Big Art Adventure

Hi! My name is Ann Bickel and I am an art educator based out of central Pennsylvania. I've decided to share stories on the art camp curriculum that I create and use with students.

Big Art Adventure:

This camp is called Big Art Adventure because it is aimed at children ages five to eight. At this stage of development, children to really well with gross-motor based activities, so I wanted to design this "big" art camp curriculum with that in mind. I also planned all projects with natural curiosity in mind.

I always start with a sketchbook for my camps. It is a great way to develop drawing/thinking habits for children. These are really important skills for Twenty-First Century skills that children will need in the future. Learning how to communicate their ideas through sketches is valuable to all people. My design for the sketchbook cover is above! If you'd like this image, feel free to contact me.

Day 1: Nature Discovery Day


I give students "placemats" to use throughout the week for doodling and experimenting with larger playful ideas if they're in between projects. This idea of a placemat replaces covering tables. I find that students often tear at the paper that covers tables, which ends up being replaced more often and is wasteful. Instead, they actually care for their "placemat" and it can be replaced and recycled much easier over time without having to re-paper the entire table. 

Day 1: Nature Discovery Day (Continued)


I've wrapped shoe-boxes donated from friends and family in white kraft paper. We created a magnifying glass template with clear sheeting that was donated from a local photocopy-store leftover from clients' laminating scraps. This makes the magnifying glasses look shiny and more realistic, which children love. They decorate the boxes with their names and their magnifying glasses. We'll put all of their projects into these boxes as we work throughout the week. I have another class with another theme in the afternoon and keeping projects in one location really helps everyone stay organized as we are guests in a space for just one week of art camp!

Day 1: Nature Discovery Day (Continued)


We went outside to do a small collection of natural materials. We come inside with rose petals, weeds, grasses, and leaves. We need these for a few different projects, both today and this week!

First we take our leaves and learn how to do a leaf-rubbing and glue that into our sketchbooks. Then, we take a favorite item and sketch it into our sketchbook. Then, I hand out real magnifying glasses (as a gift to students) for them to investigate their natural materials further and do a magnified drawing of one or two parts of a flower, leaf, or other natural item that they've found. They love the real magnifying glasses! Typically this age group is really into investigation. I love being able to give them a little gift to help them continue discovering after camp is over!

Day 1: Nature Discovery Day (Continued)

Art History and Interpretative Study:

We study both Claude Monet'sDandelions painting and William John Hennessey's painting Dandelion Clockand talk about the techniques, feelings, what the children see and what they think it might mean.

Dandelion Paintings:

We use a mixed media approach here for children to have a strong feeling of success. They draw parts of the dandelions with colored pencils and then we use simple white and yellow acrylic paints on q-tips to dot in the dandelion flowers. This requires lots of attention so that students don't go overboard. Though rare for me, I did find this activity on Pinterest and think it works well. 

Dandelion Mixed Media Paintings by Children Ages 5-8

Day 1: Nature Discovery Day (Continued)

Zentangle Leaves:

I wanted to infuse each day with a theme that was interesting to students. I also wanted to make use of those leaves right away. My plan was to have students use their leaf sketch and rubbing to lead to a drawing on paper of a leaf with it's veins. This proved difficult and frustrating for ages 5-8. Perhaps if I had an assistant, this would have been easier to be able to help students one-on-one a bit more. (It worked so well when I tested it with my six-year-old son at home.)

We drew our leaf first on paper and transferred our drawings to a shiny gold paper and traced them with a thick sharpie. Then, we used a thin sharpie to fill in the areas with patterns and designs. I planned on mounting the finished products onto black paper but didn't do that in the end with this particular group. (This project is found on this site, but perhaps another activity would be a better fit here.)

Day 2: How is it made?

With the theme of "How is it made?" I am drawing from an entire course that I designed and taught in 2018 called "I Made it All!" These types of activities are interesting for students and teach them a little bit about where art supplies come from and how things that we might typically discard can be recycled. 


Students LOVE to make paper, Usually I have them make 2 sheets each and we make a project on one and they get to take the other home.  However, I didn't have any helpers on this day, which is important when you have 15 young children using a blender! So each child made only one sheet. They were still just as excited. 

I always begin by explaining the paper-making process and demonstrating it, of course, but also by showing them how paper making can be transformed into high art. I use the example of Arlene Shechet from PBS' Art 21 Series. 

Our wonderful Miss Marie stopped by to check out the students' paper as it dried. They were excited to explain the whole process to her!

Day 2: How is it made? (Continued)

Tie-Dye and Crayon-Making:

We tie-dyed t-shirts, of course. Students love this! I don't often get photos of this as I'm running the show solo and am covered in dye! Afterwards, we recycled old crayons into new molds with a little help from our dear neighbor, Fred Rogers. We watched a bit of his video from PBS on the Crayola Factory visit (one of my favorites as a child) and one student was so thrilled when the yellow crayons popped up out of their molds that he said, "ohhh - that is so satisfying!" I was pretty thrilled at his vocabulary choice and all of the children's shared excitement! 

