Toddler development

Getting crafty with your toddler

How art allows kids to explore colours and shapes and use their imagination.

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My grandson Xavier, almost two, loves to do crafts — but his favourite canvas is his own body. Give him paints and paper and most of the paint will end up on his hands, face, tummy and any other body parts he can access.

Stickers, he feels, are most attractive when stuck on his arms, legs and belly. And glitter? Well, we end up with a very sparkly little boy.

While older children often produce charming items to frame and enjoy, toddlers’ crafts are a little different. Linda Gregson, an instructor in the early childhood education department at Douglas College in New Westminster, BC, explains: “I do think exploring art is an important thing to do with young children, but I wouldn’t call the experience ‘crafts’ because that suggests a finished product.”

So, with a focus on the process rather than the product, Gregson offers suggestions for easy first craft activities. Read on for the suggestions.

Paint experiments

• Use eyedroppers to drip paint onto different kinds of paper — maybe even a coffee filter — to see the effects. (This also gives toddlers a chance to practise the “pincer grip” that helps develop their small muscle control.)

• Collect rocks and paint them. Set them to dry on sheets of newspaper.

• Paint with different tools: fingers, brushes, small rollers (check the dollar store for inexpensive ones), sponges, feathers and other interesting items. Try running one of their little cars through a puddle of paint on the paper and see what effects you get.

• No paint? Use brushes and a bucket of water to paint the sidewalk, the driveway or outside walls.

Making prints

• Cut small potatoes in half, draw a simple design on the cut side, and carve away the potato around the design. Let your toddler dip it in a shallow dish of paint and stamp prints on the paper.

• Foot- or handprints in paint or clay are popular grandparent gifts.

• Use fabric paint and make handprints or potato prints on a T-shirt or apron — your toddler will love wearing his “artwork.”

Glue it together

• Make a collage with cut-out magazine pictures, abstract shapes, even family photos. If you like the results, you can laminate it afterward to make a placemat.

• Collect leaves and glue them to colourful, sturdy paper.

• Cut or tear used wrapping paper into small pieces, and have your toddler glue them onto a box. Add some sparkles, stickers or ribbons.

• Foam stickers (from craft stores) are easier for toddler hands to manage, and make great additions to all kinds of art projects. (Supervise this activity closely — you don’t want the stickers in their mouth or they could choke.)

Puppet show

• Plain paper lunch bags make great puppets. Help your toddler colour the front of the bag green for a monster face (or another colour that appeals to him), then glue on eyes and other features. You can glue on wrapping paper or fabric for clothes (perhaps a superhero cape?).

• Use Popsicle sticks to make puppets. Glue a shape or animal cut-out or a picture from a magazine or colouring book onto the stick and start the show!

Outside the box

• Empty boxes hold great allure for toddlers. Big boxes can become houses, stores, pirate ships, cars, barns — the only limit is your toddler’s imagi­nation! If you help by cutting out the windows, your toddler can colour or glue on shapes to create his vision.

• Smaller boxes can be taped or glued together — perhaps with some help from you — to make spaceships or buildings. Offer paints, crayons and stickers for decorating.

“Remember, toddlers are all individuals. Some enjoy fingerpainting, but others really don’t like to get their hands dirty,” Gregson says. “For toddlers who don’t like the messy aspects, you might try letting them paint in the tub with bathtub paint, or cut up old greeting cards.”

She adds: “The most important thing to remember is that this should be a happy, shared experience. It should be a positive time for everyone involved.”

The art of crafting with toddlers

Linda Gregson, an early childhood education instructor at Douglas College in New Westminster, BC, offers these toddler craft tips:

Prepare for the mess Have your child wear a smock and work on easy-to-clean surfaces, or cover everything with newspapers or an old shower curtain. In good weather, painting outside can be the best option.

Safety is always important Use non-toxic materials, washable surfaces and items that are big enough to hold but not so small that the child could choke on them. If an older toddler is using scissors, get child-sized, round-tip ones, but be sure they will actually cut. And supervise closely!

Don’t rush things Toddlers can have some trouble making choices: What colour should the hair be? Should I use a crayon or a marker? Give them the time they need.

Don’t take over If you do the activity hand-over-hand for them, they don’t get to really experience the exploration process for themselves. Encourage them to try it on their own.

Recycled crafts

Start saving your junk now! Empty, clean, single-serving applesauce containers make great paint dishes — they’re not too deep and you can toss them afterward if you want. Toddlers can have a great time making stuff out of empty toilet-paper or paper-towel rolls, boxes of all sizes, thoroughly cleaned Styrofoam trays, used wrapping paper, discarded magazines and other items you might otherwise toss. Just make sure the item is clean and big enough not to be a choking hazard.