The process and the journey–not so much the final product, is what really matters when creating art with young children. It is the sensory experiences of cool paint sliding over fingers, gooey slime sticking to their skin, and malleable clay in their palms–or the joy of mixing colors and smiling at the results, that leads a toddler on the path to discovery. All an adult needs to do is supply a wide range of supplies, step aside, and let creativity and learning happen.
Paint: To Make A Mess or Not Make A Mess, That is the Question!
Classic Finger Painting
Whether you pick some finger paint up at the store, or make your own (some cool recipes linked here), you can’t go wrong with tried-and-true fingerpainting.
This could get messy, so remember to always cover surfaces with newspaper or drop cloths.
Finger painting may seem intuitive to us adults, but some toddlers may need a little demo to get them started. Lay down your paper, dip into your paints, and let your toddler’s imagination get to work.
In addition to fingers, arms, and elbows–other fun painting tools include: chopsticks, comb, feather, utensils; anything around your home that doesn't mind some paint.
Magic Paint Bag
Fill a heavy duty clear plastic zipper bag with a few tablespoons of paint. If you are worried about leaks, freezer bags are super sturdy and, for extra security, double the bag.
Remove the air from the bag and seal it shut. Lay the bag down on a flat surface and tape the edges of the bag down to the table to keep it steady.
Use fingers and other blunt items to “draw” designs on the surface of the bag.
Anything Can Be A Stamp or Stencil!
Be creative–why not use sponges, cookie cutters, jars, string, yarn, pompoms, toys, carved apples, cups, leaves, sticks, rocks, seashells, items with interesting textures... the options are endless!
Painting Without Paint - How Fun!
Whipped Cream or Pudding Painting–what a delicious way to create!
Take a large, shallow container like a baking sheet and fill it with your gooey treat of choice. Your child will love drawing and manipulating the contents, wiping the design away, and starting again. Not to mention the frequent taste tests.
Don’t do dairy? Use dairy-free options.
Place nontoxic sand in a shallow container, and repeat the steps from “Whipped Cream or Pudding Painting”. Though your toddler may want to skip licking the sand from their fingers step :)
Paint outside on anything and everything using a bucket of water and a paint brush.
As your child paints with water, creating dots, lines, and zigzags–they will see the water evaporate before their eyes...disappearing like magic! This creates a teachable moment–learning about the scientific properties of water and evaporation during a fun art project.
Best part : Zero clean up.
Mix jello powder and water to create a tasty, fruity-scented, watercolor-esque paint.
Add 3 tablespoons of bubble solution and 2 tablespoons of nontoxic paint to a small container. Mix the paint and bubble solution together.
Place a piece of paper on the grass or a table. Dip a bubble wand or a straw into the bubble paint and then blow out bubbles so they land on the paper.
Voila! As the bubbles pop, they will leave uniquely beautiful designs on your paper.
All you need are a rainy day, colored paints or food coloring, and plastic sheets (plastic wrap, plastic bags, or a cut up shower curtain works great).
Place the plastic on the grass or sidewalk outside. Sprinkle different colors of paint or food coloring on the plastic.
Let the raindrops plop on the plastic, mixing and spreading everything into a rainbow of splashy colors.
No raindrops in the forecast? Try making your own showers using a watering can.
Looking for more ways to create and explore with the young children in your life? Check out the great books and websites listed below:
Art Across The Alphabet: Over 100 Art Experiences That Enrich Early Literacy by Kelly Justus Campbell
First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn F. Kohl
The Big Messy Art Book (But easy to clean up) by MaryAnne F. Kohl
The Little Hands Nature Book for Ages 2-6 by Nancy Fusco Castaldo
CreativeBug - More than 1,000 award-winning art & craft video classes taught by recognized design experts and artists. Just use your Greenburgh Library card to access all of Creative Bug's content from our elibrary!
Whether in or outdoors, messy or tidy, painting can be an interactive way for toddlers to create, imagine, and learn about the wonderful world around them.