Art with toddlers and two-year-olds is about the process, not the product! The art process allows toddlers and twos to explore, discover, and manipulate their worlds. Sometimes the process can be sensory, such as feeling slippery cool paint on bare fingers. Other times it is a mysterious surprise as colors blend unexpectedly or a blob of playdough takes form. Art process can be a way to “get the wiggles out” or to smash a ball of clay instead of another child. The adult’s job is simply to allow this process to happen! Check out the process art activities below from the book First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-Ended Art Experiences by MaryAnn Khol. In these activities, the adult simply provides interesting materials, and then sits back to watch closely but unobtrusively as children explore the endless possibilities of creating art.
Fingerpainting directly on a tabletop surface is smooth, messy fun! Use this Dollar-Wise Slippery Fingerpaint recipe—it’s fun to use and easy to clean up!
- Dollar-Wise Slippery Tabletop Fingerpaint Recipe below (or use any favorite fingerpaint mixture)
- fingerpainting tools (see list)
- low table (on which to paint)
- measuring cups
- saucepan and mixing spoon
- small plastic, paper, or foam cups, in a variety of sizes
- stove or hot plate (adult only)
- tempera paints
- unflavored gelatin
- water (cold, room temperature, and boiling)
- cardboard with masking tape around the edges
- empty yogurt container
- plastic knife
- plastic lid cut in half, then the straight edge cut into zigzags and waves
- plastic-coated spatula
- wooden spoon
- Make the Dollar-Wise Slippery Tabletop Fingerpaint recipe with the children. In a saucepan, mix 1⁄2 cup (60 g) cornstarch and 3⁄4 cup (180 mL) cold water, and stir until smooth. Pour 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) water into a small bowl, and add an envelope of gelatin. Set it aside until the gelatin dissolves slightly. Pour two cups (480 mL) boiling water into the saucepan mixture and stir. Place the saucepan on a stove or hot plate (adult only), and turn the heat on medium. Stir the cornstarch mixture constantly until it boils and becomes clear. Remove from heat. Add in the dissolved gelatin mixture and stir. When cool, pour it into separate bowls. Add a different color of tempera paint to each bowl.
- Place a variety of cups and fingerpainting tools on a low table.
- Pour a small puddle of paint directly on the tabletop, using one or more colors.
- Fingerpaint directly on the table with fingers and hands, smearing the paint smooth, and then making designs in the paint.
- Explore adding more than one color on the tabletop at a time and mixing them together.
- Experiment with various tools to make additional fingerpainting designs. For example, show children how to turn a small plastic or paper cup upside down and scoot the cup along the table, scraping the paint off wherever it goes and leaving a trail of clean space behind it. (This trail is called negative space.)
- For their first experience, let children fingerpaint without any tools.
- If the paint begins to dry out on the table, add a spritz of water, a puddle of liquid starch, or more paint.
- Clean-up tip: Cut a plastic lid (e.g., from a margarine tub) in half, and use it as a scraper to scoop the paint off the table. Children love to explore the paint with this homemade scraper!
Markers are a basic art supply for children as they progress from scribbling to drawing. Have markers available for independent scribbling and drawing at any time.
- Tape butcher paper to a low table (cover the entire table and over the edges with butcher paper). Be sure to tape the corners.
- Place markers in a basket or flat tray, and put it next to the paper.
- Scribble freely with markers.
- Sometimes it is difficult for a child to pull a tight cap off a marker. An adult can loosen each pen and rest it in the cap.
- If pens start to dry out, dip (or soak) them in water to revive them. The color will get lighter, but you can use this method several times before the marker runs out of color.
- Markers are easy and successful for children to use because only a little pressure is needed to create bright streaks of color.
Chalk and Water Drawings
Dip colored chalk into water, and draw. It’s so easy! For even more fun, find a puddle of water on the sidewalk, and scribble in it (toddlers and twos love puddles). When chalk is wet, it has a different texture and makes thicker and softerlooking lines. The freedom of scribbling with chalk outdoors anywhere they want is great fun for children.
- • Berry basket, soup can, or basket
- • Colored chalk (big sidewalk chalk or poster chalk is best)
- • Old scrub brush, optional
- • Sidewalk, driveway, or patio
- • Small bucket of water or a puddle
- • Sturdy wide paintbrush
- • Partially fill a bucket with water, making sure it is light enough for a child to carry easily. Or if possible, find an outdoor puddle on a sidewalk.
- • Plunk a big, fat brush into the bucket, or place one next to the puddle.
- • Put chalk sticks into a berry basket, soup can, or basket, and head outdoors. (Carry the chalk for the children.)
- • Dip a stick of chalk into the bucket of water or puddle and scribble on the sidewalk.
- • Pour a small puddle of water on the sidewalk, and scribble with a stick of chalk in the puddle.
- • Put the brush directly into a natural puddle.
- • Brush water over chalk lines using a fat paintbrush to blur the lines.
- • Scrub off the chalk using an old scrub brush, and then start over again. (Some children love scrubbing. This is a good skill to practice for other potentially messy projects!)
- Use small buckets of water that the children can carry around independently. Fill each bucket only a few inches deep so children can lift and carry it easily.
- Wrap masking tape around one end of a chalk stick if children do not like the feel of chalk on their fingers.