The Children's Handmade Paper Results:

I decided to make the children's paper into tiny coloring books this year to go along with their newly molded and recycled crayons. I packed the newly formed books along with their handmade crayons into a zip-top bag. I labeled each kit as their "Artisan Coloring Set." Here is an example of those books!

Day 3: Animal Discovery Day

Model Magic Animal Sculptures:

We used Model Magic along with simple materials like scissors and our hands and a great big stack I've collected of animal print-out examples to model tiny animals as we began our Animal Discovery Day. (I keep a binder of print-outs and magazine clippings on different themes because I often end up teaching art in a place where there is no wifi. I can turn on a hot spot to show a short video, but I don't have access for all children to have computer examples in front of them. Its always better to teach children to look for inspiration when making art too, so I bring along the photos for them to model their animals after and for them to find inspiration. 

We sculpted them on Day 3 and finished them with paint and details on Day 4 and 5. The students were thrilled with their creations!

This is my example in progress.

Student Animal Sculptures Completed!

Day 3: Animal Discovery Day (Continued)

René Magritte Birds:

I found this project through Pinterest as well. It linked to an elementary art teacher who also has a blog about her projects. Here is the info for Cassie Stephens' blog! (Thanks, Cassie!) This project uses great materials for a quicker project with kids on a theme day of art camp: Paper, glue sticks, tissue-paper, and a tiny bit of white paint with a sponge.

We also studied the work of René Magritte. I found a fun new children's book that is great inspiration for a project with René Magritte. The book is Magritte's Marvelous Hat by D.B. Johnson

Here is what my students created!

Students Working

Students' finished projects!

Day 4: Discover Myself (and finishing our Discovering Animals theme!)

Animal Thank You Cards:

I set this up like stations. There were 5 Animal Thank You Card Stations. Each station had a little animal saying "Thank You" that students were to draw and color. I had ordered envelopes with this project in mind that students could actually go home and use these cards after camp. They were pretty cute and I don't know if I'll be able to part with them, but I may be able to make copies of them to send as thank you notes! This was one parent's favorite project that we did because she gets to see the most of her son's ability and personality. I happen to agree. :)

Drawing Break-Down:

I broke each drawing into about 4-8 steps and showed what was added to the drawing in each step. Children could color them on their own at the end of the drawing portion. 

Logistics of the Stations:

Children cycled through this along with cycling through making a cement stepping stone with me and a helper, so allowing the drawing project to give them independence and freedom was an important organizational element.  

Stepping Stones: (Discover Myself Theme!)

I had children design their stone in one of the 6 stations and then come to me with their designs. I helped them mix and lay stones into pre-portioned cement bags and molds. We let them dry a bit before children laid their stones into the mixture and dried a little more before they pressed their hands into the molds. The stones stay untouched for 24 hours before being moved. (I would re-arrange my days a bit when I teach this again so I have more time to let them sit and pack them up for parents. Lessons!!)

Stepping Stone Detail and Drying Strategy with supportive pencils for air flow!

Day 5: Complete Discover Myself Projects (and finish other projects):

Self Portrait Study:

I had this lovely plan to trace the body of each student on large kraft paper. We'd talk about three different styles of portraits through a few examples throughout art history. The students would color in their portraits with markers in the style of realism that they were seeking based on those examples. Then, we'd finish it with a bang by printing our own bare feet with paint as if we walked off of the paper. I think the kids love this sort of activity. Most of it happened, but if I re-organize the days a bit, I know we'd have time to finish the feet printing (which is the part we didn't get to.)

We drew inspiration from these three artworks and artists:

1. William Holman Hunt: Master Hilary - The Tracer, 1900

2. Henry Ossawa Tanner: Moroccan Man

3. Henri Matisse: Jazz1947

Students compared the levels of naturalism in each example and also compared the emotional effect on the viewer that can happen when that level of naturalism is altered. My goal is for students to realize that when an artist uses skills of impressionism or even abstract skills or non-objective techniques to make an art piece, they don't become less real- they are reaching us at another level of our 'realness' and that those choices are purposeful on the part of the artist. I impart them with the goal of choosing their own level of naturalism in their self-portraits that will be life-sized. They get to share their work and explain their choices afterwards. 

Life-Sized Self-Portrait Work

Students Working


I really enjoyed this camp theme! I think the topic is such a hook for the age group and that the children really enjoyed it too!

I do think that when I run this again, I will re-organize the order to move the order to the following:

Day 1: Discovering How Things are Made

Day 2: Discovering Myself

Day 3: Discovering Animals

Day 4: Discovering Nature

Day 5: Wrap-up / Finish projects

If you are interested in hiring me to teach this camp for your organization, you can email me here. If you live further away and are an art teacher running your own camps and want to try this camp theme, email me to connect with questions and your results!

All parents have given permission for the working photos to be shared for educational purposes and permission is expressly given to myself, Ann M. Bickel and the Hollidaysburg Arts Council. Please do not circulate theses images of children working elsewhere on the web for their own privacy. Thank you for your understanding.

What am I about?

My business is about providing art opportunities in the Altoona community as well as portraiture photography work. As a creative person, I like to dabble in other areas that allow me to bear witness to others' lives and explore what brings us all together. Though If you would like to follow along, you can check out my last blog article or join my newsletter!

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