Friday, August 7, 2009

One-Year-Olds – Time for Art!

Once he is past the stage of putting everything in his mouth (some time after his first birthday or soon after his first steps) he’s ready to experiment with art and textures, while learning a whole new range of vocabulary!

Art is a cause and effect experience, so you’ve probably heard it’s the process that is more important than the finished product.

Painting with Water

What, no paint? Using water has the same effect as paint without the mess. This makes it a perfect first art activity. Your child practices using the brush, dipping it into the water, and making strokes on colored construction paper. The water darkens the paper allowing him the same experience as painting with actual paints.

When you feel your baby has mastered the concept (within a few days or even weeks), go ahead and introduce colored paint. Use tempera or other liquid paint rather than the solid paint trays, which are best suited for preschoolers. Mix the paint with a bit of water and dish soap for easier cleanup.

Chubby handled brushes are best since toddlers use large muscle arm movements when painting or drawing at first. If you can’t find a chubby brush, you can try one from the hardware section like the one I found at Walmart:

Finger Painting

Sure, there are finger paints and papers, but there are other fun options for use right on a high chair tray:

Whipped Cream or Cool Whip*

I prefer this option to shaving cream for very young children, as shaving cream can sting sensitive skin and eyes as little ones tend to rub their faces. However, shaving cream is perfect for older preschoolers.

For the first experience, keep it simple and plain white. The next time you try it, mix in some yellow food coloring to add some interest. Use bolder colors only if you don’t mind possible staining of hands, clothes and tray. Another option: flavored extracts with scents like lemon, orange, or maple.


Add a drop of food coloring when mixing instant vanilla pudding

*Note: Some people have issues with using food of any kind for early childhood projects because food is a luxury for some. While I understand that view, babies play with their food every day as they learn about new foods and how to eat, and to me this is a similar learning experience.

Sticky Stuff

Masking Tape or Painter’s Tape

Pull off a strip and wad it into a ball – then stick it to the back of your child’s hand while introducing the word STICKY! He’ll figure out how to pull it off or might try to shake it a bit.

Next, stick the wad of tape on the wall or on some other object for him to pull off. This can be a great motivator for cruisers or crawlers to make their way to the location to try to pull it off.

When your child is ready for more of a challenge, stick strips on the wall for him to pull off and play with. For older children, post-it notes are fun to peel off, stick and re-stick. Post-its come in all shapes and colors, or you could add your own letters, numbers, or smiley faces for a new twist.

Shiny and Crinkly

Introduce a piece of aluminum foil and the word SHINY! Shake it a bit to listen to it rustle. Let your baby explore it a bit. After a minute or two, you could show him how to CRUNCH it and talk about how it is CRINKLY. Once it has been compacted, gently pull it out to a larger size while baby watches. Now it has creases and crinkles and reflects light in different ways. Let him crunch it again and repeat the process a couple of times until the foil starts to rip.

Other Experiences:

brown paper bags (ROUGH and CRINKLY)

waxed paper (SMOOTH and CRINKLY)

cotton balls (SOFT and FLUFFY)

fine grit sandpaper (ROUGH and SCRATCHY)

waxed bag from inside Cheerio’s box (both ends opened) (CRINKLY and LOUD)

Traditional Art Tools:

Chubby Crayons

Young children are fascinated with picking at the paper on crayons, so it helps to take it off first.

After a few initial coloring experiences, break a few crayons in half. Using shorter crayons makes children adopt a hold that is similar to one they will use when learning to write properly. At first they will grip the longer crayons with their whole hand – like a monkey grip.


Although markers offer an additional writing experience, many parents dislike the fact that they aren’t usually as washable as advertised. It doesn’t take much to get them all over hands, clothes, and the high chair tray.

A good first option is to try highlighters on white paper. These lighter shades of green, orange, pink, and blue will offer a similar experience but tend to be easier to clean up with baby wipes. Look for non-toxic types as some are not labeled.

Sidewalk Chalk

Chubby size perfect for small hands and can be used on darker colored construction paper.

Colored Pencils

Offers the same writing experience as pens and pencils without marking the skin easily.

Little M and I have had lots of fun with these projects and hope you enjoy them too! A fun note: Sticky was one of his first words! He would laugh every time he heard me say it.

Nanny's Book Note: Always check your local library first for a test drive. It's a great way to find out which books are truly worth adding to your child's cherished collection.

Photo Credit: Craig Jewell; Brisbane, Australia
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  1. Great ideas--think both my 15- and 28-month-old would get a big kick out of them.

    Up to now, we've really just introduced crayons and the MagnaDoodle with the older one. Thanks for helping expand our horizons, especially for activities they can BOTH do.

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  3. Just found your blog on MBC and am so glad I did-what fun tips!
    Please come visit my mud mama blog at

  4. I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I just wish I had you around when my daughter was little! She went to a montessori school. Do you have a montessori background? Some of the things you suggest are things used in a montessori classroom.

  5. These are all great idea's. Wish I would have thought of the water a few months ago. The side walk chalk though that has provided hours of entertainment. I'll draw the alphabet and try to get her to stand on a certain letter. I also drew a huge face and we try to name all the parts (eyes, ears ect.)

  6. You always have such great ideas. My son loves that side walk least an hour of play for him!

  7. Mmm, painting with water sounds like a good idea! We do that with our chalkboard, and I like it because it's so much less messy than chalk.

    And free too!