Paint-a-Story Mondays… or, The Messier the Better

Cynthia Compton - April 19, 2017

Like most children’s stores, we rely on regular story times and authorless events to keep our regulars stopping in. Here at 4 Kids, we host an unchanging weekly schedule, as follows:
Mondays: Paint-a-Story
Tuesdays: Stories & Snacks
Thursdays: Silly Songs & Stories
Fridays: Gymboree Art Class
Wednesdays are reserved for private play groups in our party/event room, “special events” and large order deliveries (because I still *believe* that I can direct when pallets will arrive… see me later about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and my plan to Whole 30 just any day now…)
The most popular of our events is the Monday morning Paint-a-Story session, and I’m posting today just as this event is finishing up. So yes, I do see that there is blue paint in my hair and gluey fingerprints on my skirt, and yes, I meant for my manicure to be green. Thanks for noticing. We didn’t start out planning for this to be such an art-travaganza, but it owns that moniker proudly. Each week, about 30–35 kids attend with their moms, grandmothers (lots more of these lately, that’s another post, I think) and nannies. There’s another dozen or so “pumpkin seaters,” or babies in carriers and strollers, and the occasional dad.

We start by sharing our news – someone usually has new sneakers, someone else might have a new baby sister, and then read the story of the day. As much as possible, we make sound effects, try to guess what will happen next, and take time to look at all the pictures. There’s an energy that happens when a good story is read by a group, and certainly more laughter. In this event, we try to focus on the work of the illustrator as much or even more than the words. We talk about how the pictures were made, what mediums the illustrator used, and how the pictures make us feel. Children are great art critics, because they are working artists, and aren’t bound by either expectation or tact.
Then it’s off to the tables to paint – which is sometimes tempera, sometimes liquid watercolor, often glue and Mod Podge, and even jello powder and spices. We paint on paper, on cardboard, on vegetables, and on tinfoil. We try very hard not to be “cute,” so there’s no pompon animals or handprint turkeys, but lots of experimenting with the materials used in the book we’re sharing, or exploring the color palette or the theme (like ice painting for Snowy Day or potato printing for Vegetables in Underwear). We frequently tell parents that our goal is to do something that they wouldn’t be allowed to at home, and thanks to our tile floor, a lot of smocks, and a casual attitude towards glitter, we usually achieve that. It’s fascinating to listen to young children narrate as they create, and see them engage fearlessly with a blank page with no lines to color in or dots to connect. The links between language and music and art are obvious – some kids hum or sing as they paint, some make sound effects to punctuate their art, and we hear lines of dialogue repeated with great expression, much as the illustrator probably did when the book was created.
As the 30 minutes together ends, kids have often drifted away from their seats towards the train table, but adults are drawn to the discarded brushes and swirls of paint on paper plate palettes. There’s a lot of therapy in covering a page in blue and green tempera, and much like the book that inspired the art, an invitation to just sit for a little while and see the pictures.


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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

1 thought on “Paint-a-Story Mondays… or, The Messier the Better

  1. Leslie Hawkins

    I love this idea! I just happen to have a very talented art student on staff… this may be something we need to try out. Unfortunately, I also have carpet, so we’d have to spread out some dropcloths!


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