A checklist when making mosaics with kids

One of my Flickr friends had asked how I go about making mosaics with kids, so I thought I’d write a post about it…

When I mosaic with kids, I generally let them go. I’ve only ever used ceramic tile with them because it doesn’t get the sharp edges that glass does. Having said that I’ve cut up mirror before for the older ones. If the littlies want to use it I will ask them where to put it and lay it down myself. Mirror for some reason likes my blood. It’s the one material that I almost always cut myself on!!!

We talk about what they want to mosaic and what colours they want to use where and I let them break the ceramic tiles once chosen. Kids of all ages (I’ve now done these with kids from 2 – 8 years of age) love this bit!!!

So far I’ve only ever mosaiced stepping stones with kids. There’s no real reason other than it’s nice to have kids’ artwork in the garden! Probably too, it’s small enough that it doesn’t escape their shorter attention spans and actually has some use. Being a very pragmatic person, I like including my childrens’ artwork in our lives, but in such a way that has some use. Too often the kids will come home with their beautiful artwork, but masses of it and I still don’t know what to do with it all!? I’ve taken to photographing it and making an album of their artwork on the computer. Then it gets recycled, save for those really exceptional ones! I have such a hard time throwing their work away (and to be perfectly honest most of it is in a box under the house, or in those clear-plastic-sleeved folders!) but what do you do with it all!?

Anyway, they draw their image with chalk/crayon etc and interestingly the younger they are the more appropriate their artwork is for mosaics. There’s less detail. I also have to remind them that it should cover most of the area, otherwise you end up with this tiny drawing in the centre of the substrate. If they want a border on the edge then I measure this out for them beforehand and they then draw between the borders.

I let them either butter each tesserae down or put the adhesive down block by block (each section of their design, so that they can still see the design) and let them stick the tesserae down after – this is easier and keeps them interested for longer, but for those kids that take a long time it might not be the method to choose as the adhesive will start to skin over quickly. With the younger ones I help them do the edges so that no sharp bits are overhanging.

I really do it all by feel since some kids could sit there all day long while others only have 10 mins to give. It is important to be as prepared as possible though because the chance of you having to take over is definitely there…

With the sunflower that Molly made, I explained to her that we needed pointy yellow tiles for the petals. She got it no problem! I did have to help a little because her attention span started to wane after an hour 🙂 and so finished off the background for her.

I suppose I could do this all on mesh. I’d say that doing mesh mosaics with kids is really the way to go, but there’s something to be said for kids and instant gratification. Mosaic is a fairly laborious medium and any way that I can keep my kids interested in it, I will use! The nice thing about mesh is that when the kids get bored of it, they can put it down and come back to it later. Also the installation is fairly quick and you don’t need to be concerned with the adhesive starting to get old.

So, to summarise:

  • Choose a substrate first and have it prepped and ready to go.
  • Talk about a suitable design (I always let the kids draw their own work. This to me is so important, not only for their own self esteem but also because you will never be able to replicate the way a child draws. It’s too precious!)
  • Decide on what materials to use
  • Choose a colour scheme. This is another one I don’t interfere with too much (I let them choose from what I have on hand). Kids have the best sense of colour. They’ll put things together that I would never do and it looks great! They have a very fresh colour palette. Or maybe it’s just my kids 🙂
  • If you let them break the tile, make them wear safety glasses and gloves (kids’ gardening gloves work well) and supervise, supervise, supervise! I actually cover the tile up in a rag to minimise flying bits… and explain to them before giving them the tile hammer that waving it around like a madman is bad!!! LOL… Also the tile will break much easier if it is not lying on a flat surface, so laying the tile on two pieces of wood for example can achieve good breaks. You want to break the tile on the non-glazed side BTW 🙂
  • You need to decide if you are going to let the kids butter the back of each tile or spread the adhesive down section by section (which is way faster!), or even use the baggie method. NB: I think if I was doing an interior piece I’d go the weldbond and let them paint it on the back of each tile
  • Be prepared and organised!
  • Let them do it, even when you think they are doing it “wrong”. It’ll always work out in the end and they are so proud of themselves when all is done and finished. AND they will come back for more. That’s the beauty of mosaicing with children!

You can view pictures of some kids’ mosaics on my flickr site.



Filed under Art, Artists, Female, Kids, Kim Grant, Mosaic, Technique, Uncategorized

22 responses to “A checklist when making mosaics with kids

  1. dollarstorecraftsdotcom

    Thanks for the great info! I am going to make 10 stepping stones with my son’s classroom, and this was great info to help me prepare.

  2. Lauren

    I want to do mosaics with my middle school. What type of background would you put it on? And my guess would be the process is sketch design with pencil, glue tiles on with tacky glue (?), then do the grout? Do you also have to paint a clear adhesive on after?

  3. Thank you for your wonderful information. Where can I get info on the mesh system. I am planning to do ‘Totem poles’ with students using drainage pvc storm water pipes. I would like the work to be done flat first then I could attach it to the posts then grout. Is this possible?
    Marcelle McKenna

    email pmmtmckenna@bigpond.com

  4. michele j

    I’m doing a mosaic project with 25 kids aged 7-12. I’m concerned that all the grout products say not for children and that they are toxic. What do you recommend? Thank you. I need help asap!

