Arty toddlers: 6 smart ideas

toddler doing art
arty toddlers

Here are some fun ways to explore art with your toddler and help expand their world.

Art at home is often put in the too-messy, too-hard basket in the toddler years, but the latest research in education suggests exploring our children’s artistic side is certainly worth the effort.

smart art

Toddlers love art and, according to the research, it does amazing things for them. Researchers have found that young children who have been encouraged in art do better later at school: they have stronger visual thinking skills and their reading is improved. In fact, experts think that many academic areas may be improved by art. Art trains children’s brains and helps with emotional well-being, self-esteem and dealing with emotional conflicts.

TRY IT: If you’re a bit scared of mess to start with, try my favourite – water painting. On a nice day, head outside with a bowl or bucket of water and a large paint brush. Let them go crazy painting the house, the concrete, the fence. Kids of all ages enjoy this and the ‘paint’ disappears with no clean up!

listen with your eyes

Art isn’t just about learning to draw, paint or sculpt, it’s also about learning to see, hear and express. Talking with your toddler about their world will not only help expand their artistic skills, but will also extend vocabulary, observation skills and their emotional intelligence. Toddlers generally won’t draw actual objects. It takes time for them to learn that art can symbolise our real world and that a picture of a circle with ears and a tail can be a cat, for example. You can start to show them this with your own simple drawing and by encouraging observation.

TRY IT: Go on a flower hunt. Talk about the colours and shapes, touch the petals, smell them. Take one home and, getting out only the colours you need, paint or draw it together. Their picture may just be a whole lot of squiggles, but it’s the process and talking about it that matters.

Alternatively: Make some Found Art. Collect up leaves, small sticks, petals, etc, then cover card with glue and create a collage. (With messy art, it is always good to make sure you have wipes handy to clean up so you are not worried about sticky fingers getting everywhere – and then let them get stuck into it, hands and all!) A sand garden with Found objects is fun outside too. Use a small plate or container filled with sand to stick things in.

getting creative

There are a lot of differing opinions and philosophies about how to do art with kids, but the main thing as parents is to just do it. If you’re worried about mess at home, try joining your local Playcentre. Playcentre is a great place for toddlers and parents to explore art together.

To find your nearest playcentre phone: 0800 PLAYNZ (0800 752 969) or go online

try something new:

Playdough is a great creative tool for toodlers, but what about clay? Clay gives a whole new experience, is great fun and you can keep some of what they make. Get prepared with a plastic mat, and a warm bucket of soapy water for clean up. Make sure your ball of clay (about the size of an orange) is nice and soft, add water if you need to. Then pull off bits, roll sausages, make snails, and squash it together. A container with a wet sponge for them to touch every so often keeps the clay from drying out too much.

other ideas to try:

  • Using colouring books all the time can inhibit creativity, so try to offer blank paper as well during art time. Or encourage colouring outside the lines for a change.
  • Have your child colour a picture using only two contrasting colours, or different shades of one particular colour.
  • Keep it varied. Remember, art can be painting yourself as well as the paper; flower arranging; rock painting; footprints on paper; swirling food colouring into the bath – be creative.

Visual art is excitingly broad, so expose your child to as many different forms as you can think of.

By Kelly Eden-Calcott

more craft ideas from tots to teens:

How To Make Puffy Paint

Easy No Cook Play Dough

Painted Rocks Craze

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