Teaching Animation in the Elementary Classroom

By Illya Tolbert, posted on Dec 14, 2023

Animation is a way for students to express themselves in a unique and visual manner. It also promotes digital literacy by introducing them to software and techniques that they’ll need to know in the future. I’ve made animation a part of my art program for years, and it’s fun and exciting subject to teach to elementary students.

Student artwork featured in the article Teaching Animation in the Elementary Classroom.
Left: A student films a stop-motion character with a tripod-mounted tablet. Right: A studentʼs cut-paper doll with moveable arms and legs.
Student artwork featured in the article Teaching Animation in the Elementary Classroom.
A still from a studentʼs digital flipbook of a walking figure.

Traditional Flipbooks
One of the best ways to introduce animation is the flipbook—a small book consisting of a series of images that create the illusion of movement when the pages are flipped.

Each student receives twelve to fifteen 3 x 5" (7.5 x 12.5 cm) index cards. I explain that they will draw a subject that appears to be moving, making small changes to the subject’s movement with each card.

Students use light boxes to layer a new card over their previous drawing, making small adjustments to show movement. When students complete their cards, we use binder clips to turn them into flipbooks. Once students have gained a basic understanding of how the flipbook works, it’s time to go digital.

Digital Animation
There are plenty of apps that can be used to create 2D digital animations. We use the free app FlipaClip and Animation Creator HD, which costs $3.99. These apps come with drawing and painting tools, plus the ability to add layers, and they’re a great way to introduce students to digital drawing.

The apps have frames that act much like the index cards we used to create traditional flipbooks. Students can draw an image, add a frame, and make adjustments. The apps also come with an “onion skin” feature so students can see what they drew on the previous frame, similar to using the light box.

Stop-Motion Animation
The easiest form of animation to do with elementary students is stop-motion animation. In the past, I’ve done this with a digital camera, but a tablet or a smartphone works just as well.

Stop-motion animation can be created with a variety of apps, including the free app Stop Motion Studio, or iStopMotion, which costs $19.99 (only compatible with iOS). These apps allow the user to shoot one frame at time, making it possible to animate almost anything.

Students create their characters with construction paper or colored tag board. They can create simple paper dolls or more articulated figures with moveable parts. Long rolls of paper can be used to create a simple background.

Students take turns animating their characters with a tripod-mounted tablet or smartphone. They move the character, take a photo, move the character again, take another photo, and repeat until their character is off the screen.

When the animations are complete, it’s time for editing. This is when we add titles, music, sound effects, voices, and transitions. Stop Motion Studio and iStopMotion have editing features built into their programs. The 2D digital app FlipaClip also has editing capabilities. There are many other excellent editing programs that are free. Look around and see what works best for you. I usually choose one or two students to help me edit because it can be a tedious process, and it doesn’t work as a group activity.

Today, sharing completed animation projects is simple and fast. Animations can be uploaded online or shared to a designated page on your school’s website.

Whether you start with traditional flipbooks or dive into stop-motion video-making, give animation a try!

Illya Tolbert is an art teacher at Bates Academy in Detroit, Michigan.

National Standard
Producing: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.

Stop Motion Studio

View this article in the digital edition.