Toddler Art: A Guide for Creative Parents

Chelsea Day

Life at home with a two-year-old is a weird thing to behold. Watching these tiny people explore their personalities makes for days filled with creative messiness and a whole lot of outward expression. Here's a day from my toddler's artistic mind.

Order from Chaos
As soon as toddlers figure out some basic spatial awareness, they start messing with everything in their grasp. Reorganization is the agenda for the day. Don't worry, this phase only lasts until they get into elementary school, at which point they'll promptly lose all sense of order.

Play with Your Food
Applesauce makes for fancy finger paint. My youngest son loves to dump his food out and doodle, with added bonus points for infusing the project with colors from berries or vegetables. 

Functional Displays
Did you know that the TV remote can also serve as a makeshift float toy for your fish tank? Toddlers have a way of turning any household necessity a multifunctional item. I like to encourage my kids' creative endeavors by giving him a shallow dish of water and lots of fun things to explore with in there, such as sponges, paper that can be folded, water beads and more. Plopping them down on the kitchen floor and giving them freedom to make a little mess is a genius way to keep them occupied and buy yourself a solid five to ten minutes of peace.

Obscure Art
Sometimes, my toddler sets up impressionistic displays around the house such as a coathanger hanging from a lamp. This could be artwork, or maybe he just didn't make it all the way to the closet. There's no way of knowing, since gibberish is the language of the land here. Proud parents will always give toddlers the benefit of the doubt, snap a photo of their tiny genius' creation, and share it on the interwebs for all to admire.

Leaning Tower
Nuggets and cheese sticks can serve as everything from counting aids to building blocks. The only problem with creative construction is finding odd chunks of food stashed everywhere from the car seat to the crib. I actually installed a baby gate on both entrances of our kitchen so the kid could go to town (with all dangerous slicers and graters placed up high, for obvious safety reasons). Since a lot of parents spend a TON of their time prepping meals, setting up borders and play options within that space is a good way to maintain some sanity.

Performance Art
The world's a stage for a toddler with time on their hands. Little Shakespeareans will find all sorts of unusual props to enhance their impromptu plays. I like to setup a 'dress up box' filled with capes, hats, glasses, and other costumes items to occupy their time.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a dinosaur in the weeds! Interpreting toddler art is a whole lot like staring at mid-day clouds. Stock up on (washable) pens, crayons and paints, and clear out a big space for them to get creative! Be sure to snap some pics of their early doodles to cherish down the line.

Common Questions about Toddler Art

  • How can toddler art help them develop? So many ways! For parents who are used to instilling order and cleaning up after their kids, it can feel counterintuitive to actually encourage them to make a mess and color outside the lines. Fact is, giving toddlers freedom to create without constraints can help them explore the world around them through cause and effect, it can instill a confidence as they see their own amazing creations, and it can help them develop much-needed fine motor skills.
  • How is painting good for toddlers? Painting helps toddlers develop critical right brain skills which can actually increase their visual accuity. It also helps them express feelings, problem-solve, develop confidence in their own decision-making and develop verbal language through interacting with you and explaining their creations.
  • What are some more art activites that toddlers may enjoy? Shaving cream crafts are a big hit in our home, along with sock puppets, 
  • What about really young kids? Can babies as little as a year old enjoy art? Yes! While babies who don't have many motor skills can't be expected to take an active role in creating art, they can still be involved in parent-led handprint and footprint activities. They can also take part in basic sorting and creating activities such as stacking blocks.
  • What art supplies are good to keep on-hand for toddlers? We start with wooden blocks, pens, crayons, construction paper, cut-proof scissors, and glue sticks. No matter what you choose to provide, make sure it's washable! I can't stress that point enough. Kids WILL get their art on the walls (and their clothes, the couch, their crib or bed, and basically every other space in your home). Be prepared with a good sponge and some rubbing alcohol for stubborn stains, but also be as prepared as possible by buying the correct, easy-to-cleanup supplies in the first place.
  • Should I give them accessories like cotton balls, buttons, and beads? Toddlers are still in the age where they're putting everything in their mouth, so we prefer to stick with toddler-friendly bits and baubles like Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, and edible clay. We do a limited amount of play with cotton balls, but I make sure to keep an eye out so they don't put them in their mouth.

Cleaning up Toddler Art

As with the supplies and buying items that are easily-cleaned and totally washable, your best bet at cleaning up toddler art is preparing thoroughly in advance. Clear a large space on the floor or on a big table. We keep a folding table and chairs around specifically for toddler art. Cover your space with a long piece of paper from a butcher roll, which can be purchased online or from teacher supply stores. Then, let your toddler go to town! With a fully-prepared space, you can easily just pick up your butcher paper and toss it at the end of the day (or reuse it, it it's in decent shape). There are also reusable art mats that can be washed or hosed down outdoors. We also like to use smocks to keep the mess off clothes, and sometimes just let the kids get creative in their underwear or diaper to minimize laundry.

As for cleaning up floor space, make a simple pass with a regular broom tog et up loose items, followed by a little bit of scrubbing with a sponge to get up any gunky stuck stuff and finally, mopping to restore floor shine. I do NOT recommend doing toddler art on carpet! Stick to hard floors, or roll out a mat to keep the mess as confined as humanly possible. We sometimes even setup our art space in the garage to keep things like glitter and glue out of the living area.

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Helping parents live simple and satisfying lives. Our homeschooling family loves to learn, and in our spare time (hah!) we RV travel and flip houses.

Boise, ID

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