Squares, Shapes, and Art Projects for Kids (Art + Books series)

Squares are solid, reliable, and steady shapes - but can a square be art?

We recently picked up two different children's books about squares and art. We found one at our library, in a batch they had set out for families to browse. One was in a bag we picked up from my oldest kid's school librarian. 

Both were fun stories about a pragmatic, sensible square discovering art!

Perfect Square, by Michael Hall

Square, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

In Perfect Square, a piece of paper starts at as a specific shape, but when it gets torn or cut into many different shapes, it adapts and creates something new.

In Mac Barnett’s book, Square is only interested in moving and stacking blocks until his friend, Circle, asks him to create a new shape.

Perfect Square is an amazing book to use if you want to introduce children to collage techniques. Its main idea is simple - start with a piece of paper, tear or cut it up into smaller pieces, and use those pieces to create something new. Square uses a similar idea, but with more 3D art, like clay or found objects in nature.

We created our own craft project for these books using some old paint doodles.

I’ve been saving these pages for a while now, planning to use them for a collage. That’s basically what we did with this project, except that I cut the papers into squares before we started.

Then, when the squares were ready, my kids started tearing them into pieces and creating art designs.

My youngest made a tree, with bright-colored leaves, but you can create anything from simple shapes glued together. 

If you want to continue the book theme, you could find illustrators who use collage in their artwork and study how they use colors and shapes. Some illustrators might use paper that they carefully cut into different shapes, while others might tear and crumple the paper to create textures.

Eric Carle is one of the most famous children's authors to use collage. Steve Jenkins is another well-known children's artist who uses collage to illustrate nonfiction picture books like Actual Size and The Animal Book.  

This butterfly uses Eric Carle's bright, rather loose style, but older kids might want to play with detailed images like those Steve Jenkins creates.

If you want to try more shape projects, you can also use one of your squares to create a tangram set.

I used the picture on the Wikipedia page as a guide, to see what shapes to make. 

From there, I just folded the paper to create these shapes. I let my youngest cut out the shapes. They ended up looking a bit ragged, of course, but these shapes only use straight lines, so they were easy for her to cut out.

If you want to create this tangram set with your own paper, follow these steps:

First, fold the square in half diagonally and crease the fold. Cut along the crease to create two triangles.

Take one triangle and fold it in half to form two smaller, identical triangles. Cut them apart along the crease.

With the other large triangle, find the corner with the widest angle. Fold that corner down to touch the opposite edge (the longest side) and crease the fold - see the first image above. Cut along the create. This creates a small triangle and an extra-long trapezoid.

With the trapezoid, find the two narrow corners on opposite ends. Fold those corners together, creasing the trapezoid down the center short-ways. Cut it in half along the crease.

Now you have two matching quadrilaterals.

With the first one, find the narrowest corner again. Fold that corner across, matching it to the square corner at the opposite end of the shape. This creates a square and a triangle. Cut those shapes apart.

Finally, with the second quadrilateral, find the longest side of the shape. Then find the square corner connected to that side. Fold this corner up and form a crease from the other square corner to the center of the long edge. This creates a triangle and a parallelogram. Cut these shapes apart.

That’s it - you've created a tangram puzzle!

Use these pieces to see how many different shapes you can create using these puzzle pieces!

(If you want to the puzzle to last longer, you could trace the shapes onto cardboard and cut out the cardboard shapes to use instead.)

Now it's your turn - what kinds of art can you make with a square?!

By the way, if you want more ideas for teach kids about collage, this is a great FREE art class that I highly recommend watching: