A Winning Lesson for the First Day of Kindergarten Art

You may think I am crazy, but I jump right into an art project on the first day of Kindergarten art! In this video, I will tell you all about what project I do, how I accomplish it, and how I use this first art project as an important assessment tool.

Click Here to download the PDF of the shape sheet that I use for this lesson.

What is your first Kindergarten Art Project? 

What are your tips for surviving the first day of Kindergarten Art?

5 years ago

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • artteacher16

    I think this is a great lesson for the beginning of the school year, and I’ll try it as my second lesson. The first lesson I have my Kindergarteners begin with is having them draw a portrait of themselves with their family. Of course, the combinations of “family” members are endless (don’t forget your pets!), and we talk about that from the get go. We also spend some time talking about what people look like and what shapes, colors, and details we might need to be able to draw a person. I do not create an example or demonstrate because, like the lesson shared here, I use this as an assessment piece to find out where they’re at cognitively-familiarity with the subject matter, materials, following directions, etc. They outline in pencil first, and then they have the opportunity to add color to their drawing. When the class is over, I collect their drawings, not to be returned to them until their last art class. Come June, I repeat this same lesson, and then we have a show-and-tell to view both their September and June drawings. The grow is absolutely incredible, and this simple opening lesson is one of my very favorites. They can actually see their own growth as budding artists and their huge smiles in are priceless.

    • This is a very nice idea for the first day of Kindergarten! Families are so important to our little ones, and this really gives students a chance to draw more details, which provides you more information about their skill level. I personally made little notes in my seating chart with students who I feel were advanced or needed extra support in art class based upon these initial results. Saving them for the end is a perfect way to show growth. Thanks!

    • kathleen

      I also save the first day self-portraits and then they glue those to a construction paper sheet with the last day portrait. We label them a send them home as proof of their great growth. Many go from a circle with 4 sticks to writing about their well detailed last day drawing.

      Scissor on the first day with my kinders would be scary.

  • Beth Bataoel

    This will be a great assesment tool for the first few days of Kindergarten art, and I plan on using it this fall, thanks, Jessica!
    On the first day of kindergarten art this year, I plan on reading to them the book, “No One Saw” by Bob Raczka to introduce them to paintings and artists. I plan on discussing each painting with them as we are reading. Day 2 we will read a book on color and then play I Spy with colors in the art room. Day 3 we will read “Lines that Wiggle” by Candace Whitman and again discuss the lines they can find in the art room. We won’t start any art production until Day 4. I think I can use this assessment lesson after reading them a book on shapes. (Our school district has a large emphasis on literacy… can you tell??) I also like the idea artteacher16 posted on a self portrait, and hope to use that as well. My students come Monday!! Can’t wait to see them all!

  • Erica

    My poor kindergartners, some have never seen scissors. Taking the scissors out I always feel like I’m taking my life in my hands. I start in small groups and try to work through the thirty kids 5 at a time! It’s so hard to plan for the first day when some don’t even respond to their own name! I always read ART and we “air draw” the lines in the book then draw them on paper.

    • Erica,
      Yes, you definitely need to know your students. Starting with cutting and scissors can be daunting, it sounds like you have a good plan!

  • Mrs.C

    Thanks Jessica! I love this lesson! When i saw it this morning it inspired so many ideas in my head! Thanks for sharing it and I am definitely going to use a version of it for my first lesson with my Kinders! :)

    • Totally! You can take this in so many different directions. The download can be used for many different kinds of shape projects. Good luck!

  • Donna Staten

    Hi Jess! Love that kinder project! Why don’t you pin it to the group “Art” board to share it with a bigger audience! :-)

  • Dnutter

    I really like this idea. I, too, and not sure how it could be done in a 45 minute class unless it went into two classes. How much time do you spend going over class rules and expectations with kinders? I usually talk about this with them even though I know it will take lots of repeating before they really get the picture. Esp. those who have never been in a classroom before.

    • I go over mini lessons for the rules briefly during each class period for the first few months. This takes 2 class periods. One to color in the shapes, find our seats, etc. and the second to cut and paste.

  • DES

    great idea! Just added that to my first week plans.

