Exploring Art Materials: Oil Pastels

Exploring Art Materials with Preschoolers from Play Explore Discover

It’s a good idea to enable young children to explore materials freely when they are new. For new art materials, like these oil pastels, I often set up a bench or table covered with paper so the children can use as much or as little space as they need to. They are still developing their motor skills so this approach allows them to practise using big arm movements, building up the muscles in the shoulders which will help them to write when the time comes.

Oil pastels are a little like a superior wax crayon. They are more highly pigmented and are softer which makes them easier to use – and if you have a reluctant mark-maker that’s really important. They’re also blendable which offers a new technique for them to explore.

I left these materials out for a few days, sometimes putting out fresh paper but sometimes leaving what they had done for them to add to the following day. Allowing this space and time to explore means that when they do start to be able to create representations intentionally, they will have developed a good understanding of how different materials behave, the ways in which they can use them and what will be the best material to use to create the effect they want.

Amelie discovered she could turn the pastels on their sides to make a wide line.

drawing wide lines

It was really interesting to see Max using two hands to draw mirror images – this is something he does quite a lot, even though he mainly uses his right hand.

two-handed drawing

One of their hand puppets joined in too!

drawing with a puppet

I picked up our oil pastels in The Works (they stock lots of good value, real art materials) but for something similar, try these. Do make sure to remove the paper coverings – yes they break more easily, but it’s much easier to explore the different ways of using them if they can use the whole pastel.

We’ve also explored chalk pastels. Kate, from An Everyday Story, wrote a lovely guest post as part of a series for Playful Learning about these; she’s a great advocate for children using real art materials. You can check it out here.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Art Materials: Oil Pastels

  1. A lovely exploration Eleanor :) We have oil pastels out on the art table at the moment too. I love them. You are so right, they are like super crayons; the colour is so vibrant and the more experience children have with the medium, the more they learn to blend and layer the colours.

    • They are great, aren’t they? I’m making sure we have as much access as is practical to things like this and it’s really paying dividends in how they are exploring and creating.

  2. Oh we love oil pastels here too… they are such a pleasure for everyone to draw and make marks with, from my three year old, to my ten year olds… and actually I think I like them best of all!

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