Expressive arts and design: Fabulous Frida!

Karen Hart, education writer, London
Friday, February 19, 2021

Frida Kahlo's art is a fantastic subject for pre-schoolers as there are so many ways to explore her paintings, her life and her art style. It is also an opportunity for children to understand her cultural heritage as a Mexican painter.

Karen Hart

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter probably best known for self-portraits and works inspired by her life, animals and nature.

Frida's artistic style, often mixing fantasy with realism, together with her use of bright, vibrant colours mirror the artistic style of children in many ways, making it easy to see why her work is so popular with children everywhere – as well as adults.

As well as exploring her own life you could look at the work of her husband – the Mexican painter Diego Rivera, famous for helping to establish the mural movement in Mexican and international art.

Frida Kahlo is as much celebrated today for her unique individuality as she is for her art; from her famous heavy eyebrows to her flamboyant style of dress, she has become an icon for true self-expression.

Before starting the activities here, introduce your children to Frida Kahlo, by showing some of her paintings, and sharing a bit about her life in Mexico. (See book list).

The activities here are all suitable for using with children from two years.

Playing and exploring

  • Children explore still life drawing
  • They look at the paintings of Frida Kahlo and have a go at making art in the same way
  • They experiment with colour and colour mixing

Water melons

Frida Kahlo's famous painting; ‘Viva la Vida (long live life) Watermelons’, painted in 1954, was her last work and characteristically depicts the vibrancy of nature. Share an image of this painting while children paint:

Sponge painted watermelons

You will need: Watermelon slices cut into triangles, sponges cut in various sizes of triangles, white painting paper, red, white, green and black poster paints in dishes, paintbrushes, cotton buds.

Let children look at the watermelon slices, pointing out the seeds that can be seen stuck in the flesh. Talk about the colours; the reds and pinks, the green rind and black seeds.

Mix some paint in a dish to match the colour of the fruit, before showing children how to dip a wedge of sponge into the paint to make prints. We used a paintbrush to paint the green rind and used cotton buds to make the black seeds. They looked lovely.

Still life – for children from three-and-a-half and above

You will need: A selection of watermelons/watermelon sections, drawing pencils, poster paints, white painting paper.

If possible, arrange a bright blue backdrop behind the watermelons to give the appearance of Frida Kahlo's painting, arranging the watermelon in a similar way.

Using a drawing pencil, encourage children to draw the arrangement. There will undoubtedly be a difference between the drawing abilities of children here, so be ready to help a bit as needed.

It can be a good idea to get children started by drawing the first piece of watermelon for them – young children often need a bit of help to get started, but once they have a starting point find it easy to find their way. If children can make just a rough circular shape, that's perfect.

Once happy with their drawing, ask children to add colour with paint, showing how to make shades of green by mixing various amounts of blue and yellow together.

Once finished, display for parents and carers to see and admire.

There are many benefits that come from using still life drawing with young children, such as:

  • Taking more time over their art work
  • Learning to observe closely and really see the objects they draw
  • Becoming confident in their own interpretations of copying objects
  • Be sure to offer encouraging feedback: ‘You've included lots of seeds; well spotted!’ etc. A little encouragement really boosts confidence in trying new activities.

Active learning

  • Children use a range of techniques including cutting, colouring, constructing and fitting shapes together
  • They use a wildlife theme as decoration, forging connections with Frida Kahlo's art
  • Children explore colour, making their own decisions

Frida Kahlo headbands

Frida Kahlo is well known for her highly decorated hair, which she would adorn with ribbons, flowers and ornaments. These headbands show Frida Kahlo's unique style and love of wildlife.

You will need: 1 strip of card per child – long enough to fit around the child's head, stapler, photocopies or cut-outs of flowers, birds, butterflies etc, pipe cleaners, paper glue, sticky tape.

Let children colour their photocopied pictures, then either cut out for younger children, or let older/more-able children try a bit of the cutting for themselves – shapes only need cutting out roughly.

Glue shapes around the headband. We fixed a few of our flying creatures – butterfly, dragonfly and bee – on to short pieces of pipe cleaner using sticky tape, before fixing these to the inside of the band so they looked like they were flying. They were a big hit.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children build confidence as they try new ideas
  • They create links to the self-portraits of Frida Kahlo
  • Children discover art can be unusual and imaginary and take lots of forms

Frida Kahlo self portraits

We kept these relatively quick and simple.

You will need: Photocopy of a head and shoulder photo of each child, big enough for a self-portrait on A4, A4 paper-card background template for photo, felt tip pens

We based our portrait background sheets on the painting; ‘Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’, and left out the butterfly's wings, the cat's face and the monkey's features, so children could copy these in for themselves. Younger children can still join in this step, with adults supporting while they observe.

When taking the photos, ask children to look straight ahead and try to copy Frida's famous stare; something seen throughout her work.

Position and glue the child's photo on the background, before demonstrating how to complete the parts of the objects that are missing, also adding Frida's famous uni-brow, bit of a moustache, and flowers in the hair by drawing onto the photo of their face. Children should be free to use any colours they choose here, there's no need to keep things realistic as Frida was all about expression and doing her own thing.

Follow-on activity

Frida Kahlo lived in a famously bright blue house called the Casa Azul (the Blue House). Children could have a go at painting a blue house like Frida's using your brightest blue paint. You can find a couple of good photos using the following link:

Frida Kahlo Nature Walk

Frida Kahlo took much of her inspiration from the natural world. To tie-in with this focus on still life art, take children on a nature walk to any nearby open space or forest school area to observe the natural world up close. Collect some leafy twigs, mossy pieces of bark, long stems of grass showing feathery seed heads etc., to use as still life objects for your next art activity. There's something special about collecting the objects you draw yourself, as you can remember them in their natural setting. This time, just put a few objects on the drawing table for children to look at and draw as they want. When we did this, some children made the leaves and grasses into other shapes, such as a house and a bird, then drew these; a great example of children using their artistic imaginations.

Observation – gauging progress

Are your two-year-olds making marks with intention? Are they watching adults create, draw and paint and attempting to copy what they see? When still life drawing, do your three and four-year-olds show a basic understanding of objects having different sizes on the paper to correspond with the objects in front of them? For example, a slice of watermelon being smaller than the whole thing.

Key learning points:

  • Children explore still life drawing, learning to observe the natural world and copy what they see
  • They look at magical realism as an art form
  • Practice using colour in an imaginative way
  • Children look at the life and art of a new artist from another country

Useful resources

  • Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown (Northsouth Books)
  • Little Frida: A Story of Frida Kahlo by Anthony Browne (Walker Books)
  • Frida Kahlo: (Little People, Big Dreams) by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)
  • My Little Golden Book About Frida Kahlo by Silvia Lopez (Golden Books)

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