Sponge Painting with toddlers and twos

Recently, I had a mother on Twitter ask me for ideas for art with toddlers and twos. More specifically she was asking for ideas of art that can be displayed or saved. Her request led me to write this post.
I will address the specific request but first I need to share a few pointers about art with toddlers and twos.

When it comes to toddlers and young twos, it is important to understand that the most important thing to consider when it comes to art is the experience. Even if one wants something to put up on the refrigerator or to save as a keepsake, the experience is what will invite a toddler or two year old to participate.
To get a toddler or two interested in art, the experience should invite the child to want to explore. Bright colors, interesting tools (paint brushes, paint sponges, paint rollers, stamps, cookie cutters), interesting art mediums or materials (paint, play dough, pudding, pasta, shave cream, paper, stickers, fabric), and different sensory experiences (rice, sand, glitter, salt, flavorful oils) are all ideas for getting toddlers and twos interested in exploring art.
The setting for experiencing art should vary too. Perhaps take the art experience outside, sit on a floor, paint on an easel, or tape the activity to a window. Toddlers are incredibly curious about their world and the idea of sitting at a table staring at one thing and spending any time on that one thing probably isn’t too appealing for most toddlers and younger twos.
Timing is also a factor. Where possible, leave the art out and allow the toddler or young two year old to come and go to the experience rather than making art a 30 minute sit down plan.  Have other centers open or activities available and encourage the child to come back to the art experience and try a little more. Some children will naturally stay more engaged in the process and others will only be slightly interested.
Part of exploring any art activity is getting a bit messy. Toddlers and young twos use their whole body and all their senses to explore new materials. It is how they learn about their world. Too often I hear about adults taking the experiences away and opting for non-messy or no-risk art because it isn’t messy or risky. The problem is, the child learns through these experiences and will only improve their skills and their understanding of how to handle art materials and mediums if they are given the opportunity to do so. Of course, all activities presented to a small child should be age appropriate and monitored for safety.

Back to the original parent request
The request was to find ideas for artwork that can be saved and kept as a keepsake. See the lovely artwork above? I will now trim this up and put it in a little frame. I will probably cut off the words at the bottom too. I want this artwork to be all child – no adult. I will add a date to the artwork in the corner and a name and tuck it away or hang it up on a wall. When I look back at this, I will know by the kind of paint strokes that are on the paper and the date in the corner that this was where Wy was developmentally at this time.
Any art can be displayed or framed or saved!

The key to really enjoying a piece of artwork as a keepsake or as something for display is to..

1. Make sure the art is really something child-made.
2. Make sure the art shows something that reminds you of what it was like when the child was a toddler or two year old.
3. Take the art and frame it or laminate it or put it in a scrap book.
4. Add a small name and date in the corner so to remember the age of the child when it was made.
5. And don’t be afraid to trim the art.

I visited one of my preschool parents and hanging on their wall was a beautifully framed piece of artwork with bright colors and shapes. When I inquired about the art, the parents said “you should recognize that, it was made in your classroom!”  Looking closer, I could see it was simply a tissue paper art project with bright colors of tissue paper and liquid starch but the framing added a shine and made it look like a masterpiece!

By |2010-03-19T08:00:04+00:00March 19th, 2010|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Ayn Colsh March 19, 2010 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Great tips Deborah! I love that you really stressed the process and trying new environments!

  2. Tina March 22, 2010 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Great ideas! I love the emphasis on letting the smaller kids come and go. I find this so true with my 2 year old granddaughter. She has fun with my projects but never wants to complete them in one sitting!

    • Deborah J. Stewart March 22, 2010 at 9:17 pm - Reply

      My nephew is the same way – I have learned to allow some freedom and not be in a rush. We might get a painting done in a setting or we might pull it out again another day. It is still painting for my nephew – he doesn’t need new paper, just the experience:)

  3. Jennifer LaFollette March 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    This article makes a lot of valuable points. It’s sad to think of children missing out on valuable and fun experiences because they are messy or might not turn out right. And as much as I advocate saving kids’ artwork digitally online on our site, I adore seeing framed children’s art hanging in a home. In answer to the mom who asked you for ideas that would result in art to frame or save – you got it right, “ALL art can be displayed or framed or saved!” The uber-abstract aspect of so many children’s projects is exactly what makes it beautiful.

    • Deborah J. Stewart March 22, 2010 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      “The uber-abstract aspect of so many children’s projects is exactly what makes it beautiful.” THAT was well said!!

  4. Monica March 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Great post! I love all of your ideas and reading them helped me to take a step back and think about how I do art with my toddler. I remember reading (in a dev. psych. book) that younger children do things for the experience, not the finished project. A toddler paints because they like the feeling of moving a brush around, touching paint, etc…not because they want to make a pretty painting. It is so easy to get caught up in doing something that looks cute, but I’m really trying to remind myself that isn’t the point.

    • Deborah J. Stewart March 22, 2010 at 9:14 pm - Reply

      It is so tempting to just want to do art with young children that turns out cute so we can have the keepsakes but I learned that what I treasure the most are things that really demonstrate what my daughter was able to do and what she really did all by herself. I much rather have a splotchy bunch of handprints all framed up on my wall than a really cute rabbit she did nothing with. At least the messy handprints makes me smile and remember what it was like when she was just a little tyke! Experience guided artwork is wonderful for children and can lead to fabulous keepsakes too!

  5. chris March 23, 2010 at 12:10 am - Reply

    Very well put! I tried for about a year to get my daughter into paint. Just keep exposing, I thought, but it was so fustrating, considering my daughter would scream when it came out 🙁 A couple weeks ago, she brought the paints and sponges to me. I didn’t feel like having the mess, but I reluctantly opened the paint and handed her paper – she made the most beautiful piece she’s ever done, and ever since that day she loves painting!
    Following her lead and taking off the pressure of beautiful art has in itself led her to create beautiful art! I’m keeping this particular piece up for as long as it lasts, to serve as that reminder in all areas of parenting.

    • Deborah J. Stewart March 23, 2010 at 2:20 am - Reply

      Your comment gave me chills because you magnify the beauty of learning and art! Thank you for taking the time to share!

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