    • Kathy

      On the very first day, I tell students that they are already artists and today they will work as a team to produce something BIG to hang in the hall for everyone to see. This gets their attention, and I make a big deal about teamwork and how they could never make something so big working alone in just one class. I have 17 students. They stand around the tables (pushed together) with a piece of paper 36″ X 8′. We talk about the subject, and I show photos or whatever is needed (I have done sunflowers, tall buildings, a saguaro cactus, an emperor penguin…). First they vote on the color paper we will use (I have several precut to size) then one by one I hand the chalk to a different child to draw a part of the subject, passing the chalk to finish a line, etc. This goes quickly as they get the idea, and more than one child can use the chalk to add, say petals and leaves to the sunflower. (Easy to erase mistakes with a damp sponge). Then I give some guidelines and everyone uses oil pastels to color it in–making discoveries— that if there is no green oil pastel, they can use blue and yellow for example, or use the side of the oil pastel. I assign the tasks needed–“OK, you two make seeds in the center”, “now could you add a few more leaves” and ask if we need anything else (rain, sun, insects?). They are so proud at the end of class! I go over rules on the second class period, since on the first day every teacher is talking about rules (imagine how boring this would be for 5 classes in a row).

      • Lauren Hughes

        How cool Kathy!!! I know this is from a few years ago but if you read this and have some pictures of the end result I would love to see! Great collaboration and team building exercise!

  • Laura Hubb

    I love this! I am going to try it with my first graders (no art in kindergarten anymore in our school district). Do you have any ideas for something similiar for 2nd or third graders?

  • Bonnie Powers

    Lovin this lesson and I’m going to try it as my second lesson. I just started teaching PK – 1st grade Art where we are working toward developing a core curriculum based program. We did not get our schedules until a few days before school started. My class periods are only 25 minutes long (was expecting 30-35 minutes) and are back-to-back with each class having 20-24 students. Any tips or ideas you have are greatly appreciated.

  • Some people have asked what criteria I am looking for (aka a rubric) for this lesson. I don’t have a formal rubric created, but here is what I would be looking for – at a glance.

    1. Cutting and Gluing

    2. Appropriate Placement of Shapes

    3. Following Simple Directions

    4. Ability to draw lines, fill in shapes with color, etc (more fine motor)

    5. Creativity – Did the student add something original to the hat design. Did the student add anything else (I’ve had students add earrings, eye lashes, tassels on the hat, etc, etc…. This shows they are thinking beyond and can tell me a lot about their future performance in the art room, although somewhat subjective.

  • Lauren Hughes

    I love this idea too- you think it would be alright for first graders? I’ve had a lot of difficulty with first grade the past 2 years of teaching. Great assessment tool- thank you for sharing.

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  • Tom Azlecs

    I usually do a quilt project and wanted to try a preliminary just to see how they do. I adapted the worksheet, I will try it. Thanks.

  • Amy

    Jessica, do you have any directions for the square? Also, do you have a rationale behind giving them an arrow to point up? Since they are cutting the shapes out, I was just wondering if you had a particular reason. Thanks!!

    • Hi Amy- The arrows are so the students know where the top of the paper is. If they orient their paper correctly, then the eyes will be at the top of the head, for example. You can give whatever directions you’d like for each piece. Jessica just gave a few examples, but yours could be different.

      • Amy

        Thanks, Amanda, I asked about the arrows because the head will be cut out and is then re-oriented by the student when they glue it…. I thought she might have run in to something that prompted the arrows. Thanks for the prompt response- I love this website!!!

  • No love for Ralph McQuarrie anywhere?

  • Beatriz Milhazes, from Brazil, uses a very interesting, intriguing technique. She paints designs with acrylic paint on plastic sheets, peels them when dry. From there, she collages them in huge compositions with many others, onto canvas. She also makes prints.

  • Klevi

    Thank you Jessica! I teach visual art to pupils from 3-14 years old and those days I was really in trouble in finding my perfect first lesson. You gave me a good idea for kindergarten kids. I think I’m going to do separate it in two hours(30 min one hour)first drawing and coloring and second cutting and glueing. Thanks a lot😄