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Self-Portrait Art Projects for Preschoolers

Young children love to express themselves through art and creative projects. One art project that can be a particularly powerful tool for self-expression involves inviting children to create self-portraits. When children create representations of themselves, they have an opportunity to observe their own unique features and identities, and to notice the uniqueness of each of their peers. In this article, we share a few different ways to invite children to create self-portraits using a variety of different art materials.

The Power of a Self-Portrait

Self-portraits are a popular activity in Reggio classrooms and programs. When children create self-portraits, they have a chance to look at their skin tone, eye color, and all of the other features on their faces that make them special and unique! During these activities, educators facilitate supportive conversations among the children about each child’s portrait and about some of the similarities and differences between themselves and their peers. Because these conversations occur in a positive environment, they support each child’s identity formation and encourage social-emotional skills like perspective-taking and empathy.

Ann Pelo, author of The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings, adds, “When we invite children to create self-portraits, we offer them mirrors and encourage long, sustained study of their faces from this unfamiliar perspective…A self-portrait is an intimate, bold declaration of identity. In her self-portrait, a child offers herself as both subject and artist. When we look at her self-portrait, we see a child as she sees herself. The story of self-portrait work is a tender story to tell.”

Self-Portrait Activity Ideas

There are many different ways that you can do self-portraits. You might even try more than one with the children in your care, to see what new ideas and discoveries children make as they construct self-portraits with different materials. Another fun way to incorporate this activity into your curriculum is to do self-portraits at the beginning and the end of the year so that children are able to compare the two pictures and reflect on how much they’ve grown!

Self-Portraits on Canvases

This self-portrait activity is especially fun, because it is done on canvases. Canvases have a unique and bumpy texture, which creates an interesting painting experience for young children. These canvases also make great keepsakes that can be given as gifts to families.

This is a three-part activity: the first involves drawing self-portraits, the second is the painting of the canvases, and the third is assembly. Depending on the age and skill level of the children in your care, you might need to offer more or less assistance on step three. Click here to find more details about planning and setting up this activity for the children in your care.

Self-Portrait Drawings on Photos for Toddlers

This particular self-portrait activity is a great option for toddlers or younger preschoolers who are still learning to hold their writing utensils and draw more complex images. The teacher who set up this project used the inside of pizza box lids, which is a great idea if your teaching team has a staff lunch! If you do not have pizza boxes available, this project can also be done using large pieces of recycled cardboard or even construction paper.

Click here to find more detailed instructions for setting up this project.

Paper Plate and Button Self-Portraits

This fun way of making self-portraits uses materials that you likely already have in your classroom! Using buttons, crayons, paper plates, and glue, children can create unique self-portraits. This activity also ties in fine motor skill practice, as children use small muscles in their hands and fingers to pick up and glue the small buttons onto the plates. The best part of this idea is that the various ways to create these portraits are endless – if you don’t have buttons handy, you might use pom-poms, bottle caps, or even small scraps of paper. This project is a unique way to make portraits while providing an opportunity to use any materials you already have on hand. Click here to find instructions for setting up this activity.

Body Tracing Art Project

Self-portraits do not have to be limited to just the face – children can spend time making representations of their whole bodies with this simple body tracing activity. Have children lie on large sheets of butcher paper for tracing. For younger children, you might need to help them trace each other. Older children can work together to use this project as an opportunity to practice tracing. Once the self-portraits are done, encourage children to fill them in with paint, fabrics, yarn, ribbons, paper, or any materials that you have on hand. These can be as creative and colorful as children would like. When they are finished, hang the portraits around the room for children and families to enjoy. 

Click here to find more detailed instructions for setting up this activity. 

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