Managing Kids Art With Children of Different Ages

This post is by regular contributor (and Mum of 4) Kate Fairlie of Picklebums.

When it comes to organising activities for a group of children of different ages, art activities can seem quite a scary thought! How can you set up an art activity that will work for a toddler, a preschooler and a school-aged child and not have it all end in tears?

The key to keeping your sanity lies in choosing the right activity, a little pre-planning and some adult interaction. Here are some ideas that work for us.


preschool painting experiences

Set up an art space that is big enough for all of the children to use at once. Young children need a big space in which to create; cramming everyone too close together can be frustrating and lead to arguments about her elbow touching his paper!

Make sure your equipment is suited to the ages of the children and is easy to use;

  • Toddlers manage short stubby brushes better than long handled ones.
  • No spill paint pots are readily available and worth the money, but make sure brushes fit in and out of them easily.
  • Glue sticks are often easier and less messy than pots of glue with brushes.
  • Mix up paints and paste so they are thick and not too drippy.
  • Child sized scissors make cutting easier.
  • BIG sheets of paper are essential.

Make sure you have enough equipment. Sharing is difficult for young children so giving everyone their own set of paints or container of collage material can save lots of frustration.

Make sure you have somewhere close by to put the finished works of art to dry, safe from small, curious fingers. An old clothes airer works well, or one of those hanging peg rings, but some art work will need to lay flat to dry so make sure you take that into account before you begin.

Set up so it is easy to clean up! Cover work surfaces in newspaper so you can simply throw away any mess, use a large plastic table cloth that can easily be wiped clean or take the activity outside onto the grass. Make sure you have lots of washers handy for wiping up accidents and cleaning fingers as needed. A bucket of warm soapy water and a towel close by can be useful, as it stops little painted hands touching everything on their way to the sink to wash.

Adult Interaction

Art with children of different ages

You will need to be around to supervise pretty much all art activities if they involve young children. Sometimes you can be near by doing something else and just watch and listen, stepping in when needed. But often you will need to be actively involved.

Help younger children with any challenging parts of the activity so they don’t get too frustrated. Being there to help with things like holding scissors and cutting successfully, ensuring a steady supply of materials or helping everyone to share and negotiate, will make your activity run more smoothly.

Choosing your Activity
Keep it simple. You don’t have to choose the latest, most complicated, never-been-done-before art activity. Even older kids enjoy the basics, so sticking to tried and true activities that you know you can manage is always a better option when creating with multiple age groups or lots of kids.

Remember ‘process over product’! Don’t worry if the toddler’s painting ends up as a soggy brown lump of paper, it is the creating that is important, not what it looks like in the end!

Here are some art activities that can work well with children of multiple ages. Click on each activity title for more details.

cotton bud painting

Cotton Bud Painting

You only need small amounts of paint and smaller pieces of paper for this activity that appeals to all ages and it is simple enough even for a very young child to explore.

multi age learning

Mosaic Collage

Older children can help you pre-cut the paper, and even beginning cutters can snip off small bits from a long strip of paper for this activity. Because this only uses small pieces of paper they stick easily with only a little glue, making it a successful activity for all ages. Older children will create detailed images and representations while little ones will simply enjoy the process of sticking.

multi ages watercolor painting

Painting with Water Colours

Water colour discs are easy for all ages to use but even better, they are quick and easy to set up and easy to pack away!

multii age learning-drawing big

Big Drawings

A really big shared piece of paper and some crayons are all you need for this easy activity for all ages.

multi age art contact collage

Contact Collage

This activity doesn’t even require glue, just a sheet of self-adhesive paper and some paper shapes. You maybe surprised at how much even school aged children enjoy this simple, no mess, activity.


Modelling Clay Pictures

While older children will create pictures with more detail, young children will also enjoy exploring the properties of modelling clay.


Sticker Drawings

Children of all ages love stickers and these sticker drawings form a fabulous invitation to create.

For more of Kate’s practical advice for managing the needs of children of different ages, check out her post, Managing Play With Children of Different Ages.

For more kids art ideas, check out Christie’s book…

Time to Create by Christie Burnett


  1. Planning is key at my house. I need everything out and ready to go when we craft.

    1. Ah yes, there is no waiting time after you’ve said those famous last words “Want to make something?” LOL

  2. These are great ideas! We’ve been in a bit of a slump lately since my kids don’t want to do the same art projects, but some of these may work.

    1. Sometimes just changing one little thing about an activity can reignite interest. Maybe try painting with something other than regular brushes, or even something as simple as making the paint all pastel colours? Hope we’ve been able to give you some ideas!

  3. The biggies for us are the choice of activity and the planning. We usually do our creative activities in the morning, or after sleep time so that all the materials are set up and ready to go. I love the challenge of differentiating our activities to suit my 5, 3 and 1 year old.

  4. Great post Kate. You know the nice thing about process only art is that all ages can do any of those activities and their artwork just becomes more sophisticated, the older they get.

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