Art supplies and your almost-three-year-old

Whether they’re at home, at daycare, or at a kids’ art studio, children about to turn 3 have the energy and creativity to churn out a dazzling array of artwork. From construction paper canvases dripping (literally) with color to three-dimensional macaroni masterpieces, Baby can have a great time producing new artistic masterpieces to decorate your home with, and get the chance to experience new sensations and practice new skills while they do it.

Understanding your blossoming new artist

There’s a reason behind this spurt of Picasso-like productivity. As Baby approaches their third birthday, they have gained increasing fine motor control, which lets them grasp a paint brush, crayon, or glitter tube much more easily than they ever could before. At the same time, toddlers have vivid imaginations, and artwork in all its forms is a great way for Baby to channel – and showcase – these amazing new skills. Plus, could there be anything more fun than finger paint?

Cool supplies to spark creativity

Once Baby discovers the magic of creating their own art, it can be fun to make sure you have some supplies on hand so they can start a project when inspiration hits. You may need to do some shopping to stock up, but you also may have some great items in your home already that Baby can weave into their newest creation.

  • Look for different types of paper: Budding artists need a blank canvas, but almost-3-year-olds definitely don’t need the expensive kinds! Odds are you’ll have extra copy paper near your printer, leftover plain paper plates from a recent picnic, or construction paper in a closet from an older child’s school project that Baby can transform. And don’t forget those stray sheets of tissue paper lurking in your gift-wrapping stash that can be torn, glued, and scrunched into three-dimensional wonders.
  • Explore textures and shapes: Keep searching closets and pantries, and you may find cotton balls that Baby can stretch into fluffy clouds, colorful breakfast cereal shapes just waiting to be turned into a vibrant, one-of-a-kind masterpiece, or nearly empty pasta boxes containing noodles for pasting and painting onto Baby’s latest landscape. 
  • Seek out colorful paints, markers, and more: In addition to fun household items, toddlers also express their creativity with more traditional tools like crayons, water-based paints, markers, colored pencils, white glue, and glitter. You may discover that Baby is drawn to one medium over another, or that they flit from paints to glitter to crayons – sometimes all in the same creation. 
  • Follow your toddler’s lead: While you will want to be there to supervise the arts and crafts activity and share in the fun, make sure Baby makes all of the creative decisions about their artistic endeavors.

The art – and science – of staying safe

As with anything toddlers do, your job is to make sure Baby is well-supervised during arts and crafts time, and to keep all supplies in a safe place when they get put away. Read labels when you shop for new products, and focus on materials with the “AP” (Approved Product) label from the Art and Creative Materials Institute (an international organization that certifies arts and crafts materials as safe based on certain specifications) – and make sure all products you buy are lead-free and age-appropriate. Finally, remind Baby that art supplies aren’t for eating – and consider offering them a snack before getting started so that they isn’t hungry or thirsty.

  • “Developmental Milestones: 3 to 4 Year Olds.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15.
  • “Arts and Crafts: Are Your Kids Safe?” A Minute for Kids. American Academy of Pediatrics. 1/16/16.
  • “Art and Craft Safety Guide.” U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Pub. No. 5015.
  • Laurel Bongiorno. “How Process Art Experiences Support Preschoolers.” Teaching Young Children. Vol. 7 No. 3. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
  • “Safety Tips: What You Need to Know.” The Art and Creative Materials Institute, Inc. 2017.

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