When it comes to kids and art, there is one rule I live by at home and in the Developmental Playgroups I lead: it’s about the process, not the product.
This means that the value in encouraging art exploration activities for your children doesn’t lie in the final result. The real value lies in what they experience and learn through the course of creating something. The fine motor skills involved in peeling stickers from their backings, the spatial planning, and executive functioning skills required to lay out pieces of a collage and the sensory experiences of hands in play-dough and finger paint are all important to develop. For older children, it is a rare opportunity for them to take a journey without a specific goal in mind, where there are no right or wrong answers and their imagination can go wild – as long as we step back and allow that to happen.
As a non-artist parent, I find this approach very freeing. I have to engineer and steer so much of my children’s lives, it feels good to just set something out as a gentle prompt or suggestion and let go of the outcome while I clear out some supplies from my craft
hoard closet. (Does anyone else have this issue? Constantly accumulating interesting art materials like stickers and papers and paints, but never quite finding the time to use them? This post is for you!) As a bonus, these three activities can be adapted for kids ranging in ages 18 months to 10 years old. Keep them filed away for when you need a mood reset or a boredom buster!
It’s My Kid In A Box
- As many cardboard boxes as you have children, preferably with some plain-ish surfaces and large enough for your child to maybe sit inside
- Your random bag of stickers
- Ink stamps and pads
- The broken and misfit crayon bag
- Glue sticks and construction paper, if you want to take it to the next level
Tell your child that this box is all theirs to decorate as they wish! For younger toddlers, some modeling of using the crayons and ink stamps might be needed to get them rolling or getting the peeling started on stickers. (Tip: peel the background off sticker sheets to leave only the stickers remaining: this makes them much easier for little fingers!) Allow them to sit inside and decorate from that perspective. Older toddlers and preschoolers may benefit from some gentle prompting questions: “Do you want to make it your rocket ship/doghouse/car/garden/train/turtle shell?” Elementary aged children might like the idea of decorating their “car” to sit in at a “drive-in movie” later on that day.
- Any paintbrushes you have, no matter how frayed and frazzled
- A container of water
- A receptive surface: construction paper, a chalkboard, a driveway, a wooden fence, the shingled side of a house
Model for your child how a brush dipped in water will leave a mark on the surface at hand. Younger toddlers like the act of dipping the brush in the water container, older toddlers and children enjoy covering a whole surface methodically, or experimenting with different brushes and surfaces – this is a great outdoor activity! (Level up: craft foam shapes dipped in water and wet strips of construction and tissue paper will stick to a glass surface temporarily. If you are OK with some water mess inside or have a safe spot to stand outside, this can be a great activity on a glass slider or storm door.) Make sure to grab photos of their creations before they disappear!
Hey, Let’s Use Up This Random Paint – Nature Edition
- All of that leftover paint in the little conjoined pots that you got with some other activity, or whatever finger/poster/tempura/acrylic paints are looking kind of sad and old
- Some larger surfaces that will withstand wet paint
- Cardboard to use as palettes (upcycle their decorated boxes!)
- Collected bits of nature
Go out into your yard or closest green space and collect interesting looking leaves, pine cones, flowers, shells, stones, or bits of wood that catch your little one’s eye. Spread paint on the sections of cardboard, and model pressing one of the collected pieces of nature into the paint and then on to the surface. For younger toddlers, this is more of a hands-on activity as they get the hang of it. Older children will like mixing paint colors on their palettes to achieve different effects, making patterns, and experimenting with different amounts of paint and pressure. (Bonus: use the end product to cut up into greeting cards or gift tags, the grandparents or your child’s friends will love it!) This is a great outdoor activity or a dry bathtub activity on a rainy day.
We would love to hear your favorite art activities to do at home!