Development FAQ: 24+ months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How do I provide messy art play at home for my 2 year old?

We have recently moved to the country. I have tried in vain to look for an art group suitable for my two-year-old daughter. In her previous class, she loved painting and sticking, and I had none of the mess to cope with. I know I should allow some of these activities at home, but I don’t know how to go about providing for them without spending a lot of money on materials. Apart from enjoying herself, is it important for her development that she has these kinds of activities now?

The thought of providing for messy play at home does intimidate some mothers, but pre-planning helps. Plenty of the materials you need in the early stages can be found around the house. Start saving small boxes and packets for junk modeling. Large cereal packets can be flattened and used for finger painting. Cut the top off a plastic lemonade bottle and invert into the rest of the bottle for a non-tip paint pot. Play dough can be made at home – there are plenty of recipes in craft books for the under-5’s.

Take a trip to a store specialising in young children’s playthings and buy three colours of paint. Begin with the primary colours; yellow, blue and red. Easily washable paint is available. Add three stubby brushes, some non-toxic glue sticks and a large pad of paper. With these basic items your daughter can begin to have some fun.

Cover her in a grown up shirt worn back to front with the sleeves rolled up or cut off at the right length. Plan your creative sessions when you can devote some time to being with her and when neither of you are tired. If the kitchen floor is due to be washed, you won’t mind a few splashes and it can be part of the clearing up afterwards. Let her paint on a rainy afternoon and pop her into the bath before tea.

Keep all the art materials out of reach and sight, but do make the effort to provide some kind of activity every few days, especially in the winter when being outside may not be so possible. Cover all the surfaces with newspaper or large pieces of PVC cloth kept especially for the purpose. Make sure your daughter is sitting at the right height at a table or let her loose on the floor which has been well protected.

Her first paintings will be of the up and down, round and round kind, but show her how to change brushes for each colour and talk about the resulting colours which emerge from the three primary colours. Early art work is not meant to be recognised as anything. It is the “doing” which is interesting to her. She will be well past three before the concept of “painting a picture” will occur to her. She may prefer to use her hands instead of a brush. With ready mixed paint this is an ideal occupation. Use cardboard if she wants to do this, as it won’t tear as easily as wet paper.

By all means join in her sessions, but try not to show her too much. Exploring the medium for herself is much more meaningful. As she becomes older and her hand co-ordination improves, introduce stamping – potatoes cut in half, leaves, plastic cotton reels and countless other household items can be painted and then stamped on to paper. On a day when you are not so inclined to have a lot of clearing up, provide “sticking”. Keep old greetings cards and cut out the pictures ready. Newspaper colour supplements, old magazines and catalogues will provide plenty of interest. If you wish to add some extras, small pieces of material, lace and braid, along with sparkly paper and gift ribbon are all effective. Provide a flat surface, well covered and show her how to use the glue stick. She may stick things upside down or the wrong way round, but again it is the actual “doing” which is helping her refine her hand to eye coordination, fine hand movements and sense of colour, pattern and form. Even a large pad of cheap paper and a packet of washable felt tips can provide an opportunity for her to be creative. Displaying work can also be fun and rewarding for your child. A pin board or fridge magnets are all that is required, and keep the display fresh by changing the work frequently for all to admire.

It may seem daunting, but providing different mediums for your daughter to explore can be a satisfying part of parenting, despite the clearing up at the end. But involve her in that too, as to her it is all part of the fun!