Tips For Art-Making With Toddlers


Early childhood Art-making is about the process, more than the outcome. Toddlers and young children need to experience a variety of materials, tools, art techniques, and thought processes to build on their creativity and problem solving skills.


If you’re having a frazzled mommy moment, and just want two flippin’ seconds of silence to eat a package of Reese’s and stalk people on your phone, then by all means give a child a plate of paint and say “go for it!” I do this all the time, but as we all know, it will distract for a small amount of time, but is very short lived.

These tips aren’t necessarily for the “mommy needs a moment art”, but rather the meaningful and enriching art activity.

1. Provide Great Amounts of Structure.

You may be thinking that structure prohibits creativity, but this is not the case at all. Children thrive in structured environments, and they serve as a breeding ground for imaginative thinking. Structure will also benefit you, as it will stretch a single activity.

When you want art making to become a meaningful activity, that extended structure is needed. Prepare the environment, go over boundaries, give an idea, pace a variety of steps, and clean up in joint effort. Some phrases you may use to provide structure:


“This (A kitchen floor, a yard, a placemat, anything) is our painting station, here are your paints and brushes. In a moment we will talk about what you may want to paint.”  (Preparing the environment)

“Please try keeping paint on the large towel or on your paper. The kitchen floor is not a good place for paint. If we continue to get paint in non-paint zones, we will need to put the paint away.” (Boundaries)

“Once we fill our paper, we will clean up. We will be doing more art activities this week, so no  fussing when it’s time for clean up. ” (Boundaries)

“Do you have an idea of what you would like to paint? I love the train track you built yesterday, would you want to paint what it looks like?” (Giving an idea)

“Can you mix two colors together and paint a train conductor? Now we can use the large brush instead of the small brush. The brush has hair! How funny! Look, a blank space I spy, can you use paint to fill it in? What if we look in the kitchen for a tool to use instead of a paint brush, any ideas? Maybe a plastic fork?” (Pacing steps)

“Oh you want to paint a poopy diaper on the train conductor? Great idea, what color will you use?” (Giving more ideas/ Building on their ideas)

“Your artwork looks beautiful, I think it’s finished! We will let it dry over here and look at it later, but now is time for clean up. You can throw away paper towels while I wash the brushes. “ (Joint clean up)


2. Materials + Topic is a set up for success.

Handing a plate of paint to a toddler isn’t enough. There also needs to be a topic that tags along in order for the art-making process to be enriching. It’s also not enough to say to a toddler, “Make a piece of art about dogs with any materials you can find in the house”. You as the parent have to provide the initial materials + topic. Often the topic will stray, which is great, but that starting phase needs to be decided by you.


“Today we  are using melted candy and bottled glue to create the segments of a Hungry Caterpillar”.

“Our art activity is about exercising! On the grass I set up a large canvas, we are going to paint with our feet as we exercise. What color should jump & jacks be? What about running?”



3. Be The Example & Be Verbal
Maybe you want the art activity to be about bugs, using markers on paper.  Having your own piece of paper is a good idea so that your toddler can see what you are doing and mimic some of it on his paper. Being the example means doing the activity alongside the toddler. Not fully, but definitely here and there on your own paper. Showing examples can also be part of being an example for your toddler, this can be a short video on your phone about the topic, or a real life example in your backyard.


“Remember yesterday we saw a spider on the tree, what color was it? (Brown) I’m going to use this brown marker to draw my spider on my piece of construction paper.”

” Look at this dragon fly on mommy’s phone. No you can’t watch paw patrol on my phone right now, but you can hold my phone to look at these photos of a dragon fly. When the timer goes off we will turn my phone off and use our markers to draw some!”

“Look, mommy is drawing an oval for the body of the bug, can you draw an oval?”


4. The Reflection Period

To finalize the full art-making process, a short reflection period is needed. Let’s say you did a morning art activity, and then the toddler took a nap (yay). After the nap, re-visit the art activity via a verbal reflection.


“Oh wow, is that your artwork over there?” (duh, it is) “It looks like it has dried!”.

“What color marker did you use here?”

“Are these spiders?”

“Did you have fun making art with mommy this morning?”

“Do you remember cleaning up? What part did you help clean up? Mommy loves when you are a great helper, thanks again for helping earlier!”


If you have your very own tips, please share with us! I took to social media to ask for a few tips from some other mommies, here are some of my faves:

“For preschool kids, my biggest tip is to get nicer materials for them to work with (nicer watercolors, nicer colored pencils…nothing super fancy or pricey, just not the cheapo art supplies that are usually made for kids). They will put a lot more care into their work if they have nice materials to create with.” @rainydaycheer

“I try to make it more active. My three year old can’t sit very long for painting, so we will do more “science experiments/art” outside where he can throw paint or use body parts or finger paint. I rolled out a huge piece of paper outside and we had a Tupperware full of paint, and stepped in it and walked all over the paper. We also found leaves, rocks, and toys to also use in the paint. Wasn’t very pretty but sure was fun.” @lindseybrookdesign

“I strip them down naked and set them at our fool proof butcher block table and let them do watercolors. Clean up is pretty quick.” @mpkellyart





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