Toddlerhood provides a valuable window of opportunity for kids to learn and develop the skills they need to succeed in life. Early literacy doesn’t just revolve around teaching children how to recite letters, read, and count – art can have a profound affect on their literacy, and development as well.

The importance of exposing kids to art early in life is often undervalued. But giving young children an appreciation for art encourages exploration, self expression, logical thinking, self-esteem, imagination, and creativity. Early art experiences also teach kids to think openly, create new meaning, be more tolerant of others’ differences, and gives them the courage to take risks. Here’s how to encourage art appreciation in your young child, and make the most out of those crucial learning years.

Provide Creative Materials

“Toddlers thrive when they create, experiment, and discover things they enjoy,” says daycare owner Camilla Brown. This is why giving them access to open-ended art materials is important. Art materials in the home should be varied and abundant. Some of these materials can include:

  • washable paints
  • markers
  • crayons
  • paintbrushes
  • modeling clay
  • construction paper
  • glue
  • colored tissue paper
  • shoe boxes
  • paper towel tubes
  • sponges
  • empty water bottles
  • chalk
  • paper plates
  • scrap paper
  • collage materials

After each art project, encourage your toddler to explore his creation in depth by making open-ended comments such as, “Tell me about your painting.” Remember, it’s the process of creating art that young children learn from, not the end product. So no matter how tempting, never criticize or judge your toddler's artwork.

Toddler art creations are messy. So to make cleanup easier, put his work area in a place such as the kitchen, or a non-carpeted area of the playroom. Cover the workspace with newspaper, or a vinyl tablecloth. And provide your child with old clothes that you don’t mind him messing up.

Since toddlers are prone to putting things in their mouths, always sit with your child so you can supervise closely during art projects and use non-toxic materials. When your toddler completes his masterpieces, hang them around the house at his eye level for him to enjoy.

Visit Art Museums

Art museums not only help kids appreciate the visual aspect of art, it helps them develop emotional, verbal, and social skills. Art museums also improve children’s understanding of shapes, textures, and dimensions. You can opt for a traditional art museum, or you can take your toddler to one that caters to children. During your visit, encourage critical thinking in your little one by asking him to discuss what he observes during his visit to the museum. You can ask, “What do you think the artist was thinking about when he painted this picture?” Or “Why do you think the artist selected these colors?”

Read Wordless Picture Books

“Pictures can interpret stories, convey meaning, communicate ideas, and express emotion without the use of words,” says early childhood teacher Amanda Harris. And there’s no better way to reinforce this than to make wordless picture books a part of your toddler’s book collection. When you’re introducing wordless books to your toddler, allow him to examine the pictures and come to his own conclusion about the story being told. Some great picture book selections for toddlers include Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola (Sandpiper, 1978), and Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins (Simon and Schuster, 1983).

Providing plenty of art materials, taking your youngster to art museums, and reading books without words are all ways to give your child the early art experiences he needs to grow into a well rounded individual.

Other Activities to Encourage Early Art in Toddlers

  • Personal Wordless Picture Book: Let your toddler draw some pictures, collect them in a binder, and encourage him to make up stories about the pictures.
  • Feet Painting: Spread butcher paper on the floor. Put some washable paint in a shallow pan, and let your toddler use his feet to paint with.
  • Musical Painting: Turn on some classical grooves, and let your toddler paint to the beat of the music.
  • Non-Traditional Painting: Give your toddler a few non-traditional items such as a clean deodorant roller bottle, toothbrush, Q-tip, and a flyswatter, and let him paint with each one of the items.
  • Toddler Mural: Line an entire wall with butcher paper and tape it securely in place. Give your toddler a crayon, and let him draw to his heart’s content.
  • Food Collage: Gather dry food items such as cereal, popcorn, and macaroni noodles. Let your toddler glue the food on a piece of card stock to create a masterpiece.