Making Art with Toddlers

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 The toddler years are the perfect time to make art projects and experiment with different materials.

Many parents show their toddler how to color with crayons, but often think that their child needs to be older to begin using other art materials. However, the toddler years are the perfect time to start trying various types of art projects and to begin experimenting with different types of materials.

There are many benefits to exposing toddlers to art, such as developing their fine motor skills and increasing their vocabulary.

“Encouraging children of toddler age to be creative is an integral part of bolstering self-esteem from a young age,” says Art Therapist Lauri Napi. When working with toddlers Napi also often sees toddlers expressing emotions through art that they are not yet able to verbalize.

With a little bit of planning, art projects with your toddler can be fun for both of you. Make sure that all paints, markers and crayons are washable. Your toddler’s high chair is a great place for them to make art because the surface is washable and she is contained. Tape the paper on the tray or table so that it does not move around while your toddler is trying to work. If you are going to be painting, consider doing the project before bath time to make clean up easier.

When doing art with toddler, let them do the project themselves as much as possible and realize that the process is more important than creating a masterpiece. The most important part of art is letting your toddler be creative and experiment with the materials. Try one of the following age-appropriate art projects with your toddler.

Fun with Stickers
Stickers are a simple art project that delights toddlers. Peel the stickers off the sheet and put them on the edge of a table of high chair tray. Show your child how to pick up the sticker and place it on the paper. Dollar stores are a great place to find stickers. Purchase larger stickers so that she can easily work with them.

You can also have your child put stickers on a paper plate. Poke a hole in the top of the paper plate and string a piece of yarn through the top to make a door hanger. Proudly display your toddler’s art in your house or give it as a gift to a grandparent.

Paint with Water
Tape piece of colored construction paper on the table or high chair tray and put water in a no-spill paint container. Show your toddler how to dip the paintbrush into the water and put it on the paper. Point out how the paper changes color when the water touches the paper. Encourage your child to paint on the paper with water.

Once your child has mastered painting with water, get a set of washable watercolor paints and show him how to paint with them. Watercolors are a low-mess way for your toddler to begin painting.    

Create a Collage
Collages are a fun and easy way for toddlers to express their creativity. To create a collage, have your toddler put small pieces of tissue paper onto one half of a piece of contact paper. Fold the contact paper over, punch a hole in the top and tie a piece of yarn through it to create a sun catcher.

You can also make collages by gluing pieces of construction paper, fabric or cotton balls. You can create collages on shoe boxes, plastic bottles, cardboard and construction paper. To keep the mess down, teach your child how to use a glue stick. For older toddlers, you can put a small amount of glue in the lid of a plastic bottle and show her how to spread the glue using a cotton swab.

Use Everyday Items as a Paintbrush
A fun variation on painting is to have your toddler use an everyday item to paint with instead of a brush. Napi likes to show toddlers how to paint with Koosh balls, fly swatters, and Matchbox cars.

“The kids are able to see the different imprints that are created with each objects,” says Napi.

Give your child a large sheet of paper and then put some tempera paint on a paper plate. Show her how to dip the object into the paint and then put it onto the paper. Let her experiment with different patterns and colors. Another variation is to have her make vegetable prints with potatoes, broccoli and carrots.

Create with Cardboard Tubes
Cut a paper towel roll horizontally to create five rings. Have your toddler decorate the rings with stickers, crayons or markers. Show her how to put the rings onto a piece of yarn to make a necklace. You can also create a bracelet by making a horizontal cut on one of the rings so that it will slip over your toddler’s wrist.

Another fun project is to make a pair of binoculars. Tape two toilet paper rolls together and have your child decorate the rolls. Punch a hole on the side of each roll and tie a piece of yarn so that the binoculars will hang around her neck. Show her how to look through the tubes.

One of the most important benefits of doing art with your toddler is the time that you are spending together and the bonds that you are creating.

“A parent really needs to try to put him/herself in the toddler's mindset when doing any sort of activity with them, most especially art,” says Napi. “Observing and being present in the moment with the child is a great way to learn to be a kid again.”

Many parents also find enjoy doing the same project alongside their toddler. When you are doing projects with your toddler, interact with your child and enjoy the time together.
Jennifer Gregory is a freelance writer and the mom of two kids. When her daughter was a toddler, she spent many hours painting with water with her. She estimates that she must have gone through over 200 sheets of construction paper.