Introducing collage to under fives

Published on Wednesday, 30 June 2021
Last updated on Monday, 28 June 2021

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Collage is the art of sticking different materials onto paper or cardboard, and in your child’s early years, this hands-on activity isn’t just fun – it’s educational, too.

‘Busy bits’, like feathers, fabric scraps, leaves and pom poms can all help to develop your under five’s physical, social and cognitive capabilities, so let’s see how collage builds skills, piece by piece.

What are the benefits of collage?

Collage is a great way to develop your young child’s fine motor skills.

Cutting, tearing, placing and pasting all requires coordinated movements of their small finger and hand muscles, and your little one will be practising their fine motor skills whether they’re learning to glue on their first bits of paper, or getting to grips with a pair of scissors and a multitude of materials.

The benefits of collage go beyond this, though. Collage can also help your under five to:

  • Learn about different colours, textures and patterns
  • Develop language and communication skills
  • Work collaboratively, by sharing materials, tools and projects
  • Develop concentration skills
  • Practice problem-solving, and
  • Be creative, as they experiment with different materials, techniques and designs of their own making.

If you’re collecting natural items, like leaves and seed pods, collage can also encourage outdoor exploration and a respect for nature.

Playful Learning explains that collage encourages children to, ‘See the beauty in ordinary things and appreciate the possibilities of everyday objects.’ The process of selecting materials and making independent choices feels good for young children and, all in all, collage is a positive pastime that supports your little one’s development and sparks their creativity.

Should parents get stuck in to collage, too?

Collage is an open-ended art activity, which means that it doesn’t have a set outcome. Your child is free to express themselves without too much direction from you, and Raising Children encourages you to follow your child’s lead and let them choose what to make with the materials at hand.

That said, collage is a great bonding activity (pun intended) for you and your child. You’re encouraged to sit with your under five as they work on their collage, and take the time to ask questions, listen to them, and use ‘rich descriptive language’ when chatting about what your child is doing and what materials and tools they’re using.

Feel free to make your own collage alongside them, and when your child is ready to squirt their first craft glue or snip with scissors, make sure you show them the proper technique to build skills and keep things safe.

How can you set up collage at home?

Collage isn’t a costly or complex activity to organise. All you need is:

  • A large, flat table (inside or outside) for your child to work at,
  • Some paper or cardboard to stick things on,
  • Glue or paste to stick things with,
  • Scissors, and
  • A variety of collage materials, stored in separate containers (or tray compartments) to allow easy access by your little one.

There’s a big sensory element to collage, as different colours catch your child’s eye and different feels take their fancy, so stock up on lots of bright and textural items that can be stuck to paper or cardboard.

Your recycling bin, pantry, garden and pile of ‘throw out clothes’ are all prime places to source collage materials, and the following items can be offered in different shapes, sizes and colours:

  • Different kinds of paper and cardboard, e.g. crepe paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, metallic card, corrugated card, old newspapers, greeting cards, magazines and catalogues
  • Scraps of ribbon and fabric, e.g. cotton, velvet, lace, satin, leather, faux fur, net, felt and hessian
  • Natural objects, e.g. leaves, small shells, dried flowers, twigs, pine needles, wood shavings and sand
  • Dried pasta, beans and rice
  • Wool, twine and string
  • Cellophane, bubble wrap, pipe cleaners, foam shapes, craft sticks, coloured feathers, sequins, tinsel, foil, buttons, pom poms and so on.

You can go a bit wild with your resources, but remember that some materials (like buttons and beads) are risky for young children. The government says you should make sure, ‘All collage items are non-poisonous, and items for children under three are larger than 5cm so that they cannot be swallowed.’

What happens next?

You’ll find lots of collage ideas online. Your child could match the colours of a rainbow, learn their letters or create funny faces, but in the interests of letting them lead the art-making, Playful Learning suggests that you:

  • Start with an 18cm x 23cm piece of cardboard to stick things on
  • Fill a small jar with glue and give your child a brush to apply it with, then
  • Offer a selection of collage materials for them to choose from.

At home, you might want to offer all the materials you have, sorted into colours first, then into ‘patterns’ and ‘solids.’ However, you can also offer specific groups of materials for each art session.

One day, you might offer shapes with different kinds of edges (e.g. straight, curved and torn), and next time, it could be all natural materials (e.g. feathers, shells, sand and dried flowers).

Playful Learning says you can also offer different textures in one colour (e.g. blue velvet, blue buttons, blue lace, blue paper), or materials that move from warm colours to cool ones.

After you’ve settled on a theme, invite your child to sift through the materials and choose which ones they’re drawn to. Then, sit by and see what they come up with next!

The experts say young children, and those who are new to collage, should be left to ‘feel and manipulate the textures in their hands’, with no rush to create a masterpiece.

You might find that your child naturally creates a specific design or composition, experiments with an abstract work, or just puts glue on their hands instead of on the paper. It’s all good!

If your child has more experience with the collage materials, then Playful Learning suggests that you ask open-ended questions that connect their materials with their experiences (e.g. “How can you use these materials to show your favourite place outdoors?”). Alternatively, you could say, “I love the way you’ve used that yellow button as the sun. Is that our back garden?”

As time goes by, your child might like to create patterns using bits of wool, write their name with dried pasta, or create a beach scene with pictures cut from magazines. And whatever direction their collage takes, this is a really great activity to set up, and share, at home.


Raising Children

Ministry of Education

Playful Learning

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