Children and Printmaking


A Simple Process with a World of Possibilities!

Explore line-printing with children from 4 to adult for creative expression through printmaking and as a tool for understanding of the world. Line is the most basic of all the art and design elements and is key to unlocking the creative process. You'll be amazed by what you can construct with a small piece of cardboard and some paint!

The Basics

Click the title or image (ABOVE) to learn the basics of Thinking with a Line.


Click the title or image (ABOVE) to see examples of constructing shapes, patterns, radial designs, and letters/names.


Click the title or image (ABOVE) to see examples of constructing buildings, snowflakes, machines, and signs and posters.


Click the title or image (ABOVE) to see examples of constructing architecture, composition, nature, and skeletal structure.


Click the title or image (ABOVE) to find resources for using Thinking with a Line.


Philosophies that influenced and inspired Thinking & Creating With A Line:

While working on Thinking and Creating with a Line, Cathy found that she was able to combine and integrate many of the influences and approaches to education that have been so important in her teaching. She would like to acknowledge the work of individuals and philosophies that have inspired and shaped her thinking, teaching and writing.

The Reggio Emilia Approach

In 1989 Cathy was part of a delegation of teachers from the United States and Australia who spent a week visiting pre-primary schools and meeting with teachers, studio teachers and pedagogical coordinators in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy. In 2006 Cathy returned to Reggio Emilia to attend the International Reggio Emilia Studio Teacher Institute. Trips, conferences on the Reggio Emilia approach, as well as many encounters with exhibitions, The Hundred Languages of Children, and The Wonder of Learning created by educators and children in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy have been a profound influence on every phase of Cathy Topal’s teaching and life. Cathy co-authored Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials, Davis Publications, Inc. 1999 with Lella Gandini, liaison for the Reggio Emilia approach in the United States.

Rudolf Arnheim: Visual Thinking

Rudolf Arnheim's teaching and writings on “visual thinking” inspired Cathy’s graduate work in Visual Studies. Whenever she ponders a teaching dilemma, the following quote seems to unexpectedly pop up in her mind:

“…art training is not one of the minor fillers of the curriculum, but relates to the very fundamentals of education. What are these fundamentals? Reading, writing, and arithmetic? Certainly these are indispensable skills; but should we not realize by now that they are just skills? And that even as a list of skills the list is incomplete? If I am not mistaken, the three fundamentals of education are, perceiving … thinking … forming and the tools needed to exert these faculties of the mind are numbers, words, and shapes. Of these three sets of tools the first two have been considered the only essential ones since the Middle Ages. We must now rehabilitate the third.” from Rudolph Arnheim, “Perceiving, Thinking, Forming,” Art Education Magazine, March 1983

The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) developed by Phillip Yenawine and Abigail Housen, grew from Rudolf Arnheim's writings and teaching. The visual thinking strategies are used in museums all over the world today.


The VTS approach has inspired countless education and visual arts students in Cathy's "Teaching of Visual Arts" classes at Smith College. It has helped students engage with works of art at the museum, and helped them feel comfortable engaging their students – both young and old – in discussing works of art.

Rhoda Kellogg

Rhoda Kellogg and her research on the stages of development in young children’s drawing and painting have been instrumental in helping Cathy figure out how to pose and offer developmentally appropriate challenges and problems to her youngest students. Analyzing Children’s Art and The Psychology of Children’s Art by Rhoda Kellogg Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Friedrich Froebel

In the 1830’s, German scientist, mathematician, crystallographer and educator, Friedrich Froebel originated the concept of “Kindergarten.” Froebel believed in active learning through play. He created a series of manipulatives, which he called “Gifts”, and along with them a philosophy of how they were to be used. From these original Gifts came block sets, Cuisenaire rods, parquetry tiles and other construction tools that are still used in classrooms to this day. With each Gift and the guidance of a teacher, children arranged what Froebel termed, “life forms or nature forms,” “knowledge forms” and “beauty forms.” Through this work with minds and hands children learned both visual and verbal languages. Within these languages lay the foundations of mathematics, reading, writing, and scientific discovery as well as an appreciation for design and aesthetics. While researching Froebel’s educational system, Cathy discovered that Thinking and Creating with a Line had a precedent in Froebel’s work. Scott Bultman, from Red Hen Toys and Froebel USA, has been a longtime advisor on all things Froebelian. His digital know-how was instrumental in creating this website!


“Constructivism is basically a theory -- based on observation and scientific study -- about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences … Constructivism is often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning, or learning by doing.” Thinking and Creating with a Line offers a basic way to construct knowledge in many content areas.

