8 Tips for Raising Toddler Artists

As an art educator, when I found out I was pregnant I couldn’t wait to start planning projects for Aaliyah. I remember being pregnant and working in the museum; showing students how to shape clay and feeling her kick as I taught. I couldn’t wait to show her one day too.

When speaking to other moms, it breaks my heart to hear some of their reactions when I talk about creating art with Aaliyah. So many are stunned that I would do these activities when she was so young, and would say that they would never attempt such messy project until their child was older. I am here to tell you, you have no reason to fear art with your little one, and here are 8 tips to make art with your toddler a fun, creative, and educational experience.

 1. Help avoid big messes with prep work.

I learned this in the classroom but apply is every day at home. Always have your art area set up before you tell your little one you’re about to do art. If I have to cut something up I always do this before so that she doesn’t see the scissors and even think about wanting to hold them. Get your materials out, table covered, wash cloth and baby wipes, and sippy cup ready during nap time!

Yes, art is MESSY. But being prepared for a mess makes clean up a breeze. I have a tablecloth that is used just for craft time, and a large piece of vinyl that goes under her seat. This makes it super easy to clean up the floor, all I have to do it wipe it down. When I need to get messy hands in the bath quickly i can wrap up the table cloth and put it in the sink until I have time to clean!

2. Art takes time

While I usually have her on the bathroom floor with crayons and a coloring book while I am in the shower or doing my hair, I never do a big project unless I have a big amount of time. Painting days are stay at home days, knowing I don’t have to rush to clean up and get her in the bath make our creative time much calmer. 

3. Creativity isn’t always costly

It’s not their fault babies and toddlers don’t know their own strength! Crayons will be broken, paint will be spilled, and markers left out to dry out. While you should remind them to be gentle with their supplies, accidents happen. Keep those accidents cheap! The dollar store if full of art supplies, about once a month I go in and buy a pack of crayons and a pack of non-toxic markers. They also have coloring books and even sketch pads for older kids! The dollar section at both Michael’s and Target will have great supplies as well.  Coupons also work great for art kits when you can use them at craft stores. There are also tons of DIY options for paint, playdoh, and even crayons!

4. Limit materials

This doesn’t mean don’t give a baby paint, but instead don’t give your little one 8 paints at once. Use rewashable paint trays (also at the dollar store!) to give them tiny paint amounts, only open two playdoh colors at a time, hand them one piece of paper not a stack. For older kids you can use this “limitation” to teach the color wheel. When I taught the tissue paper lesson (shown below), I told students they could only pick 3 colors for their project. We talked about the color wheel and then chose primary or secondary colors. This is a great way to also introduce color mixing! Limiting their material count doesn’t limit their imagination, but encourages them to problem solve in new ways.

5. Demonstrate and then set them free

I admit I am a control freak, so sometimes I do still cringe as a watch my daughter take two playdoh colors and smash them together to make a ball. I have to remind myself to let my little one create the way she wants to. So I might show her how to dip the brush into the paint, how to tear the paper and stick it to the contact sheet, or how to use the rolling pin with playdoh, and then I let her be. Sometimes I sit down and create something as well, other times I just sit and watch the magic happen. With gentle reminders that the paint should go on the paper and not her arms, allowing her to create on her own gives her a sense of independence and confidence. Let their creativity flow!

6. Praise their work!

When talking about art or even crafts with adults, you tend to hear the “I can’t do that I can’t even draw a stick figure.” There is something about art that makes it feel like it is reserved only for those with “talent.” Encourage your child to create and express themselves even when their work doesn’t turn out exactly as they planned. Hang their work on your refrigerator or gift to a family member. Aaliyah isn’t even two yet and she already gets excited to see her art gallery on our fridge at home. Talk to your little one about their work. Even simple questions about their color choices can become educational dialogues and can lead to your child being able to openly discuss their creative works when they get older.

7. Use fun new materials

There are so many ways to create, and so many materials to create with. When you go for a walk you can pick up leaves, rocks, and pine cones to use as paint brushes. Glue tissue paper to wax paper to create stained glass, or use recycled items like magazines and popsicle sticks to create tiny houses. Encourage their creativity by getting creative!

8. Art versus craft

My biggest, and possibly most important tip, is to consider art versus craft. We all love crafts, especially when they are made from our little one’s tiny handprints. While these make adorable Christmas gifts,  having a structured end goal can limit creativity. Crafts like these are a great way to teach skills, like paper cutting or how to use glue. It is important to allow them to also create art. Open-ended projects allow your little one to express themselves freely!

Creating art with little ones is fun and rewarding! I hope these tips allow you to enjoy the experience to create together!

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  1. This is such a useful post! I definitely am a supporter of young artists and incorporate all of your tips daily!

  2. I love when my kids create art. Unfortunately, my house doesn’t!! But prepping before they begin is a tip I’ll be taking away for sure! Thanks!

  3. Absolutely love how you support the arts in young people, but love our tips even more!! I feel bad for those who don’t encourage it themselves! The way I see it is one day you won’t be getting a bajillion drawings from your kids and that’s when you realize they’ve grown up :/ Thank you for this post!

  4. Such great tips! I need to start making arts with my toddler asap 🙂

  5. Art is so important. Art can change the way a person sees themselves and the world around them. Creativity in art is even more important.

  6. I have a two year old daughter, and I cringe every time she says the words “I want to paint”. These are great tips to make the experience more fun for all! I think I’ll go create with her now!

  7. Great tips! They are all equally important and practical. Thanks for sharing!

  8. blissateightypercent says:

    #5 is my favorite! It is natural for me to want to step in and help but it is so important to let children be creative and figure things out on their own. Thank you!

  9. I love this post! Just the other day I heard a mom say, “I would never do that at home, it’s too messy!” With proper planning, modeling and direction using materials of all kinds can be both fun and educational. I especially like your comment about art vs. craft. As a child of a retired art instructor my dad has always emphasized this! I always say, “The process is more important than the product!”

  10. This is such a great idea for crafting with toddlers. I get overwhelmed because I have a lot of ideas and craft supplies. This is very helpful

  11. I really love this post. I need to do more of this with my two-year-old. I love the Stainglass window idea

  12. This is so cute! I admit, I’m also a control freak, it’s so hard when it comes to toddler messes too! But they have so much fun with art.

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