Monday, October 1, 2012

Magnet Paintings: An Art-Science Tray that Helps with Visual Tracking

Today is the first day of National Sensory Processing Awareness Month.  So, this month, I plan to include a sensory/SPD tie-in to each my posts.  Be sure to look for it at either the beginning or end of each one, if not woven all throughout as in the post below!

We have always been a mostly TV-free family.  We made this choice for the same reason that many families do – because television can be a time-sucker that takes more away from life than it adds to it.  We stuck with the choice, in part,  because we find that screen time can be largely over-stimulating for our “sensory kid”. 

“So, what do you do in the evenings instead of watching TV?” many folks ask us.  My reply?  A lot... including regular forays in sensory-based art.

One engaging art experience, which we recently enjoyed was:

Magnet Paintings
An Art-Science Tray that Helps with Visual Tracking
  • a piece of paper
  • tape
  • a dollar store cookie sheet (or aluminum tray)
  • washable paints in primary colors
  • a small bowl or recyclable cup (optional)
  • a spoon (optional)
  • water and cloths (to wash ball)
  • a strong magnet (We used SmartMax Extreme sticks, which are one of our favorite Timberdoodle splurges ever)
  • a magnetic ball or object (again, we turned to our SmartMax Extreme set, using one of the balls from it, but I would think other balls or objects could be used instead)

(1) Explore magnets.
(2) Make and test predictions.
(3) Explore lines within art.
(4) Experiment color mixing.
(4) Offer a fun, focused opportunity for visual tracking and hand-eye coordination.

Set Up

1.      Tape a sheet of paper to a thin aluminum tray.

2.      Have paint, a strong magnet and a magnetic ball (or alternate object), plus an optional bowl and spoon, on hand.


1.      Ensure that paper is taped onto a thin aluminum tray in such a way that it won't move.

2.      Squirt some paint onto the paper.

3.      Place a magnetic ball on top of the paper.

4.      “Catch” the ball with a strong magnet placed under the tray.

5.      Move the magnet around to paint with the ball. 

6.      Add a second, or even third, color of paint and note what colors appear on the paper as paint lines mix.

7.      Experiment with different methods. For example, squirt the paint into a small bowl or container and coat it using a spoon.  Then, proceed as above from 3-5.

8.      Remove the painting form the tray.

9.      Clean the tray, ball and area.

Skills, Learning and Concepts

  • Science (magnets, color mixing)
  • Art (primary colors, secondary colors, lines, color mixing)
  • Visual Tracking (as child watches the ball move along the paper)
  • Problem Solving (figuring out how to use the magnet to make the ball move in order to paint desired designs)
  • Focus (concentrating on keeping the magnet “connected” to the ball in order to paint)

Quick Tips/Extensions

  • Yes!  Even toddlers can do this activity.  Our two-year-old intently covered a ball with paint and worked to make it move across the paper to paint.

  • From a Montessori-mindset, I like this activity as it aligns with the Montessori idea of art being process, not product oriented and it encourages child-led exploration of color mixing and line.   I would never set up this activity up as a traditional Montessori activity that children may choose and try at any moment in my home, because it would create more opportunities for mess than I can handle.  However, in a home or classroom where adult observation and guidance is 100% present and focused, it could work as a consistently available art tray.

  • This activity has proved a calming and focusing one in our home.  However, the kids enjoyed it so much it was then difficult to transition from the calm focus of the activity to actual bedtime.  

  • We found the activity was easier to do when another person held the tray.

If you try this activity, we’d love to hear how it went.  We’d also love to your ideas for variations, extensions and sensory connections.  Please share!

Want to be inspired with others' Montessori ideas an work?  Click on over to Montessori Monday and enjoy.


Mindy said...

This is such a fun idea! I can't wait to try this with my kids, who love both paint and magnets! Thanks for sharing it!

Martianne said...

Enjoy, Melinda!

Deb Chitwood said...

Awesome idea, Martianne! I love the way you combined both art and science in the tray, and I'm enjoying your sensory/SPD tie-ins. Thanks for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page:

Martianne said...

Thank you, Deb. SPD is a topic which is near and dear to my heart.


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