Art and creativity are an essential component to the human experience. While we may not all be master painters or seasoned pianists, we all have outlets for our creative endeavors. For some of us, it’s organizing clutter or designing floral arrangements—or maybe, it’s simply getting down and dirty with some finger paints with your toddler.
Getting creative with your toddler can be an enriching experience for you and your child—as well as a lot of fun! Art activities help promote language, social, motor, and intellectual development. Art also teaches children about their world and how to interpret it. With encouragement, children will gain confidence in their artistic abilities, which will carry with them throughout their lifetime. But first, let’s start at the beginning.
Art 101: Child Readiness
Fine motor skills are a child’s ability to manipulate their fingers and hands to do things such as holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, and tying shoelaces. Between 1 and 2 years old, toddlers are able make scribbles and hold crayons and markers with their fists. Over the next couple years, your toddler’s fine motor abilities will explode, allowing them to grow their creativity.
At 2-3 years old, your child can:
- Practice using child safety scissors and hold a marker with thumb and fingers.
- Paint with some wrist action, make dots, lines, and circular strokes.
- Roll, pound, squeeze, and pull soft dough, such as play dough or salt dough.
At 3-4 years old, your child can:
- Copy a circle.
- Manipulate clay material (roll ball, make snakes, cookies).
At 4-5 years old, your child can:
- Practice writing their name.
- Cut a line continuously
- Copy crosses and squares.
Of course, not all art involves a pen and pencil. Your toddler may love to dance, sing, or act! Gross motor skills are a child’s ability to make large movements with their body, starting with crawling, walking, jumping, etc. The age your infant and toddler reaches these milestones can vary. Some children can walk as early as 9 months; others, might be closer to 15 months.
At 2-3 years old, your child may:
- Run with greater control.
- Change directions while walking.
At 3-4 years old, your child may:
- Turn easily from sitting to lying on tummy.
- Imitate an adult standing on one foot and simple movements such as “arms up together.”
- Jump with feet together multiple times in a row.
- Walk on tiptoes.
You Can Do It!
When you see your toddler interested in some form of art—whether it’s older brother’s coloring books or dancing alongside her favorite cartoon—give them the opportunity to try it out at an age-appropriate level.
At home, there are lots of ways to encourage your child’s interest:
- Play music and sing songs together.
- Encourage dramatic play through dress up costumes.
- Play “I Spy” games, where you find colors, patterns, textures, shapes, and lines around the house.
- Provide washable markers and paper for your child to get creative with. Supervise toddlers with markers and other art supplies to discourage them from redecorating the walls or floor. Consider storing supplies in a place where older preschoolers can access their art materials.
It’s tempting to leave the markers, paints, and glitter glue until a time when your child is old enough to not make a huge mess with it—is that even possible with glitter glue? But we’re here to tell you: Embrace the mess! Take some precautions by using only washable materials, cover your table with newspaper, and set your child up in an area that is easy to clean.
You’re Doing Great!
It’s unlikely that your toddler is going to create the next “Mona Lisa.” It’s more likely you will get a series of scribbles. No matter what results from their efforts, encourage and support their attempts. Show that you are interested in their craft by asking questions about their artwork (“Tell me about your picture. I like the colors you choose.”); take extra time to watch their dance or listen to their song and praise their efforts. If your toddler likes to perform, invite an “audience” over to watch her perform. Grandparents and other family members are perfect audience members. But if your child gets nervous and doesn’t want to perform, don’t force them.
Locally, there are lots of opportunities for the younger set to get involved in the arts:
- Both the City of Eugene Parks and Recreation and Springfield’s Willamalane offer dance classes for toddlers and preschoolers.
- The Eugene Public Library, Adventure! Children’s Museum, and Dancing Weasel Toy Store offer family music time. Eugene Suzuki Music Academy also offers Little Notes for infants and toddlers where they can experiment with instruments and listen to songs and stories with their parent.
- The first Friday of the month is free at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. In addition, one Saturday a month, they host a Family Day where children and their parents are invited to explore the museum free of charge. Art activities are always on hand for children of all ages.
You can also encourage your child to embrace the arts by modeling creativity at home. Your own creative skills might be limited to stick figures, but that doesn’t matter to your child. It’s the process, not the outcome that is important here. Get in on the fun and have a wonderful time bonding over the arts.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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