Bean Art

When it comes to art I like activities that benefit and entertain all three kids (aged 2, 4, and 6).  Dry beans certainly fit the bill.  They each pick how they want to go about it, and they each learn something different.

What you need
Beans (kidney, fava, black-eyed, lima, etc) and other legumes (peas, lentils, etc)
liquid glue (not glue stick)
cups, muffin tins, containers, and spoons
thick paper or cardboard

Toddler Level – Sensory Fun
(skills: small motor skill development, sorting, comparing) 

Our set up is either a container that is large enough to be used for climbing in, walking on beans and hiding toys in, or a muffin tin with a set of spoons and cups for dumping and filling, scooping, stirring and pouring.  I tried putting a shower curtain on a floor to catch the spills, but it didn’t help and in addition to cleaning floor I also had to deal with a shower curtain.  Whatever you do, don’t play with legumes outside, if you live in Chicago because it attracts rats.  Three years ago I let my oldest play with beans/rice mixture in a yard, and, of course, half of the beans/rice were thrown all over.  You can not imagine the number of rats that suddenly decided to show up.  I haven’t seen any rats before that.  We actually had to vacuum clean all the beans out of the yard.  Once the beans were gone, so were rats.  

Our new favorite activity is to mix the beans of various sizes and to move them from a muffin tin to different containers using just hands.  I ask questions, “Is this bean different from that bean?  Is it the same size?  What color is this bean? Which beans do you have the most of?  The least of?  Which container is full/empty?  How many cups did you fill?

Preschooler Level – Tweezers and Imaginative Play
(skills: fine motor skill development, decision making, language skill development, story making, creativity)

Our set up is a muffin tin filled with beans of different sizes, plus glue, paper and tweezers.  My four-year old loves  tweezers and glue, so her favorite activity is picking a bean with tweezers, dipping it into glue and attaching it to a piece of paper in different patterns.  My 1st grader then draws shapes, lines and scribbles to turn her glued beans into creative designs.  They also like making bean faces.

Four-year old usually keeps a running commentary, “This is a good bean.  It wants to be dipped into glue because glue is actually whipped cream and it likes whipped cream.   I’m going to attach it here because it’s an airplane that is going to the moon and this bean wants to go the moon.”   She also likes to pretend that beans are people and they are talking to her.  “Pick me!  Pick me!  I want to be next!”

We also like to play simple rhyming games, “What rhymes with bean?” “Mean!  This bean is mean.  He is pushing the other beans out of the tin.”  To keep the game going we look for rhymes for all the words we can come up with in relations to beans: red (bed, sad, mad), hot (hut, nut, dot), green (machine, fifteen)…

Sometimes we use different colored paper as a base.  So when we used blue paper it was the sea and the beans were dolphins jumping into the sea.  “This bean has to go next!  His best dolphin-friend is already in the water!”  And my first grader drew sea weeds and sea shells, while preschooler was gluing her beans.  When the paper was green it was a meadow and beans were birds looking for a nice place to land.  My preschooler would say,  “this bird starts with s,” and then I would look up the names of birds that start with S in our Bird Encyclopedia.

First-grade level – Bean Art
(skills: fine motor skill development, decision making, learning to group colors together, patience)

My six-year old has enough finger dexterity and interest in creating more advanced art.  He draws a rough outline of his projects and then glues beans to fill the design.  In some cases he paints glue to the paper over his drawing and then puts the beans on top.  In other cases he dips each individual bean into a pile of glue and then attaches it to the page.  Below are some of his latest masterpieces.  Typically, while the glue is still wet and it’s easy to shift things around a bit, he asks me to help him to make circles rounder and lines straighter.

Another interesting bean activity is playing with colored beans and rice, but about it next time.    

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