Behind the Scene Credits


Creation of this website:

Technology has changed since the Thinking with a Line CD-ROM was developed more than 15 years ago. The creator is delighted to offer this website, which contains all the original multi-media programming from the CD-ROM and much more in an easy to access format. It is my hope that teachers, preschoolers, students of all ages, parents, homeschoolers and after-schoolers will enjoy and learn from the many exciting explorations on this website. I know that they will make many more discoveries as well.

I am so grateful to Scott Bultman of Red Hen Toys and Froebel USA, who helped create this website with Jesper Dinesin of Engine, a software development company offering web solutions for business, using existing open source technology.

Abbie Duquette, a student intern at Smith College reformatted and reprogrammed all of the video clips from the original tapes. She was also a helpful advisor.

Joanne Cannon Carlson, head of technology for Smith College, has continued to be a most important consultant and advisor for everything related to Thinking with a Line throughout the last 20 years.

The original CD-ROM:

Credit for the original Thinking with a Line CD-ROM goes to many departments, professors, the Dean of the Faculty, and many students at Smith College. Thanks also to the teachers and children at the Smith College Campus School, and the Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE).

smith college logo

The multimedia, interactive nature of a computer program is different from written text. It opens exciting opportunities for developing teaching and learning materials. It also requires new kinds of collaborations. The author has found these collaborations with the technology itself, and with the many talented computer programmers who worked on the program to be critical to the quality, strength and success of Thinking With A Line.

Visit Smith College and the many on-campus sites that helped make the Thinking With A Line CD-ROM.

• Educational Technology, EDC 333, offered through the Department of Education and Child Study was the catalyst for the program. Through this course, the author began to see the potential that multi-media programming holds for making the teaching/learning process come alive.

• Smith College students from the Department of Education and Child Study  videotaped children and teachers in action and developed several lessons for this program during their practicum experiences in The Teaching of Visual Arts EDC 305.

• Research, explorations with children and video taping took place at: The Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE)  and at The Smith College Campus School (SCCS)
• All of the programming for Thinking With A Line, editing of video and audio recordings, and creation of this website took place at The Center for Foreign Languages and Cultures (CFLAC) at Smith College. Most of the work was done by student interns.
• Several fine arts images in the program are from the Smith College Museum of Art

Credits Thinking With a Line - v. 3.1

Copyright Thinking with a Line CD-ROM, 2004; Copyright to Teacher's Guide to the interactive CD-ROM, Thinking with a Line, 2005.

Development Team:

Subject Matter/ Pedagogy Expert: Cathy Weisman Topal
Program Design: Cathy Weisman Topal, Joanne CannonCarlson
Programming: Tobias K. Davis, Tiffany Chong, Jamie L. Lesserling, Brigitte J. Bolos, Teodora Nedialkova
Screen Design: Frank Citino
Video Support: Teodora Nedialkova, Anne Sinclair Beauchamp, Meredith Bertrand, Charlie Parham, Doris Friedman
Content Support: Rita Harris, Lella Gandini
Distributed by: Davis Publications Inc. Worcester, MA
Previous Web Design: Tiffany Chong, Nicolette Michaud, Aisha Gabriel

Funded by The Dean's Academic Support Fund and the Center for Foreign Languages and Cultures, Smith College.

Special Thanks to:

Artists Rights Society, Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, Smith College Museum of Art, Sony Corporation, the children at the Early Childhood Education Center at Smith College, Smith College Campus School, Aliyah Abdur-Rahman, Gwen Agna, Max Ames, Tiphareth Ananda, Pauline Baker, Penny Block, Nancy Brady, Maureen Caouette, Lawrence Chase, Mary Ann Dassatti, Lois Ducharme, Ann Erickson, Susan Etheredge, Susan Fentin, Marie Frank, Mike Guzik, Ellen Hall, Rosanne Hansel, Diane Harr, Beth Haxby, Bob Hepner, Cathy Hofer-Reid, Pam Houk, Wilson & Henry Hutcheson, Barbara Kellum, Sheila Kelly, Maggie Leonard, Anne Lombard, Reihana MacDonald Robinson, Megan Maguire, Rowen & Sasha McEnaney, Mimi Odgers, Elizabeth Pufall, Mary Beth Radke, Julie Lapping Rivera, Al Rudnitsky, Sue Rudnitsky, Gigi Schroeder, Janice Szymaszek, James A. Weisman



