Painted screen depicting a garden from the Spanish Colonial period


Painted screen depicting a garden from the Spanish Colonial period

Anonymous, Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home, circa 1725. Oil paint on canvas with gold. Denver Art Museum; gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer.

Building machines with our bodies is a great way to understand abstract concepts in a concrete physical way!


  1. Before introducing this activity with an art object, start out with a familiar machine, such as a bus or a blender.
  2. Have children help generate a list of which objects they need to build the machine. For example, if it is a bus, children might say “a steering wheel”, “windshield wipers”, etc.
  3. Once you have a list, call on one person at a time to act out on of the objects on the list with a repetitive movement and sound.
    • For example, if a child chooses “windshield wipers,” (s)he might move their arms back and forth and say “swish, swish, swish.”
  4. Keep adding children until the machine is complete. The children in the audience can use close looking to find out if the machine is missing anything.
  5. Try it again with an art object. It can be abstract or representational.
    • For example, with the art object listed here, they might build a party machine. With an abstract art object, make a machine from a theme. Ask students what the artwork reminds them of and make a machine of one of their suggestions.
  6. Generate a list of concepts or words the children see in the artwork. Then build a machine based on their responses.

Guided Questions:

  • What else do we need for our machine?
  • What words would this piece of art say if it could talk?
  • How could we make the machine go faster? slower?

*This Creative Classroom Idea was written by Lauren Dennis, a collaborator in Early Childhood learning at the Denver Public Library.

TIP: You can also use this activity with books- make a machine of the main plot and characters. For example, have your students make a Goldilocks and the Three Bears machine.

Related Creative Activities

Kerry James Marshall, Better Homes, Better Gardens, 1994. Acrylic paint and paper collage on canvas. Funds from Polly and Mark Addison, the Alliance for Contemporary Art, Caroline Morgan, and Colorado Contemporary Collectors: Suzanne Farver, Linda and Ken
Creative Practice

Ten Times Two

This close-looking game can be used with any visual art object and will provide an opportunity for children to look into the detail of the artwork. This activity will reinforce math skills, build vocabulary, and introduce descriptive language.
Portrait of a man
Lesson Plan

A Portrait of One’s Own

After spending time exploring aspects of the Ancestor Portrait and the importance of ancestor portraits in the Chinese tradition, students will create an ancestor portrait using mixed media materials and present it to the class.