Toddler art is about exploring the materials

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ToddlerArt_23

Art with toddlers is all about exploring the materials and the tools and what they can do with them. When painting they may want to feel the texture of the paint, taste it, and experiment with different ways of applying it to the paper or their body. And it's the same with drawing or other art — the materials and tools are explored as much as art is made.

Here are a few photos of Daphne, 17 months, from a day of art in our home:

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Dabbing with the Do-A-Dot markers in a sketchbook.

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Trying the lid in her mouth (don't worry, I was supervising closely the entire time!).

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Practising putting the lid on and taking it back off.

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Inspecting my pen closely and testing the tip with her finger.

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Exploring the pen with her mouth.

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Scribbling with the pen.

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Tasting the water that she had just painted onto the paper.

Note: the paper is brown kraft paper that was included in a package we received. I taped it up on the fridge as a temporary art-making spot.

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Painting with a brush on the fridge "easel."

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And feeling the paint with her hand.

Repeat above performance the next day and the next…

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  1. says

    Just as it should be – Perfect. No ‘draw this here’ or ‘paint that there’. Just freedom to express and explore. This is how creativity blossoms.

  2. says

    Yes, all about the process. They don’t even notice what happens with the product. Pure art for the sake of creation. I love watching their eyes when exploring.

  3. says

    It’s neat to see your daughter flipping back and forth between her right and left hand in the photos. I think it’s fascinating how hand dominance is established – my daughter always seemed prefer her right hand but I know that being a “righty” or “lefty” isn’t firmed up until age 3 or so.
    On a side note – any chance you can tell me where that awesome high chair came from?!

  4. says

    The high chair is a Svan and we LOVE it! It was a gift from my mother in law when Maia was born and one of the best things about it (besides the cool looks) is that it is adjustable from little baby to preschooler. Maia used it at the table until she was 4 or so.
    Here’s a link for the high chair: http://www.svanusa.com/

  5. says

    During our paint session this afternoon, my little guy (20 months) discovered that he could slather the paint thickly on the paper and then scrape some off with the other end of the brush. It was such a pleasure to watch him explore! Then he proceded to paint both his arms up to his elbows. After that we hit the tub! ;-)

  6. says

    My daughter is about 15 months and I’m eager to get started with exploring art materials with her.
    I am very wary though, about what to let her work with b/c everything is taste-tested first in our house ( at least everything she can get her hands on).
    Are there any particular supplies you’d recommend for this age group?

  7. Carly says

    The photo with the pen in her mouth is my favourite. I just want to commend you on your tolerance for mess! I have serious mess issues and have to contain them, especially paint messes. Your children are very lucky to NOT have a neurotic mother like me!

  8. Krista H says

    so inspiring to see! my 15 month old is super focused on tasting things.. makes me nervous to explore paint. and I don’t want to do pudding, because we don’t eat processed food like that. what paint do you guys use? i know i’ve read it before on here.. i’m going to go look. :)

  9. says

    How about strapping your toddler into a high chair or booster seat before bringing out the paints? That way the mess will be contained. Or try painting in the bath tub. And there’s always outside, too, if the weather is decent.

  10. says

    I love remembering the differences, now that we have a 2 & 6 year old the progress makes even more sense to me! & I talked a little about an older post of yours just now on my blog–thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Julie L. says

    I love all the photos. I also have a couple of questions. 1. do you tell Daphne not to put stuff in her mouth when she does, do you try to get her to take it out? My daughter (also 17 months) still puts everything in her mouth. I know she is just exploring but I’m always torn on how to react, so I’m just wondering what someone else does. 2. Do you find that some parents in your toddler art group struggle with letting their kids freely explore? I have a group at my house and a lot of times many of the parents try to direct what their kiddos do. They are just trying to encourage participation a lot of times but they will say things like “Sam do you want to go paint a firetruck.’ I cringe because they are 1.5-2.5 year olds and really they just want to explore but I don’t know how to gently share this with my friends. I also want to say thank you for your site. You were the inspiration for me starting a group and it has been a really great experience for both my kids and many of their friends. I’m sure your blog is a lot of keep up with so I just wanted to let you know that it is really appreciated!

  12. Dawn says

    Funny I read this post Just a few minutes before and when I read your comment I thought of it. Maybe if you set out goals with the main goal being exploring the medium and talk to the parents about what that means it would help. I had a friend who was originally very directive with her daughter’s art work (luckly she was my best friend so I could easly “tease” her about it). It was very difficult for her to let go of directing. One day we traced their bodies on butcher paper and she was saying things like, “Why don’t you put the 2 eyes on the face.” “Where does the hair go?” Meanwhile my son’s image has 6 eyes all over the body, hair randomly around the body – very much more abstract. She worked really hard to release that control. However, until I pointed out how directive she was she didn’t realize it. She just thought she was helping her daughter. It is possible your friends don’t realize what they are doing. Anyway good luck!
    http://strongstart.blogspot.com/2011/02/squeeze-bottle-painting.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FzpPWT+%28StrongStart%29

  13. says

    First of all she is precious Jean! Is she a lefty? I love seeing kids explore at this age, little Adelaide is just starting to really get into smearing her food across her tray. Must be time to put a crayon in that sweet little hand! :)

  14. Lauren says

    Love this post! My daughter is 18 mos and I love watching her explore everything. It is fun to see paint and crayons and paper as new and exciting!

  15. says

    Ooh beautiful photos. I miss this kind of exploration with my 3 y/o and look forward to watching my 7 month baby experiment with art. I think I will try tomorrow to see if she will do anything but put it in her mouth :D

  16. says

    Thanks for the reminder about bubble wrap! I’ve been meaning to try this.
    On another note, have you ever heard of Bev Bos? She’s a well-known expert in play-based early childhood education, and she is WONDERFUL. She heavily emphasizes process over product. If you’ve not heard of her, you should look her up. I think you’d really like her.

  17. says

    what an inspirational blog you’ve made. i love this post. it can be hard to remember that ‘how you get there’ is often the most important part of learning. good for you to focus on the experience(s) of creating, instead of the end result. you’re kids are very lucky. and now, mine too – thanks to you!
    bestest,
    r

  18. says

    I struggle with this as well (I teach mommy and me art classes)- I have a hard time telling the parents in the moment how to better interact with their children’s art process. It’s not really my style of teaching. So instead I model the behavior to the parents through my interactions with their children, then I explain my approach in the class blog and hope the parents are reading it!

  19. says

    I’d love to know if you made/purchased where to find the marker holder in the bowl. my son has one hand and can’t yet open a marker with one hand…I’d love something like this for him.

  20. says

    Katie – The marker holder is an idea I found in MaryAnn Kohl’s “First Art”. It is made by pouring plaster of paris into a bowl then inserting the marker caps upside down in the wet plaster. Let the plaster firm up before putting the markers back in the caps. It still often takes my kids both hands to pull out the marker, but you can leave the markers loosely in their caps so it’s easier to access them (and they still won’t dry out). I’d suggest making it in something with a square bottom (such as a metal loaf pan or baking dish or one of those decorative metal boxes used for giving cookies etc) because then he won’t need to stabilize the marker holder as we do when pulling out a marker. Ours if awfully tippy. I’ve been planning to make another that is less so. Let me know if you make one and how it works for your son! And feel free to email me if you have any other questions — jevanthul@yahoo.com.