Learning Fractions Through Art

One of my areas of frustration with early math learning is fractions.  There’s only so many times we can break a candy bar into pieces, or cut a pan of brownies, or slice a pizza.  Why are all the fraction activities based around food?

The Idea

Explore fractions through art projects.

The Execution

Last week we completed two art projects where we incorporated fractions as a natural part of what we were creating.  The first project was based on Ed Emberley’s Picture Pie book.  I used a large 1-inch circle punch and punched a pile of circles in different colors.  The kids helped me cut some of the circles into halves, quarters, and eighths.  First, we made some of the animals in Picture Pie.  I made sure to use “fraction speak” when asking my kids for pieces: “can you hand me three eighths in orange for the bird’s wings and beak?”

Fractions 1

Bird from “Picture Pie.” Age 5

A few days later my daughter asked to do some more Picture Pie.  We looked at some of the fancy mosaic pictures, and she decided to create her own “Christmas Picture.”  Note that after she glued her mosaic, she embellished her picture with some fraction-esque drawings.

Fractions 2

Age 7

Later in the week we incorporated more of fourths and eighths into our daily Doodles.  I taught the kids a new pattern we called “Flying Saucers.”

Fractions 3

Flying Saucers is in the bottom right quadrant.

We practiced Flying Saucers on scrap paper before starting our Doodles.  Even my 5 year was able to “draw an oval, then draw one line down, draw one line across, and draw four lines from the center out,” breaking the oval into eighths.  Before I even mentioned it, the kids had a collective light bulb moment where they shouted out that we were drawing eighths!  None of them chose to use the new pattern in their daily Doodles, but I later discovered this picture that had been created during free time:

Fractions 4


The Extension

We will be returning to these projects later in the year to learn twelfths.  We will also add in fractions from squares and rectangles.

I would like to create some mixed media pieces (cut and paste, markers, pencils, etc) using the ideas we learn from Picture Pie and our Doodles.  Kandinsky is a good inspiration for these pieces.

Composition 8 by Kandinsky





20 Ways to Draw…

The Idea

Find a drawing book to bridge the middle years (ages 9-11).

The Execution

My littlest kids (ages 5-7) have always enjoyed Ed Emberley’s drawing books.  But one by one they would grow out of these books, or simply be ready for something a little more challenging, a little more realistic.  I spent years trying to find a good drawing book for ages 9-11, or even a book with simple drawings that weren’t childish.  One day I was browsing the book section at Cass Art in London when I found it!  A whole series entitled “20 Ways to Draw….”  So far we own 20 Ways to Draw a Tree (nature subjects) and 20 Ways to Draw a Cat (animals).

Art 75 Art 77

The Extension

The realistic nature of these drawings makes them a good reference for nature journaling.  Use these drawing techniques and ideas to learn more about leaf and tree shapes, bark texture, snowflake crystals, etc.

Art 47


Punch Art Fall Trees

I could write a blurb about how great glueing down tiny pieces of paper is for fine motor skills.  But the truth is that this art project was born out of desperation and wanting my kids to just sit still so I could unpack the house after a move!

The Idea

Pull out those craft punches you used for scrapbooking (you know, before your kids were talking) and create a scene for kids to make.  I had leaves, stars, and flowers, so we made a night sky with fall trees.

The Execution


colored paper
craft punches

I punched out the shapes for my kids, as the punches can be quite stubborn.  We used torn brown paper for the trees.

Art 31

Age 4. Gave up and took a nap.

Art 32

Age 5. The conscientious artist.

Art 33,jpeg

Age 7. The kid that has to be different. And also line things up.

The Extension

In spite of its dubious beginnings, we actually really liked this craft.  We used up some leftover bits to make solar system / night sky pictures another day.

Art 6 copy

Art 7 copy

Art 8 copy


Blowing Trees

This project turned out to be one of our favorites this last year.  It was very simple for the little ones, but still fun for the older ones as well.

The Idea

Paint a background with watercolor paints.  Use straws to blow watered-down acrylic paint and create a tree shape. Add final details.

Art 24

Age 14

Art 25

Age 8

Art 26

Age 6

Art 27 copy

Age 5

The Execution


Watercolor paint
Paper towels (to blot off bits of paint and create cloud shapes)
Thick paper
Acrylic paint

Follow directions from That Artist Woman for How to Paint Spring Trees.  She has a similar tutorial called How to Paint Fall Trees.

The Extension

My kids continue to use this technique to create other projects.

Art 28

Clay Miniatures

One of my goals in teaching my kids to do crafts is to help them discover hobbies they can do for life.  To that end, we don’t do a lot of “kid crafts.”  I try to find simple versions of adult crafts for them to practice, and eventually grow into.  My oldest daughter discovered this form of clay crafting on her own; it has since become a family favorite.

The Idea

Create dollhouse (or fairy-house) sized miniature objects from clay.  These objects can then be used in play or other learning activities.

mini clay pieces

A selection of mini clay projects from my oldest daughter’s collection.

The Execution


  • Sculpey Clay (oven-drying)
    • We usually stock up when Michael’s puts the individual color blocks on sale.
  • Pasta Machine
    • Optional, but lots of fun and very useful; my oldest daughter received the Atlas machine as a Christmas gift one year.
  • Rolling pin if you don’t have a pasta machine
  • Basic clay tools
    • We like plastic ones like these, and these are good for older or more advanced crafters

One fun and simple project to start with is clay “canes.”

