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Art Exploration Activities for Toddlers

written by: Beth Taylor • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 2/8/2012

Toddler art is all about the process, and teachers and caregivers need to know how to expose toddlers to art in developmentally appropriate ways that allow the child to learn, explore, and eventually create.

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    Art is a Process

    Many have heard the saying, "Art is a process, not a product." When parents and teachers are able to heed these wise words, students are empowered to make discoveries on their own.

    Toddlers naturally make new discoveries every day. Art activities for toddlers must be set up to allow them to simply discover and explore different art materials and mediums. Toddlers who are allowed to enjoy art unhindered by adult expectations sometimes have no product at the end because the materials have been experimented with and completely used up.

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    The Joy of Art Exploration

    The youngest art students are learning about texture and cause and effect; they are also perfecting their motor skills.Their art experiences (like many of their experiences) are about discovering and interacting with the world around them.

    Little ones (and adults, too) learn via repetition. If a child wants to paint what looks to adults like the same picture every day, share their excitement. Ask them to tell you about the picture. It could be a different story every time. Encourage their enthusiasm by being enthusiastic.

    Put everything they make on display. Toddlers make abstract art with zeal -- celebrate and decorate with their work. This will encourage them to continue to boldly explore through their later years.

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    Scribbles and Paints

    When toddlers and the very young draw and paint, they start with very large movements and as they develop skills and awareness they progress to making smaller and smaller motions and squiggles. These progressions are developmentally significant pre-writing skills.

    Toddlers love to stand at art easels and paint. A fun way to turn painting into a group activity is to spread butcher paper along a wall or table or floor.

    The toddlers will most likely paint long streaks of paint. They will hold the brush tightly in their hands, and move their entire arm at the shoulder to control the paintbrush. Therefore, toddlers need space when they paint, so don't crush them all in the same small area. Let them spread out.

    As they gain skills, their arms will lower and they will bend their elbows as they create at the easel. The next step is controlling and using the wrist to manipulate the way the brush acts on the paper, and later the fingers. (Children may graduate from toddler rooms before they have developed all of the above skills.) The opportunity to hold a brush or crayon and practice these movements every day is highly beneficial for toddlers.

    Most toddlers will choose finger painting over painting with a brush, because they want to experience what the paint feels like.

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    Clays and Doughs

    Play doughis an all time favorite, although many toddlers need to be reminded that play dough is not a snack. It is easy to make home-made play dough and there are many recipes available.

    At the toddler level, children enjoy punching and poking the dough. They are learning all about what the dough feels like and cause and effect. In addition to allowing them to explore unhindered, teachers can show toddlers how to make snakes by rolling the dough between their hands or on the table. This motion is a good motor skill for toddlers to work on.

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    With any toddler art activities, expect repetition and enjoy the exploration and discovery of seemingly simple things.