For the very youngest artists, art is all about exploration and process: trying and using age appropriate materials, working BIG, and sometimes getting messy.
Expectations for a “finished product” should be very low, and instead the emphasis should be on fun, exploration, and learning. If you are concerned about mess, move art activities outside, into the bathtub, or use a drop cloth on the floor.
When teaching a toddler a new art skill — or any skill for that matter — it is most effective to focus on the positive: the DOs, instead of the DON’Ts. Use short, encouraging instructions when introducing new materials; if you give them a marker and say, don’t put it in your mouth!, that will be the first thing they try. If they use something inappropriately, redirect and distract to get them back on task. If a material just clearly isn’t working, acknowledge that they tried, remove the item, and replace it with something else. Remember, too, that fine motor skills take years of practice, repetition, and muscle development.
Toddlers also tend to work fast and furiously! Their attention spans are short, so we recommend keeping art sessions short, too. You will be able to tell when your toddler has lost interest or is ready to get up and move around. It’s always better to end on a positive note, instead of waiting until things fall apart. If you have more time, prolonging art adventures by adding new materials one at a time and limiting choices can keep a child engaged .
Here are some of our favorite materials to use with toddler artists..
Washable markers are exciting for toddlers. It is a milestone in their development to learn to use markers and a stepping stone in their fine motor development and writing skills. Let them draw on paper, old magazines, mail or fun surfaces like aluminum foil, plastic bags, or coffee filters. Brand: Crayola
These are a step beyond a normal crayon. Our patients call them “super crayons”!. They’re smooth, have great color, and don’t require much pressure to show up. They’re perfect for paper, but will also work on wood, cardboard, and even on top of acrylic paint! Brands: Faber-Castell, Mr Sketch, Crayola, Smooth Stix
A happy hybrid of paint, markers, and a stamp, bingo dots are always a hit. They are great for covering large areas with color; you can “stamp” them or slide them across the page like a marker. They come in a variety of colors including neon and shimmer. Brand: Do-A-Dot
These are a favorite of all ages and abilities! Paint sticks are a no-mess alternative to regular liquid paints. They are chunky for easy gripping, they twist up like a glue stick, and feel like lipstick. They offer rich, bold, smooth color and dry instantly on paper, canvas, wood, and cardboard. The colors blend well together and give great coverage; making them perfect for little hands that can’t color efficiently. Brands: Kwik Sticks, Playcolor, CraftSmart
These are cakes of DRY paint (not semi-moist) in a variety of colors, packaged together in a single plastic tray. They are a great starting paint and easy to clean up. Little ones often need help getting enough paint on their brush to make bright marks on the paper; we recommend dripping water in the paints first to make them wet and pliable. Brands: Ooly, Artist’s Loft, Sargent Arts, or Crayola
Color diffusion paper
This is a specialty paper with a rough texture and a thick weave that is made to absorb water and then dry quickly. If you color on it with washable markers and then wet it with a spray bottle or paintbrush, it will produce a tie-dye like effect. Diffusion paper is pretty much foolproof; even if you make just a few marks on it, you’ll still get the effect. Diffusion paper comes in all different shapes and sizes, including animal shapes! Brand: Roylco
This is just the tip of the iceberg!
Other great supplies to have around for toddlers are: adhesive foam, stickers, white paper, colored construction paper, glue sticks, pom poms, feathers, cardboard boxes and tubes, and pipe cleaners.
Some more helpful tips for creating art with toddlers:
- If you have a young one who puts everything in their mouth, try painting with pudding or creating your own homemade paints with flour, water, and food coloring.
- Got an overeager painter? Give them a bucket of water and paintbrush to “paint” the house, car, fence, toys– great for both fine and gross motor skill development.