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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002


  • Thursday, Friday 10 am - 4 pm
  • Saturday 10 am - 5 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 5 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Visit the carle


Making Art Together

Exploring Unconventional Materials

Last month a visitor to the Museum asked if they could do some fingerpainting in the Studio. Since we love exploring the textures and possibilities of everyday objects, I decided to use one of our recent toddler and preschool programs to experiment with a pleasantly tactile, yet unconventional material: shaving cream.

Inspired by the winter weather, we started by reading Ezra Jack Keats’ classic The Snowy Day. As we read aloud, the kids enjoyed using their bodies to imitate Peter’s playful movements –  walking with their toes pointed out then in, dragging their feet, waving their arms to make snow angels, patting their hands to sclupt snowballs. Several noted the marks Peter left in the negative space of the snow.

Ezra Jack Keats, illustration from The Snowy Day, Penguin Random House.

After marching to the Art Studio with our toes in and our toes out, we continued our play by experimenting with shaving cream on various surfaces. It’s fun and easy to use paint to mix colors into the shaving cream, but we opted to keep things simple (and snowy) by leaving it white.

We distributed shaving cream in plastic bowls, and provided stubby brushes and smocks for those who might not want to get too messy.

To help minimize the mess, we set out drop cloths in front of our big windows.

We set up another play station at a low table. To add an element of surprise, we decided to first cover the table with strips of brightly colored tape.

Just before the kids entered the Studio, we covered the table in shaving cream.

Some dove right in, enjoying the texture of the shaving cream and discovering different colors as they dragged their palms across the table.

Others used their fingertips to carefully make lines and draw figures.

Several kids lifted the excess shaving cream into the air and noted the shapes they discovered. “It’s a cloud!”

Meanwhile, at the windows, some kids used brushes to spread the shaving cream in large, swooping arcs.

The constant marking and erasing of the shaving cream allowed for rapidly shifting perspectives. Some paused to look out at the orchard appearing and disappearing on the other side of the window.

Others used their hands to directly apply the shaving cream to the window. They pressed, lifted, and pressed again, observing the shifting, organic shapes their handprints left on the glass.

It was exhilarating to witness the kids’ prolonged and deep engagement with such a simple, malleable material!

Cleaning up the space did require spraying and wiping the windows, but we found it to be well-worth the sensory exploration. As a cleaning product itself, the shaving cream also helped clean off some of the old paint that had dried on our drop-cloths! For a smaller, potentially less messy endeavor, you can also make “snow paint” (glue and shaving cream) and apply it to other surfaces like balloons or sheets of paper.

We hope you can join us for Open Book, Open Play programs at The Carle on Fridays, June 1, 8, and 15. If you can't make it, we hope this post serves as inspiration to experiment with other safe, unconventional materials at your home or school.



We enjoy exploring materials and ideas in the Art Studio, and we’re excited to share our process with you! Please consider the following factors when adapting these posts for your learning environment: 

We facilitate a variety of programs within the Art Studio for a wide range of age groups. Please carefully consider the age appropriateness of each individual activity in your own learning environment.

Our projects are always done with adult supervision and proper safety precautions. Be sure all of your projects are overseen by adults who likewise follow proper safety precautions. The adults overseeing your project must also be responsible for handling or assisting with any potentially harmful equipment or materials. 

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not responsible for any damages, injuries or liabilities that result from any activities contained within this website, and we expressly disclaim any responsibility or liability therefor. From time to time, we reference materials that we have found to be particularly important in our projects. We do not receive any monetary compensation for recommending materials. 


by David Feinstein

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 at 4:01 pm and is filed under By David Feinstein, Drawing, Toddlers, Light, Nature, Our Favorite Materials, Preschool. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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