children's creative expression. You can think of this area as a studio that offers young artists the space, equipment, and materials they need to be sculptors, painters, printmakers, potters, and designers. Here are things to keep in mind as you evaluate and perhaps modify the studio in your classroom.

Size: If your art area is small compared to other areas, you might try expanding it. Most teachers devote enough space so at least four or five children can work comfortably in the area at one time. If possible, offer more than one work area.

Floor space: Allow enough space so children have room to walk around and collect materials without feeling crowded. Then, if possible, set aside additional space so children can make large projects, such as group murals, on the floor.

Tables: Offering more than one surface allows children to use different art media, such as markers and clay, without interfering with one another. Circular tables encourage children to talk and create cooperatively, while long, low tables work well for children who are using clay or building with recycled materials.

Easels: Easels give children opportunities to paint often. Opt for free-standing or wall easels, depending on your space. (Wall easels also make it easier to do collaborative paintings and murals.) For easier cleaning, cover your easels with self-adhesive paper and place a sheet of clear plastic on the floor. You can also make your own easels by painting and hanging a sheet of Homosote board, a bulletin-board-like material available at lumberyards.

Drying Area: Young children, especially fours and fives, like to feel responsible for taking care of their own creations. Placing a drying rack or clothesline at children's level in an out-of-the-way area lets them independently hang their paintings to dry. Be sure to put a plastic mat underneath to catch paint drips.

Display Areas: Displaying art shows children you value their work and also lets them be inspired by the creative ideas and experiments they and their friends have tried before. Display children's two- and three-dimensional art in your art area and around the room. Children often look up, especially at nap time, so don't forget ceilings as possible display places.

Designing a space that encourages children to create can be a creative experience for you too. As you set up a studio that meets children's needs, look for ways to express your own artistic tastes and interests. Think of yourself as an artist, architect, or interior designer -- then enjoy the challenges and rewards of your new role!


Ilene Rosen contributed these ideas to Early Childhood Today.