~ early education care ~ where our play supports our learning

Toddlers and Art

This workshop will be a mix of Hands-On and Show and Tell of art projects and techniques that work for the shorter attention spans and inquisitive minds that are connected to little hands. Although projects will be focused on the Toddler age many of these projects can be expanded for the preschool age also. Materials used will be easily found locally. “I feel strongly that arts for all ages should be as open-ended as possible, with no right or wrong in the finished product. It’s about having fun, setting the stage and encourage the exploration and creativity that is so natural at this age. Art projects for toddlers easily enhance such skills as eye-hand coordination, small muscle development, problem solving, decision making, and following multi-step directions.”

What is most important for children however is having opportunities to make art with collections of interesting materials, and this activity is perfect for inviting children to explore and create with a familiar material in new way.

Toddler Art ~

First we need to define what art is for us. Is it sending a product home? Is it about creativity?

Good article to read by MaryAnn Kohl about the importance of art in a children’s development.

I also like this article on the Importance of the Visual Arts in Education. It is talking about K-12, but the reasons are valid with our youngest learners and why it is important to start our children out creating as soon as possible.

For me art is about creativity. I believe children are naturally creative and we need to give them that chance to express themselves. We end up with what the children consider finished products from most creative times, but I develop the opportunity because of the learning that occurs in the process. I accept that children like having something physical to show, or everything would be about process. I do not worry about what the parent wants to see.

Now for toddlers and art……

Toddlers are all about using their senses to explore their environment. It should be the same for their creative experiences.

With toddlers I am able to have everything more about the process. We do not need the finished product. There is not the interest by the children and parents do not expect a toddler to be making art.

Creative projects are about developing fine motor and eye/hand coordination. It’s about learning about colors, sensory experiences, and exploration of their world.

Fill the spaces that young children regularly use with bright colors and different shapes and textures to help them to develop their aesthetic sensibilities.

With toddlers I really take into consideration the mess, edible safety (do not encourage them to taste test) and material cost. We can offer so many creative opportunities for little to no cost if – paints from household food items, recycle paper goods – if we get creative.

Worried about safety?  Do with edible products:

  • pudding
  • jello
  • condiments
  • cornstarch
  • flour

Some edible paints do not keep well for long-term keeping. If we remember this should not be about a “Product”, but about child development which means sensory exploration, fine motor, creativity then this will not matter. Take a photo for that long-term keeping.

  • A playdough allows for squeezing, shaping, feeling. It can be stamped, rolled out, pinched, items stuck in, allowed to harden.
  • Sculpt with a sticky tape like blue painter’s tape.  Ball up some tape  and set out on a table or baking sheet. Let the exploration begin. Little hands will stick the wads of tape together and take them apart again and again. This will create sculptures of different shapes and sizes. Talking about what is happening is a great way to develop the concept of “sticky.”
  • contact paper creating: mosaics, 3-D, abstracts – contact paper can be flat on the ground, table top, or angled on an easel or taped to a wall. Creating at different angles is important for development.
    • Vertical/angled work surfaces provide the following:
  • promote good posture, no slouching over a table.
  • correct height by standing to face the creative surface; tables and chairs need to be adjusted for the child.
  • easier for the child to coordinate eyes-hand movement because everything is right in front of their eyes.
  • larger surface means easier to use large arm movements
  • develop understanding of position concepts such as top and bottom
  • strengthen shoulders, arms and hands since a child will need to work extra hard to reach forward, to press, etc.
  • promotes a good extended wrist position that helps a child to stabilize his hand while writing and to open up his fingers to manipulate small objects that he attaches to a board.

Painting is great for exploring. It also allows for those with less manual dexterity to enjoy the process. If you cannot hold a crayon coloring is frustrating. You can lower the mess of painting by controlling the painting environment.

trays with sides


cardboard boxes

ziplock bags

  • Place a sheet of paper in a cardboard box with low sides or a baking pan, then sprinkle with either tempera paint powder or Kool-Aid mix powder. Place an ice cube on top of the paper, then move the box around to move the ice cube. As it melts, it will dissolve the powder and create a painting on the paper. Can also make cubes with toothpicks frozen in them, this way child controls movement. Homemade popsicle kits also work for this.
  • Paint with water (age 9 months and up) – Set out a plastic container filled with a little bit of plain water, colorful construction paper and a paintbrush with a chubby handle (shorter ones work best). On construction paper, it will have a similar look to watercolor paints with way less potential for stains. Turn this into an outdoor summer activity by letting baby shake water from her paintbrush onto a large sheet of paper on the ground or a dry sidewalk for a splashy Jackson Pollock effect!
  • you do the messy and leave the fine motor for them – glue from flour/cornstarch water – torn paper (newspaper) and then once dry paint over
  • paper plate with paint = finger painting exploration /precut paper to plate size /press down, pull up = print
  • pre-tape name on paper then scribble away, or tape into stripes and finger paint over – you can then ask if you can have so you can add them around the room as candycanes, rainbows, letters……….

Tips –

Prepare materials ahead of time. With shorter attention spans you do not want to lose them while you hunt up supplies. You can have pre-packed boxes that would allow for a quick pull when the interest is there.

squeeze bottle of paint

baking sheet with sides

tactile stamps


cookie cutters

oatmeal containers/baby formula containers


contact paper



bubble wrap

paper bags

Repeat the same projects over and over. Toddlers love the repetition. Each time they both reinforce a previous concept learned and are free to learn something new. We need multiple experiences to “set” new information.

Keep your hands off their creative piece. Remember it’s about process and they have created what they want. When we finish a piece it is no longer theirs, but ours.

Both vertical and angled work surfaces provide the following advantages:

  • ·They promote good posture and discourage slouching over a tabletop.
  • ·A child will be automatically at the correct height when standing to face the writing surface; whereas, tables and chairs need to be adjusted to the child.
  • ·Writing on a vertical surface makes it easier for the child to coordinate eyes and hand movement because the hands are right infront of the eyes. Therefore, it is easier for the child to see what she is doing.
  • Writing on a large surface such as a chalk board makes it easier for a child to use large arm movements. Large arm movements help a child learn to form shapes, letters and numbers.
  • A child must use both hands together when pressing a stencil to color inside or shape to trace around against the vertical surface.
  • It is easier to interpret position concepts such as top and bottom when using a vertical surface because these will be on the same plane as the child’s body unlike when the student is seated at a desk.
  • Vertical surfaces strengthen shoulders, arms and hands since a child will need to work extra hard to reach forward, to press, for example- chalk against the board. Working in the vertical plane promotes a good extended wrist position that helps a child to stabilize his hand while writing and to open up his fingers to manipulate small objects that he attaches to a board.

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