Curiosity and Creation

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Prompted by my friend Maija who, after reading the Arts and Crap post said:

"Tell me what to Do with her!?" ( meaning her 20 month old daughter)

Here are some things that I saw work pretty successfully with Younger kids (Toddlers and up):

First off, I don't do food as art material. I know, I know. Some of you are shaking your heads in horror.

"But Pudding Paint, Dawn!"

Nope. I feel strongly that food is food, and is not art material. Particularly when we are attempting to also socialize table manners and how we expect them to behave during meals, the message "Don't play with your food" gets mixed and convoluted when we are encouraging children to play with food - sometimes - but not others.

This means no beans or rice in the sensory table, no macaroni stringing, no whip cream painting.

It incredibly privileged to treat food as art material and I just won't do it.

Art materials are made to be non-toxic. For myself, I would prefer to spend more money on reputable brands for things such as paint, markers or crayons to be sure that the standards are being adhered to, in terms of non-toxicity.  There are other things you can get on the cheap, but I am somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to what brand paint/markers/crayons I purchase.

This means if you toddler eats a spoonful of paint, they aren't going to die. You might have some curious diapers for a couple of days, but no lasting harm. Same with Crayons - I used to warn families when their child had decided to snack on crayons that they may see the results at home, depending on digestive speed.


Don't be afraid to limit choices - a child doesn't need 96 colour choices of crayons at once.  Starting with Red, Yellow and Blue is fine. Switch them up every once in awhile. By the age of 4, you'll see them starting to differentiate more distinctly and choosing shades of colour, but at the beginning they don't need the full palate.

Offer different textures of paper, or place things which will give texture under the paper. When they draw, they will notice that there is something changing the way they are able to pull the crayon across the paper. Do rubbings of bark, or other textured surfaces outside.


Limit choice again. Change texture of paint by adding different things - water, dish soap, sand. Offer objects as brushes: Q-tips, pine branches, sticks, dandelions, forks, small squares of sponges - whatever catches your fancy ( and theirs)

Food Colouring:

We often placed small medicine cups of coloured water next to absorbent material ( like coffee filters or paper towels) and either used eyedroppers to drop single drops of the water or something soft like a Q-tip to draw/paint. This makes soft pastel colours and emphasizes blending, as the water soaks through the paper.

Toddlers, being toddlers, want to stick hands in things. They want to taste. They want to feel. One of the more insane "projects" I've observed involved asking one year old to paint with toothbrushes and NOT stick the toothbrush and their mouth. The teachers spent the whole time telling children to not put the toothbrush in their mouth. Finally, with a child who simply wouldn't stop sticking the toothbrush in his mouth? They popped his binky in his mouth.

So now the child is told (via body language and adult choice) "I don't want to hear you - here, let's plug you up" all while asking a child to NOT DO the very thing he/she knows a toothbrush is used for: sticking in your mouth.

Talk about a pointless experience for a young child. Or rather, an experience which reinforces "Adults are crazy and I shouldn't listen to them."

Since toddlers ( and all children) are so kinesthetic, the process of creating is where the joy is found.


Last semester, I had a difficult class. It wasn't the personalities - I liked all of the students a great deal - it was their group unwillingness to create. They didn't play.

The question I kept coming back to? When did they stop playing? When did it become so preferable for them to be told what to do? When did the desire to create, to explore, to test what happens become...unpleasant?

I am prepping for a new semester and am hopeful that I can lead this new group to a different understanding of art and the delight that comes with curiosity.  I hope so, because their discovery is what fuels me to keep chipping away at the monolith of sameness so many of them survived.
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