Activity Time: 45–60 minutes
Adult Supervision: Required
Best for Ages: 2+
Note: Children ages 2–4 will need more adult support with cutting, tearing and gluing.
- A large printed photograph or drawing of yourself
- Loose parts (Check your junk drawer for buttons, small rocks or twigs, paper clips, broken toys, etc.)
- Colored paper cut or torn into strips and various shapes
- Scissors and glue
- Optional: Mark making materials such as crayons, colored pencils or markers
- Optional: Objects with personal importance (small toys and images, for example)
What makes you who you are? It’s important for kids to feel good about themselves and their futures. Grab some paper, small objects and scissors and get ready to explore identity and create a collage self-portrait!
This edition of Mini Art Lessons invites children and their adult caregivers to build a positive sense of self while exploring portrait making. You’ll need a photo or drawing of yourself and assorted materials for collaging. Mini Art Lessons offer open-ended opportunities for caregivers of young children (under age 8) to explore art concepts playfully and intentionally.
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How can art help kids feel good about themselves?
When kids feel good about themselves and their future, they build independence and develop their confidence. Creating self-portraits can help kids develop their sense of self. Self-portraits allow children to reflect on who they are and think about who they want to be. Every artist makes choices to represent people. In this Mini Art Lesson, kids can practice making choices to represent themselves – a way to empower themselves as the creator of their identity and future!
What might kids learn? These activities help children:
- Explore their identity and express who they are
- Make portraits of themselves and others
Look in the mirror together.
What do you see? Take turns describing each other’s features in positive ways, “Look at your beautiful brown eyes!” Describe features with detail using positive words. “I have a big smile and can see my teeth.” or “I can see your curly black hair and warm brown eyes”.
When we look in the mirror, we can see all of our special features: our eyes, our skin, our hair, our smile. When talking to your child, emphasize that every person is beautiful and important!
Note: If your child is really interested in looking in the mirror, you can extend the looking with some drawing. Invite your child to draw their reflection directly on the mirror with the dry erase marker. Or prop the mirror up next to a piece of paper and mark-making material and invite your child to draw what they see in the mirror.
Developmental Note: Children may or may not represent themselves accurately. Most children under the age of four will not have the ability to draw a realistic looking self-portrait, and that’s okay! Celebrate any drawing your child creates of themselves.
Now, look closely at this portrait (a portrait is an artwork showing a person).
Describe the colors, lines, and shapes. What specific features can you identify?
Pose your body like the person in the portrait. How do you think they might be feeling, and why?
This artwork is called Fighting the ISM by artist Deborah Roberts. Roberts collages photographs and paint to create unique artworks that bring together many different artmaking styles. The children in her portraits often wear brightly colored clothing. What kind of clothing would you want to show yourself wearing in a self-portrait?
Roberts is interested in how identity forms, or how people start to express who they are. As a Black woman, she is specifically interested in Black children’s identity: her portraits always feature Black girls or boys. She shared in a video, “When I was eight years old, I tried to figure out what I wanted to do, how I wanted to look, separate from my sisters. Those were the first steps in creating my identity.”
Adults might enjoy watching her artist talk.
Image credit: Portrait of Deborah Roberts by Anne Matlock for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Art Speak: What’s a collage? A collage is a type of art made by combining different two dimensional materials, like multiple pieces of paper, together.
What makes you beautiful on the inside and out? Express who you are, taking inspiration from the artwork you just looked at. Collage your own self-portrait (portrait of yourself!) using your image.
Developmental Note: Toddlers may enjoy exploring materials more than representing themselves; we recommend limiting the selection to some colorful papers and loose objects (like large buttons and twigs) so they don’t get overwhelmed by too many choices. Younger artists may also enjoy using their body to make a portrait (e.g., tracing their shape, painting their handprints, etc.). Older artists (ages 4 and up) will be better able to handle a larger selection of materials and make choices about how to represent themselves based on their physical features and emotions.
- Talk: What makes you special? Share with your child what makes them special, using examples. “You are brave. You are not afraid to try new things like riding a bike!” or “You are kind and love animals.” Then, let your child share their own ideas about what makes them special.
- Choose a picture of yourself to use. A photo printed on paper, an old photograph, or a drawing (stick figures and abstract drawings are all welcome!) will form the foundation for this project. Note: If you can print a photo, give your child 2–3 photos of themselves to choose from.
- Select and gather materials that you can use to represent who you are in your collage:
- What are your favorite colors? Choose scrap papers in an assortment of colors you like, and set them aside. Note: Artists under age 4 will need adult supervision using scissors. Tearing paper is a good alternative to cutting for young children, and as a bonus (!) will help develop fine motor skills.
- What are your favorite things? Find or draw images of your favorite things. If you know your child likes animals or a certain activity, it will help to pre-select some magazine or news clippings with these. You might even incorporate other artworks your child has created!
- Find loose parts and small objects you like. Your child may choose buttons, rocks, twigs, or small toys. Note: Be aware of small objects that may pose a choking hazard to artists under age 3.
- Set your mark-making materials, glue, and scissors nearby.
- Experiment with your composition. As you work, try different ways of using the materials:
- Place your materials in different places. Move them around to see how they look in different arrangements
- Combine, cut, or mark up your materials to create new features
- Layer materials in interesting ways
- Crumple up paper or foil to add texture
- As you work, talk together:
- What are you making?
- What do you like about the materials you choose?
- Do you want to add more?
- You might also narrate what the child is doing. For example, “I see that you’re adding orange and red puzzle pieces to your collage.”
- Title your self-portrait: Once you’re happy with your self-portrait, give it a name! Take a selfie with your self-portrait or keep playing and making self-portraits!