Creative Tots: 5 Easy Art Projects To Do With Toddlers

As mothers, we can nurture our children's artistic impulses and, as they grow up, offer them opportunities for their creativity to blossom.
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Every few months, my husband and I have the same argument: he likes a neat, clean, orderly house and children, I allow the girls unfettered access to a wide variety of art supplies. On any given day, my 4-year-old may arrive at preschool with her face covered in watercolor paints pronouncing that she is a butterfly. On other days, she will "tattoo" her arms with Crayola markers, claiming that she is now Kylie the Carnival Fairy. On a few occasions she has experimented with a permanent marker (which contrary to its claim, is not actually permanent).

My husband is horrified by all of this. He doesn't like real tattoos and is nearly as irritated by temporary ones. He thinks that crayons are for paper and chalk is for the sidewalk -- across the street. I, however, believe in the power of self-expression. What better way to express yourself than with magic marker?

I love art. For years I have been knitting, painting, throwing pottery, beading and writing. Doing this with my children allows me to play with them while keeping a sense of self. I can sit at the coffee table drawing with crayons for hours (okay, maybe 40 minutes) without feeling bored or exhausted. The girls know that mommy will always eagerly paint with them, even before I've had my morning caffeine.

Pablo Picasso once said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." From the moment your child masters the pincer grasp, their journey as an artist has begun. For the toddler-as-artist, throwing spaghetti against a white kitchen wall is an experiment with texture and color; tearing up your favorite magazines may be a first effort at collage. As mothers, we can nurture our children's artistic impulses and, as they grow up, offer them opportunities for their creativity to blossom.

For young children, art is about the process, not the product. Creating art does not necessarily mean drawing a recognizable picture of a rainbow or sewing a functional garment. For toddlers, art is the experience of feeling (or smelling, or tasting) the media. Encountering new textures allows their young brains to develop, and what better way to develop than by using all the senses at once?

Art is a crucial aspect of learning for toddlers. As Dr. Charles Fowler, a key spokesman on behalf of arts in education, said, "The arts invite students to be active participants in their world rather than mere observers of it." Creative activities teach children to be independent, to find adventure in a room of cardboard boxes and, importantly, to play on their own. Through art, children learn about colors (and that mixing colors creates new shades) and shapes (which leads to building actual objects), while also developing fine motor and problem-solving skills. Producing art requires that children make choices, think independently, utilize their imaginations and explore nonverbal forms of communication. (And what parent isn't a fan of nonverbal communication?)

Creative art also offers children an opportunity to recognize their emotions and find ways to articulate those feelings to others. Art is often used as a tool by therapists to help children express and work through their worries, fears and wishes. Additionally, art may help children develop empathy. Learning to understand their own emotions helps children better understand other people's feelings.

How to Incorporate Art into Your Home
Many parents are wary of attempting art projects at home. Not only can it be intimidating for the non-crafty, but the clean-up process can also be arduous and time-consuming. Luckily, at the early stages, children need little more than a few materials and a secure environment. Here are a few at-home activities to get you and your child moving artistically. Remember, with each project the goal is the process, not the product.