Getting Creative With Collage: A Fun, Easy, and Open-Ended Art Project to Do With Your Child

Updated on April 17, 2018
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I'm a credentialed teacher with a master's degree in special education. I spent many years teaching preschool and kindergarten.

The Creativity of Collage: Why Open-Ended Art is Best for Young Children

Most of us parents remember making collages when we were kids but probably didn't appreciate how valuable it was. Creating collages is an example of open-ended art, meaning it gives children the opportunity to express themselves through their creations with little adult interference. It's both liberating and empowering. It feels good. Craft projects do the opposite as students follow the adult's directions and copy her sample, worrying theirs won't measure up.

Collage is open-ended art at its best, allowing kids to express themselves freely. This one was made with recycled materials (wrapping paper and tissue paper) and Mod Podge.
Collage is open-ended art at its best, allowing kids to express themselves freely. This one was made with recycled materials (wrapping paper and tissue paper) and Mod Podge. | Source

How I Lost My Way Teaching Art

During the course of many years working in preschools and kindergartens, I lost my way when it came to teaching art. I knew open-ended art was the way to go (painting, drawing, printmaking, clay) because it promotes creativity, independence, and decision-making. It brings joy and empowerment to the creator as she experiments with the materials and expresses herself without using words. I knew open-ended art was beneficial because it's relaxing, liberating, and fun.

But once I became fully entrenched in the educational environment, I succumbed to teacher-directed art—those cutesy projects that adorn bulletin boards in schools throughout the country. Teachers like me feel pressured to abandon our convictions, buckling under to the desires of parents and administrators who drool over elaborate craft projects: tissue paper flowers, pine cone bird feeders, hand print turkeys, cotton ball snowmen, paper plate faces, and pipe cleaner spiders. Parents adore these showy projects because they make impressive centerpieces on the holiday table, precious gifts for grandma and grandpa, and perfect adornments for the refrigerator and mantle. Administrators love them because they brighten the school—neat and tidy art, appealing and homogeneous. After all, when visitors tour a school, they don't read essays or inspect math exams, but they do admire the art work, often commenting on how spectacular it is.

All these flowers look the same. Parents and principals like homogeneous projects, but they don't promote creativity. What did the children gain from the experience?
All these flowers look the same. Parents and principals like homogeneous projects, but they don't promote creativity. What did the children gain from the experience? | Source

Breaking Free From the Cutesy Projects

For years and years, I did teacher-directed projects with my students. I'd make a sample and the children would do their best to duplicate it. I'd worry sometimes when they'd become frustrated and ask: “Why doesn't mine look as good as yours?” I'd feel ashamed sometimes for “perfecting” their projects when the kids were out of the room. In the back of my mind, I wondered if they had gotten anything out it. But I ignored my concerns, wanting to hear the accolades from parents and administrators, craving their oohs and aahs.

I spent a lot of time and energy coming up with the next big craft project—something to top the teacher next door, something to wow everybody who walked past it in the hall, something parents would treasure forever. I spent lots of time and money running to the store to pick up this and that: poster board, glitter, rhinestones, sequins, yarn, buttons, and craft sticks. My garage filled up with materials I was collecting for future projects: egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, ribbon, felt, cardboard boxes, bottle caps, glass bottles, and Styrofoam peanuts.

Turning Toward Collage!

Feeling burned out and overwhelmed, I finally had enough. I thought: Why am I doing this? I know better. I'm not letting these children have the true artistic experience: creating, experimenting, and making something entirely their own with no adult intervention. At the same time, I was watching my teenage sons turning their backs on art, deciding they were no good at it and no longer wanting to try. They hadn't learned to enjoy art for art's sake. They were bailing on it because it wasn't a money-maker, a career builder, something noteworthy to put on a college application. Art classes at their middle school and high school are electives and my boys passed. It made me sad. I'd always derived tremendous peace and joy from the artistic process and wanted the same for them.