    • Kim

      Safety principles apply so make sure you use rated dust masks while the grout is in powder form. Don’t let the kids ingest it (obviously!) and wear gloves.
      Grout is not toxic (I can’t see even children wanting to ingest this stuff) or a hazardous material. You just need to use common sense and be aware of the safety principles.
      Hope this helps.

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  6. Heidi

    Hi There! I’m going to do a stepping stone project with kids soon at the library. I’m not familiar with some of the terms you use, so, for the absolute lay-person, non-artist, what do you use for the plaster/grout/sticky substance and what do you use for the form?
    Thanks! ~Heidi

  7. JoEllen

    P.S..I guess what I am asking too is what kinda of adhesive do you use on the mesh? You don’t use grout until you transfer it to the tile right? I just need some more details on the transferring process from grout to tile so I can figure out how to do it with children.

  8. JoEllen

    I am thinking of doing a larger mosaic that would be at a bus stop. However, I want most of the tiles to be done by children as you did. Can you tell me about using the mesh? I never used that method. The children draw the pictures then they fill in the stones on top of the mesh and you transfer the mesh to to the tile and then grout it OVER the mesh? Any help would be appreciated…I am stepping out on this one! 🙂

  9. brenda

    I’m planning a party for my daughter’s 8th birthday and thought mosaics would be a fun project. Are stepping stones a good start or trivets easy enough for a group of 8-10 girls? I’m just starting the plan.

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  11. renee bock

    HI there, I’m doing a year long mosaic curriculum with my 4-5 year old class. We have been using square clay boards for the backing and a mix of elmers and tacky glue which works fine. The children are still in the exploratory phase. The school would like us to do a permanent installation by the end of the year. I have never used grout or worked with the gauze. Any tips on how to get this background myself so I can work in other ways with the kids?

  12. Paula Sheridan

    Hi Kim I came across your flickr page through odettes slipper mosaic – beautiful… and then found your blog. I’ve been thinking about doing mosaic with tiles with my daughter after our initial efforts last year were a great success – but using foam pages which were cut up into shapes. She is fascinated by Pompeii so we adapted the “beware of the dog” mosaic and mounted it on cardboard. Its on my flickr page if you want to have a look. Foam sheets were a safer option for us and was good for improving motor skills…….safely! You have wonderful work – really inspirational!

  13. I was just going to send you a Flickr Mail about working with kids when I spotted this! I’ve roped myself into a stepping stone project with our homeschool group and even though I can handle myself with a pair of nippers, I’m totally lost with this! Who knew??

  14. Kim

    My only tips would be to be very well prepared, particularly with the little ones. Also make sure the materials are appropriate to your climate. You want to make sure that you install and grout on a dry day…

  15. Hi, we are planning to do some mosaic workshops this summer which will involve artists, children and adults. I am researching materials and methods as it will be going on an exterior wall in a cold damp climate. Do you have any tips?

  16. Kim

    Just at the hardware store… Workshop sounds fun! All the best.

  17. Andrea Z.

    Hi Kim.
    Where you get your concrete stepping stones?
    I’m trying to plan a mosaic workshop for 20 6-year-olds, and trying to figure out what’s feasible for the substrate.

  18. Hi Sherry,
    What a fantastic experience! Definitely you can use a full size tile as the base. I’d use the back side of it so you end up with a smooth finished back to the mosaic. As for adhesive a cement based adhesive would work best, but really anything you have available… If the trivets are only going to be used indoors then a craft glue would even work well.
    Without knowing what you have available, I’m not too sure what else to suggest… Really the whole project sounds fantastic and thoroughly fascinating. Mexico has such a rich history. Someday I’ll get there!
    Would love to see some pics of the whole project, maybe even blog about what you are doing? If you’re interested leave a response and I’ll get in touch with you via email…
    All the best,

  19. Sherry

    Hi Kim, I work with children in Mexico and we are preparing activities for Childs Day. I would like to help them make trevets that they could take home to their mothers. A local tile store will supply us with leftover material and we can probably scare up alot of interesting found objects like milagros (little silver charms). I don’t know what to use as a substrate. Wood is scarce.
    Would it be possible to use a full size tile as a base? What sort of adhesive works best? Once again our selection down here is very limited. Many of these children are Cora and Huichol and have a rich heritage of design. I think it would be so neat to see what they might come up with. And their mothers really could use the trevets!

  20. Hi Klemens,
    Thanks for the lovely comment! Your table sounds like alot of fun, would love to see any pics you may have of it!
    Morocco… Mmmm! I’d love to go there someday. Just came back from visiting the south of France and it was very hard to not do something about it when I would look across the Mediterranean and think: “it’s really only just on the other side of this water…” 😉

  21. Your pictures of stepping stones are a good inspiration for work with children. In my case grand sons.
    With smashed ceramic bits we made a 60×60 cm table top.
    1st assemble the 60 x 60 cm completely.
    2nd when satisfied glue and autoadhesive foil over the complete work
    3rd butter and glue in 1 shot. That needs 2 persons and 4 hands.
    Next summer I will get make stepping stones.
    Greetings from München and from Morocco
    Klemens Kotowski

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