Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Collage Infants and Toddlers Theory and Resources

Exploring Project Cycles through Materials Play

Sara Ottomano

In the Art Studio, we like to think about project cycles or how one experience can lead into the next. For one of the Materials Play programs this fall (a quarterly program series focused on the interests of toddlers and their caregivers), I considered how we could involve participants in the life-cycle of a painted paper display.

Originally created during a painted papers Every Day Art Project inspired by Eric Carle’s process, the display had been installed in the Art Studio for several months. It caught the light beautifully, represented the variety of ways that guests approached the stamping, and shaded the windows from the powerful sun.

The display was made out of Folia Transparent Paper which makes a great sound when touched, something our youngest guests discovered with glee when running their hands along the display over the course of many months. Some delighted in pulling at the paper as it makes a very satisfying sensory experience to tear down. This got me thinking about the display through the lens of a toddler who might see the window weaving as an engaging display on multiple levels. The display is not just an artwork to look at, but also an interactive piece, inviting guests to touch and listen as they tear, tug, and shred the paper.

With that in mind, after the paper had faded and needed to come down, I thought about how toddlers could help with the whole life-cycle of the papers. We are always repurposing past projects into fresh materials, and it’s always fun to invite guests into this part of the creative process. The Material Play participants could help deconstruct the display, tear the paper into pieces, then use the materials in a collage project. 

I first removed the tension rod from the display, taping all the papers to the window from the top to make sure the papers didn’t fall down before the project. On the tables, I placed trays of pre-cut Folia Transparent Paper from past projects, background paper, and glue sticks.

When the program began, I announced to the group that the project of the day was all about deconstruction and helping us with de-installing our display. At first they were hesitant to begin but once the tearing started, they really got into it. Some began to play within the paper, almost like fall leaf piles.

And in less than three minutes, the whole display was gone!

Some played in the paper the whole event while others went to the tables to start their collages. In a way, the deconstruction was a warm-up for construction, as guests started their collages by tearing the paper into smaller pieces, then arranging them into a picture before applying glue.

Some guests were interested in collecting colors while others told stories through their images.

At the end of the program, we piled up the papers, (chopping them if they needed to be cut smaller to eventually fit in our collage paper baskets) and then placed them in our storage bins for future use. Rather than taking the display down ourselves, I am glad we decided to share the experience with toddlers as they enjoyed being active participants in the transformation. I hope that by sharing our thinking around the life-cycle of our displays and materials, you are inspired to think of displays and materials in a new way!


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator from 2016-2023 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.