From that moment forward, I began doing open-ended art with my students. One of my favorites is collage with its infinite possibilities. Collage (from the French word, “coller,” which means “to glue”) is glorious in its simplicity and versatility; children glue various materials on a background paper called a “format,” arranging them purposefully and harmoniously to please themselves and, hopefully, those who look at it. When creating a collage, the artist is mindful of what she's doing; it's not a haphazard activity. Three of my favorites collage ideas for young children are foil collage, ripped paper collage, and shape collage.

Foil collage shines and sparkles! This one was made by a preschooler with tissue paper squares and glue.
Foil collage shines and sparkles! This one was made by a preschooler with tissue paper squares and glue. | Source

Foil Collage

Materials:

  • a piece of tin foil for the format
  • a cup of Elmer's glue with a little water added
  • an old paint brush to spread the glue mixture
  • pre-cut squares of tissue paper
  • an old tray for a work surface

Creating a foil collage is a wonderful exercise in composition as children purposefully arrange the tissue paper squares on the foil to create something that's gratifying to them. When making a foil collage, I tell the children to think like artists—take their time, step back to look at their progress, and strive for harmony and balance in their work.

Step 1: Tape a piece of tin foil to the tray so it won't slip (I use painter's tape that removes easily).

Step 2: The child brushes the glue mixture all over the foil.

Step 3: The child takes tissue paper squares and places them intentionally on the foil, making something she finds appealing.

The children can make new colors by overlapping the tissues. They'll see that the exposed foil adds a fun, shiny sparkle to their art.

Ripped paper collage strengthens little fingers.
Ripped paper collage strengthens little fingers. | Source

Ripped-Paper Collage

Materials:

  • construction paper for the format
  • cup of glue with a little water added
  • an old brush to spread the glue
  • an old tray for a work surface
  • scraps of paper from the recycling center (construction paper, scrapbook paper—solid and patterned, wallpaper samples, wrapping paper, foils)

Step 1: Tape the format to the tray so it won't slide.

Step 2: Child brushes glue mixture all over the format.

Step 3: The child rips paper to create an appealing picture— something abstract or representational.

Shape collages offer many options.
Shape collages offer many options. | Source

Shape Collage

Shape collages are a fun way to experiment with color, size, and design. There are infinite possibilities—a collage with just one shape but different colors, a collage with many shapes but only one color, a collage of warm colors, a collage of cool colors, a collage that shows symmetry, a collage with solid paper, a collage with patterned paper. Sometimes I ask the children to make something in particular with the shapes: a house, a person, an elephant, a city, a winter day, a park, a vehicle. They come out so different, each reflecting the uniqueness of the artist.

Materials:

  • construction paper for the format
  • cup of glue with a little water added
  • old brush to spread the glue
  • an old tray for a work surface
  • pre-cut shapes from construction paper, scrapbook paper—solid and patterned, wallpaper samples, wrapping paper, textured paper, foils

Step 1: Tape the format to the tray so it won't slide.

Step 2: Child brushes glue mixture all over the format.

Step 3: The child arranges shapes of various sizes, colors, and patterns on the format to create an attractive work of art.

Closing Thoughts on Collage

I spend weeks letting the children explore collage in its many forms. They are so many ways we change it up so it never gets tiresome. We make collages with nature items, fabrics, textured paper, ribbons, buttons, lace, beads, feathers, and magazine pictures. Sometimes we use just one material and other times we combine two or more. The best part of collage is no two look the same—no more cookie-cutter projects for me! I don't receive the oohs and aahs from parents and administrators like I did with my show-stopping teacher-directed projects. But I'm happy, knowing I'm giving children something that will last them a lifetime—a genuine love of making art. Creating collages with kids is fun and it empowers the young artist in ways that adult-directed projects do not.

Open-Ended Art or Craft Projects?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2015 McKenna Meyers

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      • CatherineGiordano profile image

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        You seem to be a wonderful teacher. I would have been happy to have you as my kid's teacher. I love collage. I can't draw even stick figures. Nonetheless, I feel I have a good eye for design, so I can do collage. For hubs I take free-to-use art and add my own touches using the free software PicMonkey. You have inspired me to create a collage from scratch and scan it into the computer. I'm going to do that for a hub soon.

      • sellbyoldphone profile image

        plabon 

        3 years ago from Bogra

        nice

      working

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