WOYC Week: Artsy Thursday! Toddler Art with Clara - A Child's First Art Materials

This week, we’re celebrating NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child. Join us as we explore a variety of topics with a focus on teaching, encouraging and investing in young children. We hope you enjoy reading this week and we’d love to hear your comments and experiences!

Parents often ask me, “What’s the best art material to start with beyond the obvious crayons and markers?" I remember wondering the same thing when my children became toddlers. When they could first grasp a spoon and feed themselves, did that mean they were ready to grasp a crayon or a paintbrush? As a lifelong art teacher, I was eager to give my own children the opportunity to enjoy art AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, and begin what I considered the joyful process of messy art and sensory discovery. But of all the innovative art products for children on the market, what would I introduce first? I learned a lot from trial and error and observation, which I pass along to you here.

Recently my friend, April, asked me what she should get for her daughter, Clara, who is 2.5 years old. Clara already enjoyed scribbling, drawing and finger painting, but her mom wanted to expose her to more good stuff. April sent me this delightful photo of Clara in the buff, painting herself with bright red paint. The photo shows that Clara is a budding young artist and that her mom has the good sense to set her up with a painting station at home. Yay! What a great start to art.

I sent April two of my favorite toddler art supplies - Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels and Do A Dot Art™ Markers. Smooth & Silky Art Sticks are my absolute favorite for toddlers; you see them here in yellow, blue and purple. They are so smooth, they feel like drawing with lipstick. Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels are softer than crayons, and quickly color blend into secondary colors. Children can even add water with chubby brushes for a watercolor wash effect, or an adult can sponge down the paper first and have children draw onto wet paper for a “bleeding color” effect. They are the perfect tool for enhancing creativity.

Do A Dot Art™ Markers are another easy-to-grasp paint marker and the easiest way to apply paint without fingers or a brush. They are a similar product to Colorations® Washable Chubbie Markers, but they have the added benefit of simple labeling that reinforces language development when children are first learning colors.

One last product I suggested for Clara is Colorations® Chubby Crayon Eggs, which you see here as chunky round color balls. Crayon Eggs are a fun way to introduce another tool that facilitates gross motor skills, since they are more likely to be used with shoulder motions than wrist motions. All these materials are easy to grasp and give quick and easy feedback. That is, they do not require a high level of cognitive or motor development to respond. They are quick to show a child the delights of cause and effect – the child made a motion and caused the effect of a mark on the paper.

Early childhood art is developmentally complex, and there are reams of books written on the topic. Most parents have no idea how useful it is to give children a variety of art tools to explore their world. Nor do they know how much they could help develop their child’s brain power by introducing them to a variety of art materials. The use of tools to impact the world is something that literally distinguishes us from other animals. Even though it may seem very simple when a child makes a mark on paper, it is developmentally complex. If you want parents to grasp these concepts more clearly, consider duplicating this handout {here and here or click on the images below} and giving it to parents in their Back-to-School handout pack.

Getting back to Clara: It just so happens that this is a PERFECT time for young Clara to be expanding her art repertoire. She is at the age when she’s exploring her impact on the physical world around her. She is beginning to separate from her parents and experience herself as a unique individual. And in Clara’s case, she is about to have a new sibling because her mother is 8 months pregnant! So Clara will benefit from new forms of art expression that enable her to express herself and channel her feelings about having a new baby in the family.

Which makes me think of an amusing story about sibling rivalry that I’ll end with. It’s a story my husband loves to tell, that illustrates a child’s point of view when a new sibling is born. “Imagine your husband comes home and tells you he’s about to bring a second wife home, but that you should not worry or be concerned because he has love enough for two wives. Just because he’s bringing home a second wife doesn’t mean he loves you any less. He has love enough to go around. In fact, he hopes you will love this new wife too, just as he does. He hopes you will treat her with respect and not hit her or pull her hair, but love her too, as part of a beautiful, growing family.” I love how this silly story drives home the complexity of sibling rivalry. Young Clara pictured here, delightfully exploring Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels and Do A Dot Art™ Markers, is about to realize her parents have love enough for two children. But should she have “issues” with that realization, she will have new ways to express her complex feelings through art.

What were YOUR child’s first art materials? We welcome your comments!