Toddlers: Exploring The World Through Art

Written by NPN Guest on September 16th, 2011

Edited by Kelly of Becoming Crunchy

Arts and Crafts, Natural Learning

As your little one grows closer to 18 months, she begins exploring the world with a new independence. As a shift occurs in her development from mobility to language, she slowly becomes aware of herself as a separate being from her mother. She begins to explore the world with great enthusiasm, yet still needs a safe place to come to when she wants or needs it.

This is a wonderful time to begin your child’s relationship with art. Nurturing her imagination through art maintains the natural connection she has with the world around her while providing a sense of security that allows her to explore, experience and grow uninhibitedly. When introducing her to new media activities, keep several developmental characteristics in mind in order to make it a most enriching experience.

First, while your toddler is becoming aware of her independence, she is still very much engrossed in her own little world. Try not to interfere by speaking, directing or “teaching” too much. Allow her to experience without words, imitating what you do. This does not mean that she shouldn’t be supervised! She absolutely should be and will most likely want you to be there to experience this newness with her. Second, as she continues to master her body’s abilities, she will be thrilled with moving for the sake of moving. Make her art experiences big and active. Don’t expect a two year old to sit down and draw for more than a few minutes at a time. Instead, encourage hands, feet, even whole bodies – along with several of the senses – to be expressed through her art.

With these things in mind, here are a couple of art activities to get you started:

Messy Play With Dough

Introduce her to clay with some homemade play dough. Add some essential oils, such as lavender, and allow her to help or stand by as you mix the ingredients and stir them together on the stove (I’d include a recipe, but there are already scads of perfectly good ones on the internet). Then, when it’s cooled off a bit, give her a piece. Instead of presenting it to her with a bunch of plastic tools and toys, present it to her still warm, with no tools at all. Allow her the simplicity of exploring the warm dough by itself. If she is timid and unsure, then present a single tool, perhaps a popsicle stick, to experiment with. Or if she has played with it with her bare hands and had her fill, present her with a tool or two next time.

After several opportunities to play with the dough, change things up a bit. Offer her some bottle caps or acorns – something to imprint into the clay – leaving different impressions behind when she lifts them or creating different patterns when she leaves them in. Or, encourage her to place the dough on the floor and press into it with her toes or her elbow. The idea is to go slowly, at her toddler pace, allowing her to absorb the experience(s) with all of her senses and all of her self.

Pudding Paint Monoprints

For some parents, paint is terrifying – the organization of it, the messiness, the clean up…

Others can’t wait to break into paint and let their child get busy creating works of art. For those of you in the first camp, I encourage you to put your fears aside and allow for some messiness for the sake of your toddler’s experience – you may find it’s not so challenging if presented in the right way.

For those of you in the second camp, again, I encourage you to take it slowly. This is their experience, not yours. You don’t need to go breaking out every color and several brushes or stamps and giant sheets of paper to create a meaningful painting experience. Your child will get around to creating those little masterpieces, just not right away.

One of the easiest and safest ways to explore paint as a toddler is to make pudding paint. You can use regular instant pudding (or soy if you have dairy allergies) and some food coloring. Mix up the pudding, place it in a couple of containers and mix food coloring into each container. Again, she doesn’t need a whole rainbow of colors just yet. Next, get her set up in a high chair or a table with a place mat or plastic tablecloth. Take a spoonful of “paint” and plop it down on the tray for her. She may first explore it with just her fingertips, then, as she becomes familiar with the texture, she may take handfuls, squash it on the tray, and likely even taste it.

Once she has played with one color, add another, allowing her to watch the two colors mix together as she wipes them back and forth across the surface. If you would like to preserve something of the experience and she is finished, take a moment to press a thick piece of paper onto the tray or tablecloth, smooth it firmly, and lift it up to make a monoprint.

How do you like to make art with your toddler?


Acacia is a stay at home mama playing through life one moment at a time with her husband and two young sons. She is a natural parenting, cloth diapering, gentle disciplining, home schooling, wholesome foods eating, spiritually centered steward to this great Mother Earth.

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