Gail from www.thatartistwoman.org posted an amazing tutorial on painting polar bears with her first grade students. I was inspired. I thought the paintings were beautiful and that I might be able to do the activity with my preschool aged children.
Here's how I adapted the activity for my two and four year old children. The key was to do the activity in stages during the day. They would go play while one stage dried. The break in between stages allowed them to come back excited about doing the next part of their polar bear painting.
I began by taping watercolor paper down to the table. I set out purple liquid watercolor paint, paintbrushes, toilet paper rolls covered in a paper towel held on with a rubber band, a pencil, and some coarse salt.
I showed them a picture of what the painting would look like when complete and we talked about the different parts of the painting. We identified the purple sky, blue ice, moon, mama polar bear, and the two bear cubs. We talked about how it looked like there was snow in the sky and how the ice looked cracked.
I introduced the term "horizon" and explained that the horizon is the line where the land (or in this case, ice) meets the sky. I told them we were going to draw horizon lines on our paper and asked them if they wanted a hill. Each child showed me with their finger the shape of the horizon line they wanted and I lightly drew it in with the pencil.
I reminded them that their purple paint was for the sky and so they needed to paint the part of their picture above the line purple and leave the bottom white for now. They did a great job painting the sky. While the sky was still wet they used the paper towel covered toilet paper rolls to blot up paint in the shape of a circle to make the moon (press firmly and hold for a count of ten). Then they sprinkled salt onto the still wet sky.
Then there was a drying intermission. The children went off to play for half an hour or so. I cleaned up the purple paint and replaced it with blue watercolor paint and I cleaned the paintbrushes. I also put away the salt and toilet paper rolls and got out a roll of cling wrap.
Half an hour later we all came back and brushed off the now dry salt. Then the children painted the bottom half of their painting blue and helped me press cling wrap onto the wet ice. The "cracked" appearance to the ice is formed by the wrinkles in the cling wrap, so the more wrinkles the better. Press down firmly and leave to dry.
We all dispersed for a 45 minute intermission. This time I cleaned up the blue watercolor paint and brushes and got out a container of white tempera paint. I also got out some polar bear stencils I had made the night before by printing out polar bear coloring sheets from the internet onto cardstock and cutting them out.
When we all came back I let the children decide where they wanted to place their polar bears. I held the stencil steady while the children dabbed on white paint (dab with the brush instead of moving it back in forth to minimize paint getting under the stencil).
Then it was just a matter of letting the final product dry and admiring the final result. They were so proud.