Monday, November 21, 2011

Embrace the Hand-print Turkey

In my list of "duties" in my life, my role as Mom is number one on my list. I'm that Mom that makes a huge deal out of every piece of artwork that my son brings home from school (he's three). I have all the artwork he's ever done stacked in folders in our hall closet, and every time I open the door some sort of colorful macaroni noodle falls from the pile of art onto the floor. Yes, I am that mom. It's important to also note that I'm a tad biased because I am an elementary Art Teacher and feel that besides learning manners, creativity is one of the most important skills my son is learning in preschool!

From the day my kids were born, we were using their handprints and footprints to make things....Christmas ornaments, Valentine's cards, even footprints on a step-stool for the bathroom. When your kids are babies, their precious handprints and footprints are their identity. Case in point:

My son's first Christmas program at school, in a onesie they created in class of a reindeer using his handprints as antlers. Guess who still has this onesie in his keepsake bin in our over-stuffed closet?! How could I get rid of this? I am not a hoarder. I am not a hoarder. I am not a hoarder of keepsakes.

I digress.

Last year I did a project with my Kindergartners called "Rudolph the Handprint Reindeer". The kids were elated with their work. They were ah-dorable! I received phone calls from parents with rave reviews of their child's artwork. Their artwork showed up on holiday mugs and Christmas cards. PARENTAL KUDOS! JACKPOT!!! In all my years of teaching I have never received so many kudos from parents as I did on that project. Handprint art forever!

Rudolph the Handprint Reindeer, made by one of my ECSTATIC Kindergartners.

That being said, I house a lot of my students' art projects on an online art gallery called Artsonia and also post a lesson plan starters to the site for other art teachers to give feedback, try the lesson, etc. My only comment on the lesson was "I swear, if I see another handprint project I'm going to scream..." It also included some other banter about lack of exploration and creativity, blah, blah, blah. Of course the comment was written by an anonymous poster and it bothered me all day.

How could someone NOT like handprint artwork?

It must have been a high-school teacher.

It must have been someone without kids.

They must have had a bad day.

They must be joking, right?

After stewing on it for a couple of a YEAR...(no, I'm not someone who lets things go very easily!) I wanted to put together a come-back for this commenter that the artwork wasn't necessarily ABOUT the handprint. It was about the whole composition, about fine-motor skills, and about sensory-processing. It was also about utilizing a piece of their identity to create art. It was about my students experiencing SUCCESS.

It's no different than when I was asked in college in EVERY SINGLE studio class to create a self-portrait of myself. Draw your eye, draw your hand, draw the back of your head (?!). For a preschooler, their handprint is their identity. They aren't aware of how they look, or what makes them look different. They don't see "color lines", races, ethnicities (aren't pre-schoolers the BEST?!) What they know is that "THAT, Mommy, that is MY hand! It's a part of me! It is not like anyone else's!"

Fine motor skills activities for children are the best way to ensure proper development and promote the most functional use of a child's hands. You see, normal development DEMANDS that children are able to accurately and effectively use the small muscles (intrinsic muscles) in their hands. These intrinsic muscles will be used for the rest of their lives and for essential functional activities. Have you ever watched your kiddos trace or cut out their handprints? It's truly agonizing for me to watch, but they're learning. I had some three-legged Rudolphs last year and embraced them all the same.

I won't even go into how the handprint has been used as subject matter throughout the history of Islamic, Aboriginal, and pre-historic Art. I think I have enough in my arsenal for a comback of epic proportions about how handprint art IS essential to a pre-schooler's development, creativity, fine-motor skills, and SUCCESS in creating art. And you wanna know what my comeback said? I was fired up, I had done my research, I had my boxing gloves on. I was ready for a full-out battle of words.

"Thank you for your opinion". Why did I have to defend my students' happiness and success?! It is, after all, all about them.

So teachers, continue on with your hand print turkeys, butterflies, jellyfish, and Fourth of July flags. As parents, we LOVE them. As a teacher, I ADORE the kids' faces and squeals of joy when they're finished and successful. As an educator, I THRIVE off the phone calls of delighted parents thanking me for a piece of meaningful, sentimental artwork. Embrace those hand print turkeys, because sometimes you just need to make art for ART'S SAKE.

I am Joanna Davis and I am a National Board Certified Art Teacher and teach at Garden Elementary School in Venice, Florida. I write a blog full of art lesson plans for grades K-5 called "We Heart Art" at My boys are my life and teaching Art is my passion. My students inspire me daily to push myself creatively and raise my teaching standards. I love the "honesty" of children's art...the reckless abandon of color and thought, and pure imagination at work. I have NEVER met a handprint turked I didn't like! If you'd like to see more handprint artwork, check out my Pinterest Handprint Art Board Happy Handprinting!
Editor's note: This post has been added to our very own, first ever "linkie-party" on: ALL THINGS Painting. Just click on the button to go back to the master-list of ideas!
PreK + K Sharing


  1. LUV LUV LUV having your contribution here. I know that folks will appreciate your insight and direction.

    Thanks so much for joining us!!! Looking forward to your sharing over our months ahead.


  2. Hi, Joanna! I LOVE your statement "I have NEVER met a handprint turkey I didn't like!" I'm totally that mom, too! I still have all my children's artwork, and they're 21 and 26! And I adore handprint art (how could someone NOT like handprint art???)! I'll look forward to reading your posts each month! :) Deb @

  3. I needed to see this! Thank you! I was thinking that my 3yr old preschoolers were getting to old for hand print art but why? They enjoy working on it and parents love seeing items come home! Thank you for reminding me that all art created by them is great!

  4. Thanks for linking up for the We LOVE paint linky here on our collaborative blog!


We would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment below....

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...