The most effective procedures are those that are carefully planned and explicitly taught.

Recently, the following post was shared on the Kinderkorner mailring by Marybeth Quig-Hartman, who generously allowed me to reprint her ideas here. Note the amount of “teacher thinking” that Marybeth puts into developing her routines and the amount of class time she devotes to the teaching of procedures in the beginning of the school year.

Such diligence pays off! Not only does Marybeth ensure that every child in the class has the opportunity to be successful in learning how to work independently with the various art materials and tools available in the classroom, but by being proactive, she avoids many unnecessary problems for herself, as teacher.

Marybeth explains:

“I find that many “problems” with kids are actually the result of them not knowing or understanding the right way to do things. I am all by myself with usually between 20-24 children, so it’s all on me. Because I don’t like having to go back and reteach something I neglected to do properly in the first place, I make a point of explicitly teaching procedures to my Kindergarten students in the first weeks of school.”

Could you explain how you teach your students to use markers, watercolors and tempera paint in Kindergarten?


Many of my Kindergarten students have had little or no experience with crayons, markers, pencils, etc. Most have not been to preschool, so they don’t even know how to grip. I usually begin with crayons the first day, showing the whole group how to hold the crayons and how to place the paper so they won’t mark up the tables. I prefer to use crayons in the flat boxes, with the lid placed under the box for safe keeping. I find that by teaching them to take out only one crayon at a time and always return it before getting another, few, if any, crayons are ever lost. As well, crayons are never broken through misuse; the only time they get broken is when a child does not have well developed motor control.

On the first day I tell the students to get out their red crayon and then I glance quickly to see who went for the red. I repeat for all colors. This allows me to make some initial assessments of their color knowledge. I give them the option of coloring in simple outlines or coloring on blank paper. Almost all children choose the coloring sheets rather than blank paper. I use the coloring sheets only for the first or second day because I want the kids to learn to color on their own. I give them VERY basic suggestions about coloring within the lines, but never expect this or say a word if they don’t.

I think it’s important to explain to the children that they should only comment on their own coloring work. I use this as a lesson in “attending to your own affairs.” Nearly every year, there is at least one “sophisticated” child who feels the need to be judgmental about the paper of someone who has clearly never colored before. I remind them gently that it is my job to comment–and their job to color. This sets a positive tone for the remainder of the year. I try to find something wonderful to casually mention about everyone’s coloring throughout the day.

The big thing I do is to tell them to use more than one color. I tell them that “excellent colorers” try to use at least five colors on each page. This helps eliminates “scribble-scrabble” and draws their consciousness towards their work – making drawing time about care and concentration, rather than just “getting the job done quickly.”

Typically, I introduce markers on the following day or two – again, whole group. I follow the same format as with the crayons. I tell them to “listen for the snap” each time they put away a marker. I exaggerate this by putting it up to my ear and nodding when I hear the snap. I have them keep markers in ziplock bags with the tips going up which helps prevent the markers from leaking. All of this is modeled several times. “I see Jason listening for the snap. I see Aleysha using only one color and returning it to the bag before getting out another. I see Ferrin keeping her tips up, going all the same way. Ferrin, please show us how you put up your markers.” I know all of this may seem goofy, but I have little or no trouble with kids using art things without my help later in the year.

Somewhere on the second or third day I teach them how to use scissors; few children will have had any experience. I use scissors with a slight point; if children are to learn to be successful with cutting, they need to have good scissors. I have them cut straight edges where they can simply snip the edge off to be successful. Afterwards, I move onto zigzag and then finally, curved lines, beginning with bold
lines and moving to lighter lines. Early in the year, I find it best not to plan projects where they must concentrate on both cutting and simultaneously moving the paper. Scooting out from the table, allows the child more elbow room, so I encourage them to move out from the edge of the table so they can comfortably put their elbows at their sides (making it easier for them to turn the paper.) I teach kids to put their fingers in the right holes, with their thumbs on top. I demonstrate that they should also put their pointer finger on bottom–in front of the hole, not in it.

After three or four days, I show them how to use playdough in groups of 4-6 children. I use special mats for this so messy tables are never a problem afterwards. In the beginning, I give them only 2-3 molds and a rolling pin. Too many things make it difficult for them to concentrate. I teach them how to pick up small playdough pieces with a larger piece–like a special magnet–and how to return every little bit to the can. In the beginning, I use the same color for everyone at the table and after a couple of times, I have a separate color for each child. In this way, I can tell who has mastered the procedures.

After a week, I introduce gluing. I also do this in a group of 4-6 children. Many children do not understand that it is the bottom that must be glued. I teach them “a little dab will do it.” (Some of us oldies will remember the Brylcreem hair jingle!) I teach them how to pinch the bottle so only a dab comes out. Some will be quite pleased that they have just a dab, but wonder why it won’t stick when the glue is on the top! I use foam pieces, bottle caps, pom-poms and other stiffer, larger collage materials. I have them glue this onto cardboard pieces because it is often difficult when the child has to glue to thinner paper. Using a stiff sheet provides more control for the young child.

After a couple of weeks, I teach them how to use the easel and paints, with only two children painting, at a time and only three colors of paint at first. I bought cups that have paint brushes with matching colored handles. This makes it easy for kids to know in which paint cup the brush should rest. I model only the correct way to use the brushes and explain why 1) I am brushing off excess paint, 2) why I am working carefully not to drip paint and 3) why I put the red brush only in the red paint cup. I stop frequently to go over every detail and ask review questions.

I do watercolors last because I find they’re the hardest; students must contend with not only the paintbox, but the paint brush AND water cup too. The paint brushes can so easily become damaged with young students if I don’t teach them to follow certain procedures. I make sure the water cup is filled only half way and is of sufficient weight not to tip over easily when the child rinses and brushes the excess water off the edge. I also remove the black and the brown pans from the paintbox; this allows for more color.  The absence of black and brown help the children see more color when their paintings dry. After they become proficient at using the water colors, I add back the black and brown. As well, after I have taught them various mediums on various backgrounds, I begin with mixing mediums. I keep it simple at first and then build up.

After the kids learn these basics, I let them loose in the art center–two kids at a time– where they can create on their own. An important thing to do at that point is teach procedures for clean up so that the center will always be “ready for the next person.”

Have fun!