Teaching children how to create a mosaic can be difficult but only in the sense of neatness. Kids love to see the different colors and patterns of a finished mosaic. They love the many options that they have available when creating their own work.
When describing what a mosaic is, always reference a puzzle. Every child has put together a puzzle and can relate closely to this. Explain that a mosaic is the same as a puzzle, there are a bunch of small pieces that they put together to form a large overall picture. Kids are thrilled to know that they have created their own mosaic before. Also make sure to bring in a few finished mosaic pieces so they can get a good visual.
Choose a very simple project for young children to start out on. Creation of a coaster is perfect. Provide 4″ square ceramic tiles for the base. For children 10 years and under, it is not recommended to use any sort of glass cutter, instead use 3/8″ mini tiles. These don’t need to be cut but are small enough that the kids can still choose a variety of colors. One hundred tiny tiles will fit perfectly on a 4″ tile with 1/16″ grout joints.
If working with a large group of children, pour some Weldbond into a bowl. Provide cotton swabs for them to dip into the glue. This will make applying glue to the large tile easier. Keep in mind that they will most likely need several swabs each.
It makes it easier if you have some designs already made up. These would consist of grid paper cut to 10 squares by 10 squares. You would just color in different squares to make a pattern. Each 3/8″ tile will be used to represent a grid square so keep it simple at 4 or fewer colors. The younger kids like to try to replicate patterns while the older kids would want to create their own design. If this is the case, provide the older students with their own grids and colored pencils. If timing is an issue, have them do their coloring before they come into the class. Some ideas of popular patterns include; checks, stripes, squares within squares, hearts, etc.
To set up the grid on the 4″ tile, have the children spread glue across the top row of the large tile. They will then copy the pattern onto the large tile using the mini tiles to represent each grid square. After getting the first row on, make sure they spread the mini tiles out to have a grout joint between each one. This is difficult for the students as they want to make each tile touch instead. You will have to continually watch and remind them as the project progresses as some students will still have their tiles touching by the time they finish.
Next they will put a glob of glue down the side and replicate the pattern. Please note that they will need to use a large amount of glue. Too little and tiles will pop off like crazy when grouting. To much and the glue will squish up between the tiny tiles. They want to use enough to create a bed of glue for the tiny tile to sit in. Students are taught to conserve glue and you have to show them that they need to use a lot and continually remind them.
Now that the grid is set up onto the larger tile, the children can fill in the large tile by replicating their pattern. Remind them not to start putting tiny tiles in the center because they will not line up at the end. The first row and column they created are used as guides for where to put the next tiles so that everything lines up and looks somewhat straight.
You will find that it is easier for the group to use only 9 tiles across and down. This is fine but the end coaster looks more sporadic and messy. The design seems to get lost. This works well with 6 year olds and younger though. Another option is to have the younger students create a border around the outer edge and then just randomly fill in the center with a variety of colors and not try to keep things lined up.
After the students have finished their tiling then set their project someplace safe to dry. Allow to dry overnight. You can let older kids (10 and up) grout but it is still difficult for them. They tend to be rough on the mosaics and knock off the tiny tiles. This is very frustrating for them and you as the teacher. If you can, grout these yourself. It doesn’t take long and you can glue on any tiles that fall off as you go.
This project can take up to two hours so you may need to cut some corners. Having the designs already finished is a great way to shave off 30 minutes. You will have to constantly push some of the kids to keep working because they will get bored quickly.
If you do have plenty of time, then spend some of it talking about the history of mosaics or even the mathematics involved. Print out some pictures of ancient mosaic art to show. The kids are fascinated by the thought of using tiny pieces to create an image of a man. Turn this project into a math lesson by simply talking about symmetry. The designs you create will most likely be symmetrical so you can describe rotational, reflective, or translational symmetry by showing your designs. If you are working with a school, they will appreciate the added educational lesson that you can provide.
The main thing to remember while working with younger children is to have patience. You will have to repeat yourself constantly and will continually help every student in the class. However, it is very rewarding and with some parent volunteers, everyone will walk away happy.