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How To Talk To Toddlers About Art - by Spramani Elaun

Montessori toddler art at How we Montessori 21 months

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You may have noticed that we do a lot of art in our home. Even on sick or rainy days the oil pastels are used and paint is in abundant supply. I love it and Otto responds really well to it. However art is not my strength, often I feel like I don't know what I am doing and I question how it is best to teach art to toddlers. I also want to know how art is presented in a Montessori environment, is there a Montessori way of doing toddler art? I am fortunate to know an amazing Montessori art teacher and teacher trainer, Spramani Elaun. I've asked Spramani to share her knowledge in a parent and home friendly way. I am starting an exciting series of Montessori toddler art posts by Spramani that will feature here on Fridays. I hope you enjoy!! The first topic Spramani is covering is so important.... How To Talk To Toddlers About Art. Please feel free to ask questions or even suggest topics you would like covered in the comments. 

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It can feel a little overwhelming—maybe even silly—to try and introduce your toddler to art and art concepts. Some of your kids might still be learning how to talk, so how are you supposed to have a full on conversation, right?

Here’s the good news: talking to your child about art is not something you need to worry about. You don’t have to use “art language,” proper terminology, or fancy words in order for them to start appreciating and experiencing art.

Art does have its own language, it's called the ‘Elements and Principles of Design,’ but that’s way too advanced for toddlers and primary grades to understand! If you were to jump right in with this kind of terminology, you’re going to lose your child’s attention, confuse them, and likely get frustrated.

When you talk to your toddler about art—”art talk”—it’s really just describing what you see in artworks, like color, shape, and form, etc. Before we get into how to break that down in a way your toddler will understand, I want you to have some basic knowledge of how they learn art.

The Basics: How Toddlers Learn Art

For a young child, exploring through art play is something natural. Children learn basically everything, build their knowledge, and gain a sense of their physical world by using each and all of their senses—seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing.

The excitement a child experiences while dipping a brush in paint and creating strokes of color across a blank paper is so awesome! It’s a curious mix of so many senses! When they’re at a young age, learning art is all about discovery and exploration. Letting children play with art (without any expectations of a final masterpiece), is a natural way for children to learn. Giving them the freedom to just have fun and experiment can help them develop their creativity and confidence. This type of art exploration and it can come in many forms: doodling, painting, color mixing, sculpting with clay, crafting, building, and arranging.

(For more detailed information on how to teach toddlers art, read this post.)

Introducing Art Talk to Toddlers

I want to make things clear: toddlers and kids in early childhood can be introduced to art talk. It’s just important to understand that children in this age group are seeing and experiencing everything for the first time; they don’t quite understand visual art fits into their little world and young lives.

As they explore more and more and start really getting to know what art is, using art talk with your toddler will become easier. More than likely, their inquisitive little mind will start making connections (like, “if I use this color paint, on this paint brush, it’ll come out like this”), and they’ll probably start asking questions (such as, “what color is this?” or “why did this do this?”).

When you’re first introducing art talk to your toddler, keep things basic and simple. Start by describing what you see when you’re looking at art or what’s going on as you make art. You don’t necessarily need to use these exact terms, but let them be your springboard for getting the conversation going.

Basic Art Terms / Aspects of Art to Describe:

  • Color
  • Shape 
  • Texture
  • Line

Keep these concepts in mind as you talk to your toddler about art. Here are some examples of how to bring these ideas into your art talk.

  • While reading story books point out colors, try, “The bear is all brown, do you want to color something brown today?”
  • “Let's cut out some shapes, like circles and squares, with scissors.”
  • “Hey, what about making some cool designs and textures in our clay!” (You can use stamps, textured or embossed rolling pins, or even dried beans to create texture.)
  • “Let’s make some squiggly lines and straight lines with crayons. How many different colored lines can we do?”
  • “Let me show you how to make a brand new color by mixing these two different paint colors. Look how the yellow and blue mix, what color does it make?”

Why Does Art Talk Matter?

Art talk—especially when it’s positive and encouraging—can be the foundation for building up your toddler’s confidence and creativity.

Remember that most artworks made by young kids are simply experimental, led by their own curiosity and art play. For them, the point of art is just to create, and their finished pieces won’t look like anything at all. If you encourage them and answer their questions and they create, they’ll grow bolder in their exploration and will ultimately have the self-confidence to continue trying new things—even beyond art.

Art talk will stimulate your child’s imagination, I encourage you to try it out! If you have any questions or get stumped on answering one of their art questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at spramanielaun@gmail.com. And for more ideas and tips for bringing art into your toddler’s life, sign up for my Montessori Art newsletter.

Spramani Elaun trains Montessori teachers and parents Internationally how to teach kids art. Spramani is also a mom of two, author, artist and the founder of Nature of Art® Art School & Online Art Supply company from San Diego, California. Visit Nature of Art® @ www.Montessori-Art.com

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