  • First “condition” the clay by passing it through the pasta machine (or rolling flat with a rolling pin) several times.  This softens the clay and makes it more pliable.  My kids could spend hours passing clay through the pasta machine.
  • Next, create a cane using one of these Simple Polymer Clay Canes tutorials.  Allow imperfections in the canes for younger kids; they turn out very artsy looking!
  • Slice the canes as described in the above tutorial.  You can make “cookie” slices for dolls, or thicker slices for “beads.”  (If beads, poke a hole through each one with a thick needle before baking.)  Thick slices can also be used as counters for games or math manipulatives.
  • Bake and cool as directed on the package.
mini clay beads

We created a garland out of Jellyroll Cane Beads, perler (hama) beads, and homemade pom-poms.

The Extension

A more complicated cane to make can be found on this Flower Clay Canes tutorial.  Some beautiful and highly complex canes can be found on Polymer Clay Workshop.

Tutorials for making an endless variety of miniature clay food can be found on the internet.  Many of these require additional supplies such as pastels, glazes, and resins. Some of our favorites:

Miniature Clay Food Tutorials (Pinterest)
Simply Stella
Dollhouse Bread and Snow-cones

Another fun project my daughter enjoyed was creating miniature clay koi ponds.  The stones are aquarium gravel, and the “water” is clear resin.  Tutorials for this project can be found on Small Creations and My Tiny World.

mini clay pond

Bits and pieces of clay projects can be reassembled into dioramas, such as this mermaid cavern.

mini clay mermaid

Art as Medicine

Growing up, I was not an artist.  I was a reader, a musician, and a thinker.  My sister was the artist, the athlete, and the dancer.  As an adult, I didn’t do anything artistic.  I worked as an engineer and made spreadsheets as a hobby.   I really don’t like museums.  I truly loathe live musical performances (although I do enjoy the music on my own time).

But having children changes you, and one of the things I have learned is the value of art in the lives of my children.  It gives them time and space to think and experiment without fear of failure.  It gives us time together, sitting around the table, to talk and create things as a family.

Several years ago I walked into our school space and saw a mess of art supplies left by my oldest. I probably heaved a sigh and started to clean it up, only to happen upon this:

9-1-1 painting

We hadn’t even talked about 9-11, but she printed pictures off the internet and had her own time of contemplation.

A few years later we were transferred overseas, and had to leave our beloved Florida home.  The kids were terribly sad to leave their friends and say good-bye to the only home most of them remembered (we move a lot…).  We spent a few weeks creating a piece of Florida to take with us.  They each picked out a favorite animal.  We hung a piece of butcher paper on the wall and laid a tarp on the floor..  I sketched, they painted.

florida wall paint

Soon after we arrived in the UK, the kids were going stir crazy because they didn’t have any friends.  They decided to make “paper friends.”  This picture is 2 of the perhaps 8 paper friends that were made — complete with packing tape — and played with nonstop for several weeks.

paper people

Don’t leave out art!  Don’t fear the mess.  We keep a tarp, supplies, and a few of dad’s old t-shirts (art smocks!) in an easy place, and haul it all out at least one day a week.  I provide a structured art experience usually once a month, and the rest of the time they are free to explore.


Art Tarp for Posterity

This is a painter’s canvas drop cloth from Home Depot.  It goes on our big table every time we do an art project. It hasn’t been washed in 6 years!  One day, when my kids are all grown, I may have it stretched and framed as a memento of the journey.

(My cloth is large, similar to this one.  I have it folded over twice for extra thickness.)

art tarp

Today’s Doodles

Our landlord is doing major renovations when we move out this summer, so many days we have workers measuring, quoting, and digging into parts of my house I really don’t want exposed!  Not a lot of school work gets done.   This morning was one of those days, and a perfect time to corral the kids around the kitchen table and work on our Doodles.

“Real” Zentangles aren’t supposed to have color.  But we like color.  Keep in mind that these are only 2.5 x 3.5 inches (trading card size).

I also created a Master Doodle Template so my littlest ones can practice just filling in patterns. (For best results, print on cardstock paper.  Cut into 2.5 x 3.5 rectangles.)  They like to refer to a page of patterns like our Master Doodle Patterns.

zen patterns 13

Age 8

zen patterns 14

Age 6

zen patterns 11

Age 6

zen patterns

Age 14

Collaborative Coloring

The Idea

One of the best parts of being a home educating parent is the freedom to let your children create beautiful messes in the pursuit of their personal artistic genius.  It’s also one of the worst parts.  There are just some days I need an engaging, low-mess art project.  Engaging to keep them from fighting.  Low-mess to allow me to create some sort of order in my home.  The bonus here is that the end result is beautiful, and I end up with ONE project to put on display, not FOUR.

The Execution

Use google images to find a simple line drawing.  (If you don’t know how to do this: Go to Google Images. Type in your search term and search. At the top of the images, click on More Tools > Type > Line Drawing.)  Using the print dialog, scale the image to fill the page.  Print on card stock paper.  Turn paper over and draw squares in pencil.  Number the squares so that you can easily reassemble.  Cut into squares.  (I usually do 3x3inch squares, or something similar).  Have each child color their squares.  To reassemble, flip squares color side down and arrange in order.  Use clear packing tape to attach, being very careful to line everything up exactly.



Tree and Dragon by my children, ages 4, 6, and 8.  With some details added by mom at their request.  Some of the cool effects on these pieces were achieved using Colour Magic Pens we purchased at Hamleys in London.

The Extension

If your children enjoy working with the small squares, another fun project to do is Inchies. Inchies can also be reassembled into a larger collage.