This program, powerfully, and in an exciting way, conveys the subtleties of teaching and learning. "Revolutionary! The website demonstrates the true nature of teaching through gentle guidance and respect for children's ideas…It is such a perfect form with which to communicate ideas about teaching that goes way beyond what can be communicated in a book alone." ~ an early childhood/elementary art teacher

Relating to the elementary curriculum is a key focus of Thinking and Creating with a Line.
I would use this program to complement classroom instruction (especially to introduce a unit or topic) and allow my students to see how other children approach art. Regular classroom teachers could benefit from the many ideas for activities that this program offers. They are simple, yet offer a variety of possibilities for incorporating art into the curriculum (the natural world, architecture, anatomy and much more).” ~ an elementary classroom teacher

The program acts as a visual lesson plan…Although the activities start at a basic level, it is easy to see how a simple line can be used to create a substantial piece of architecture.” ~ an elementary classroom teacher

It would be so easy to link all these concepts and activities to the curriculum frameworks in just about all the content areas!” ~ a kindergarten teacher

Video clips bring you into the classroom and highlight children and teachers in action. They demonstrate strategies for fostering the life-long learning skills of planning and practicing so essential to thinking and creating. “I love seeing the children and hearing what they have to say.” ~ student teacher

Both my students and I found the videos very helpful. They prompted plenty of discussion about the role of the teacher and the importance of allowing children to explore a given media on their own time, as opposed to working towards a specific project.” ~ an art education professor

The electronic medium offers teachers a variety of sensory modes to access different kinds of information. “The audio feature throughout the program is a strong component that provides the viewer with deeper insight, from both the instructional and student perspective.” ~ a student teacher

“What I liked most about the program was the combination of video clips juxtaposed with the instructional format. It really gives the viewer a true sense of a child’s creative process, instead of just a step by step format.” --a student teacher

What does it mean to explore? There is a difference between an exploration in the moment and an investigation that takes off and leads children in many new directions. This program offers engaging ways to point out important clues that teachers can "read" and simple strategies that teachers can use to sustain and further long term work. “While you are experimenting, you are in fact playing with paint and colors, but also learning. The idea is very simple, but the possibilities are endless and it gives children a chance to work with different materials in a very easy way. While using only the pieces of cardboard, children are forced to use their imaginations to see what they can come up with. Even though all the students are working with the same materials, all finished products are completely different." ~ a kindergarten teacher

Children's Strategies showcase the inventiveness and intelligence of children. These sections are reminders to take time to observe and listen to the emerging ideas, theories and solutions to problems that are revealed as children explore and speak about their intentions and their work. "I loved the sense of being there at the 'aha' moments as they happen. I'm inspired by this work. It's like fresh air.” “The children’s strategies inspired me to try my own designs.” ~ an education student

Related Projects introduce other materials and processes that can be used to explore a concept or theme. “It is very important for me to include art, music and movement in my classroom. It gives children who are talented in those areas a chance to shine. This program shows lessons which I can implement in my classroom and the reasoning behind those lessons which will help me figure out where to supplement the curriculum with art.” ~ a first grade teacher

The Teacher's Guide to Thinking with a Line contains 12 lesson plans, one from each of the main topics on the website, to use as a handy reference in the classroom. “I would use a program like this to give myself an overview and some bullet points to focus on in my student’s work.” ~ an elementary school teacher

Full of information, detail and content, but done in an engaging, interesting, accessible format. You have something great here- the power and potential of line thinking and printing. A great instructional tool for both pre-service and current teachers.” ~ a professor of education and child study

The program is beautiful, fun, exciting to use, and aligned with the curriculum frameworks in many subject areas. “I think the format is so appealing and user-friendly, the projects themselves wonderfully engaging and fun, and the forward/explanation excellent in putting theory into practice!” ~ an elementary school principal

One of the frustrating things as a young artist is when what happens on the page does not match your mental image or intention. The goal (for me) was symmetry. The goal was reproducibility. The issue is that I did not have the motor skills to reproduce (the lines I wanted.) If I had had printing instead of line drawing I would have been able to do it easily.” ~ researcher in a science laboratory

Cathy provides a "deep dive" into helping teachers understand how to support children's interest and joy in art, with some Reggio influences. Her books reinforce her work and presentations and have wonderful illustrations. ~ retired principal, Smith College Campus School

"It's multidisciplinary!" ~ Physician and parent

"This is fantastic. It's really a beautiful piece of work and I love how the videos amplify and teach the principles of each section. This will be so useful to teachers, after school programs, and parents that want to explore this approach with children." ~ Professor of Urban Education Smith College, Director, Smith College Campus School