With the Fourth of July just around the corner, open-ended art experiences are a great way for toddlers and twos to explore art as a learning experience or an experiment, discovering what is stimulating and interesting. “Toddlers and twos are unique,” explains MaryAnn F. Kohl, the author of numerous award-winning books providing open-ended art activities for young children. “Toddlers and twos explore art as a learning experience or an experiment, discovering what is stimulating and interesting. They are more interested in doing art rather than making a finished product.”
As Kohl outlines in First Art for Toddlers and Twos, the adult’s job is simply to allow this process to happen! “Provide interesting materials, and then sit back and watch closely (but unobtrusively),” says Kohl. “Offer help with unruly materials and clean up, but do not make art samples to copy, as this will limit the possibilities of process and hinder the wonder of discovery.”
Try these timeless art experiences for toddlers and twos that are easily adapted for the Fourth of July.
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
- Fingerpainting tools
- 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 ½ cup (60 g) cornstarch and ¾ cup (180 mL), cold water, and stir until smooth. Pour ¾ 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. 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.
- 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!
- Paint-and-Wash Art: Mix 1⁄2 cup (120 mL) tempera paint with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) liquid soap, and paint directly on a sliding glass door. Then, for the best part, ask the children to “wash” it off using a squeegee, a dishpan of warm soapy water, and old towels. It’s messy, but it’s fun!
Squeeze and knead a plastic baggie filled with bright colors of partially set gelatin, and enjoy the feel and sight of thick colors blending.
- Heavy zipper-closure plastic baggie (freezer bag)
- Hot plate or stove (adult only)
- Masking tape
- Measuring cups
- 2 packages unflavored gelatin
- Red, yellow, and blue food coloring
- 3 small bowls
- Small saucepan
- Wooden spoon
- Prepare the rainbow gel. Stir 1 ½ cups (360 mL) water and 2 packages of gelatin in a small saucepan, and wait 5 minutes for the gelatin to soften. Stir over low heat for about 3 minutes or until the gelatin has dissolved. Remove from heat, and pour into three small bowls. Add 5 drops of food coloring to each bowl, and chill in refrigerator for about 10 minutes until partially set and thickened. Stir a few times while it chills.
- Spoon two or more colors into a heavy plastic zipper-closure baggie. The baggie does not need to be very full. (Children like to help with the spooning step.)
- Zip the bag closed. To help prevent leaks, tape the opening of the baggie with masking tape.
- Hand the baggie to the child.
- Squeeze and knead this cool bag of colors. Discover how the colors mix together. Work at a table, on the floor, or on a lap. (This is fun for car rides or waiting times.)
- Empty the bag, and try mixing different colors together.
- Mix unflavored gelatin, such as KnoxTM, with food coloring to make a thick mixture with colors that blend slowly, allowing the child time to see the process.
- Most children find this activity soothing and calming.
- Place other materials or mixtures into a heavy baggie for children to explore, with or without coloring. The following are fun examples:
- Equal parts water and cornstarch
- Hair gel
- Liquid starch
- Shaving cream
- Two or three flavors of bright fruit gelatin such as Jell-OTM, no added color needed