How to Make Art With Your Toddler
Art with your toddler sounds like fun, right? We all want to have those adorable masterpieces created by these precious little hands decorating our fridge. So you hand your toddler a paint brush and ….
We know how that goes.
If your first encounter with art with your toddler ended with you shaking your head wondering how you are going to get paint out of your carpet, fridge, and ears, you may have decided to lock up all the art supplies. But before you do that, you remember that art plays a critical role in child development; from sensory exploration to creativity and even fine motor skills. We just have to ditch our assumptions about what art "should" be, and lean into the toddler-friendly approach to art.
Before you throw in the dirty towel on art play, here are a few pointers to make art with toddlers enjoyable.
1 - Focus on the Process Not the End Product
While parents look at the pinterest image of an art project and deconstruct how to make it, visualizing that end result as they’re creating, a toddler's mind doesn't work this way. They don’t have a preconceived notion of what their finished product should be. With this in mind, rather than expecting your toddler to produce a polished craft, opt for open ended art projects instead. View art as an opportunity for your child to explore their senses, rather than create a masterpiece. We're going to give you some ideas later on.
2 – Art Is a Sensory Activity
Sensory play has gained such a huge following because we know children learn about the world through their senses, in particular through their hands. Activities like finger painting and modelling dough are going to be much more interesting to toddlers. Have you ever given your toddler a paint brush and find they ditch the brush and start rubbing the paint with their hands? That's because they're experiencing all the senses of this magical new world of paint through their hands.
3 - Prepare Your Art Area
Art with a toddler can be messy. To help them visualize where to contain the mess, put a wipeable table cloth on the floor and say “the paint/play dough/sand” stays "on the mat". Have some paper towels or baby wipes handy so you can easily clean up any messes. If the paint spills outside the mat, invite your toddler to clean it up, saying “uh ho, the paint went off the mat. Let’s clean it up”. This is a great practice for practical life skills! Just as during bath time, you remind your toddler the water says "in the tub", repeating the phrase "on the mat" shows them where the boundary is. If they start repeatedly going outside the mat, they are done and the activity is over.
4 - Prepare Your Exit Strategy
Have a plan for ending the project. Have your wipes on hand so you can quickly grab them before your toddler takes off running through the house with paint on their hands. And if you don’t want to be removing paint stained clothing and adding the extra step of throwing them in the wash, strip your child down to their diaper during messy art play. Remember, your child is washable!
5 - Use Non-Toxic Materials
Art activities can be difficult with toddlers who are mouthers. Choose materials that are safe if they do put it in their mouth, like edible play dough and always make sure your art materials are non toxic.
Toddler Art Ideas:
Here are a few tried and tested toddler-friendly art activities we love.
Contact Paper Nature Walk Collage
Grab a bucket and go on a nature walk in your backyard or around your neighbourhood, collecting sticks, leaves, flowers and whatever else your toddler desires, then secure a piece of contact paper to construction paper or a wall or window and have your toddler stick their nature findings to it, creating a collage.
A toddler favourite! No real explanation needed here, I don't think!
Grab some non toxic paint and some jumbo paint brushes (we love these Melissa & Doug jumbo brushes for little hands) and paint your plastic toys – dolls, trucks, animal figurines, whatever you have on hand. Then grab a bucket of soapy water, or a water table and let your child give their dirty toys a bath. In my house, we call this activity the "car wash".
We love painting with our Chunkies paint sticks because they keep the mess contained. A perfect easy backyard project.
Ziplock Bag “No Mess” Painting
This is a great one for younger kids and those who are mouthers because the paint stays completely consealed in the bag and never even touches their hands. Place a piece of blank paper into a Ziploc bag and squirt a few drops of paint on the paper, then seal the bag and let your toddler rub the paint all over the paper by rubbing their hands on the plastic bag. There’s zero mess to clean up and your toddler gets to create a beautiful piece of fridge worthy art.