5 Ways to Explore Creativity with Toddlers

child painting with watercolors 5 Ways to Explore Creativity with Toddlers

Exploring Creativity with Toddlers

Toddlers are busy little people with so much to explore. Their attention spans are short and their energy levels high. Teachers and parents are often frustrated when they prepare for art projects that do not go as planned. Psychologist Lev Vygotsky once said, “It must not be forgotten that the basic law of children’s creativity is that its value lies not in its results, not in the product of creation, but in the process itself. It is not important what children create, but that they do create, that they exercise and implement their creative imagination.”  Here are 5 Ways to Explore Creativity with Toddlers!

1. Process Art (not product)

Toddlers are in the exploration stage of art development. Everything they do is an experiment to see how something looks, tastes, smells, feels, and sounds. Instead of working against that, embrace it! Give toddlers safe materials without an end product in mind. 

process art for toddlers is exploration - child with blue paint on hands and face

Process art simply means art that focuses on the process, not the end product. Instead of making a snowman, give children white paint and blue paper with a variety of tools to try. Think of it as an invitation instead of a requirement. Most children will want to explore the materials, but if they do not it is okay. Choice is important. Be prepared for toddlers to paint their hands, arms, face, and everything else. This is an important part of development! They must explore materials many times and many different ways! 

But what about the mess?! Preparation is key. Cover the table with paper. Put smocks or old clothes on the children. Have wipes and cleaning supplies handy. Foil trays or cookie sheets from the dollar store are a good way to keep things contained.  If you cannot get past the mess inside the house or classroom, move outdoors! 

Safe Toddler Art Supplies for Exploration

Here are some great toddler art supplies to have on hand for exploration. Make sure all supplies are non-toxic. Closely supervise if your toddlers still put things in their mouths. 

  • Washable crayons and markers
  • Paint – tempera, watercolor, fingerpaint (a drop of dish soap in the paint makes cleanup easier)
  • Glue and Tape
  • Chalk
  • Clay and playdough – two very different textures and experiences
  • Various sizes and textures of paper – larger sizes are best since toddlers still use large, sweeping arm movements, but scraps are great for gluing
  • Paintbrushes, kitchen tools, and anything else that might make a pattern
  • Shower poufs
  • Sponges
  • Recycled materials – toddlers love painting cardboard boxes and anything else you might be throwing away (water bottles, plastic jars, cereal boxes – the possibilities are endless!) 
  • Natural materials – sticks, rocks, etc.
  • Scraps of yarn, ribbon, twine
  • Loose parts

2. Sensory Play

Some of the best experiences do not have any product at the end. Sensory play not only gives children the chance to be creative, but works in developing every domain. Early childhood writer and advocate Bev Bos used to say, “If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body, it can’t be in the brain”.

Water play is one of the easiest sensory activities and never gets old for young children. Check out 5 Easy but Educational Water Play Ideas here! 

Toddlers playing with water, pasta and scoops in a tadpole sensory bin - 5 Ways to Explore Creativity with Toddlers

Sand is another favorite. Add another level of fun by adding things for the children to find! Some ideas are letters, numbers, animals, or even the Storytelling Magnets from the Experience Toddler Curriculum.

3. Natural Materials 

Some of the greatest materials for creative play are right outside your door. Pinecones, rocks, sticks, leaves, tree cookies, and other natural materials are fascinating for toddlers. Have them available with magnifying glasses. Pair with playdough and see the patterns they can create. Add some animals or peg people for a small world! Place them in a basket and see what the children do with them. 

leaves in on a tray for toddlers to snip apart with scissors and explore

4. Dramatic Play

Young children love to mimic the adults in their lives. Have dress up clothes, dishes, and other props available for them to explore. Children love using real items, so raid the kitchen or find some garage sales. Look for old pots and pans, dishes, utensils, and other household items. A few button up shirts, old hats, and play scarves can go a long way with toddlers. 

Think about their world. What is common to them? Most people think a hair salon in dramatic play would be popular with little girls, but boys love it just as much. It makes sense when you consider how much time they spend in barber shops. Old clippers and hair dryers with the cords cut off are always in demand. Old laptops, phones, cameras, and anything else young children see adults using are often the most popular items. If you are unsure, put a toy and a real object in front of a toddler. The child will almost always grab the real object. Start with the remote, cell phone, and keys! 

Children often  play longer and are far more interested in natural objects than colorful toys. Think about it. A play pizza is just that…a pizza. A tree cookie can be a pizza, a cookie, a pie, a plate, or about a zillion other things. Fill those pans with pinecones and see what the children do with them. 

5. Story Props

One way to encourage creativity while building language is to provide story props. Think of adding a basket of puppets to the reading area or small world pieces to blocks. 

The story magnet pieces in Experience Toddler Curriculum are perfect for acting out the books for each week, and toddlers love them!

The Lion and the Beetle storybook and coordinating magnets from Experience Early Learning 

Encourage creativity in toddlers using story props
Heather Williams
Heather Williams

Heather Williams, an Education Support Specialist for Experience Early Learning, has worked in the field of early childhood for over 20 years and holds a Master’s in Education. She is a certified teacher, a former Professional Development Specialist for the CDA Council, and has spent years providing training and coaching for various Head Start programs. She is passionate about the importance of play for learning and loves to inspire creativity in both educators and children.  


Alphabetix – Web Design. Only Better. – http://www.alphabetix.net. (n.d.). Bev Bos. Bev Bos | In A Child’s Path. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from http://inachildspath.com/activities-for-kids/bev-bos/

Better kid care – penn state extension. Better Kid Care (Penn State Extension). (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare

Haughey, S. (2020). Wonder art workshop: Creative child-led experiences for nurturing imagination, curiosity, and a love of learning. Quarto Publishing Group.

How process-focused art experiences support preschoolers. NAEYC. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/feb2014/process-art-experiences

KinderArt. (2020, June 2). Art Supply Safety for Kids. KinderArt. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://kinderart.com/blog/art-supply-safety-kids/

Whitehouse, P. (2019, September 19). Top nature playdough ideas for kids. Mother Natured. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://mothernatured.com/nature-play/nature-playdough/ 

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