How to Leverage Preschool Art Projects for Play-Based Learning

Young children are inquisitive by nature; hence, the reason “Why” is their favorite word! Studies show preschool students ask an average of 100 questions a day in an attempt to make sense of the world around them. It is imperative to capitalize on their curiosity in a way that is engaging and hands-on. Below are 15 preschool play-based learning art projects that pique a child’s interest and answer some of their “Why?” questions!  

A multiracial group of three serious young children doing  preschool arts and crafts.


Preschool play-based art projects explain higher -level concepts through simplified investigations. This project, for example, uses colored water and cotton balls to teach young children about rain and absorption.   

This Leaf People activity is a great opportunity to explore the outdoors and gather different sizes, shapes, and colors of leaves for a seasonal craft.  

Bugs are always in season!  Head outside or save this activity for a rainy day. Either way, this Thumbprint Bug craft teaches children about different bugs, like ladybugs and caterpillars. As a bonus, there are several books about bugs that complement this project nicely.  

Shapes & Colors  

Learning shapes and colors is just more fun with crafts. This Build a Dinosaur activity introduces rectangles and triangles as triceratops horns and brontosaurus legs. The craft foam used to create the dinos is perfect for less-than-gentle artists, too!  

The book Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh is a perfect vehicle to move from primary colors to secondary, and ultimately onto the color wheel. Create these Mouse Color Wheels or Color Wheel Bouquets, the latter of which is a little more advanced and will require more than one class period, but the beautiful bouquets make perfect end-of-the-year gifts to take home!   

Letters & ABCs  

Depending upon where your class is in terms of learning their letters, these crafts can be tailored to just spell out their names or include every letter of the alphabet. These Alphabet Paintings are pretty involved and require a lot of prep work, but the finished product is so vibrant and colorful that the extra effort is worth it.  

There is an element of competition to this ABC String Letter Game. Students can practice identifying proper alphabetical order or just focus on the shape of each letter. At the end of this several days’ long creative competition, letters A through Z are created and are ready to hang in the classroom as a lovely visual reminder of student learning.   

Fine Motor Skills  

These next two art projects are fantastic for reinforcing budding fine motor skills. This Cool Cat Newspaper Project uses mostly recycled newspaper and magazines and requires students to trace, cut, and glue. The finished product is a frisky feline in a funny pose, full of color and personality!  

A simpler craft that also improves fine motor skills uses beads and is called Embellishing Nature. Students go on a nature walk to find tiny sticks (fuzzy sticks are a great alternative), and then decorate them with beads and glitter. This craft could double as a holiday display, as they are sizeable and, depending upon the season, would be a great decoration.     


To introduce the mathematical concept of symmetry, children can study various species of butterflies, noting the symmetry in their wings. Then, using whatever loose materials are available, students can create their own symmetrical butterflies.   


It is human nature to wonder about how other people live. Young children are very curious about other kids their age. What do they look like? What foods do they eat? This multicultural/mini social studies lesson focuses on the Ukrainian tradition of creating Pysanky eggs and culminates in fun, colorful eggs anyone would be proud to hang on their refrigerator!   

Physical Activity  

Almost as limitless as their questions is a child’s boundless energy! Thankfully, play-based art projects and physical activity go hand-in-hand in the book Action Art: Hands-On Active Art Adventures by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Barbara Zaborowski. There are more than 100 crafts in the book that encourage movement during the process of creating, busying young artists with swinging, rolling, taping, or spinning. An example is the Paper Plate Twisting activity, where children explore color combinations by squirting paint on paper plates and then smooshing them together. Which is a more beautiful combination: the smooshed colors or art and physical movement?!  


Open-ended play-based art projects allow children to focus on the creative process instead of the finished product. Provide students with a theme for the project and an assortment of materials, and see what happens when they let their creative freedom take the lead.   


About the Author:


Stephanie Jankowski is an educator and author who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she's not teaching or writing, she's spending time with her children, Brady, Ella, and Lyla, and marveling at just how short the years really are.