My favourite Montessori art teacher (and teacher trainer) is back today with an article about Setting Up The Toddler Art Environment. This is something that I struggle with. I love setting up art areas for my older children, but a toddler art area requires something a little different, something simpler. I am feeling really inspired, we are short on space but I want to create a really interesting art environment for my toddler! Here are some of Spramani's best tips.
Setting Up the Toddler Art Environment
Toddlers are curious explorers with short attention spans. It’s important to keep this in mind when setting up their art environment. If you’re intentional about what you include and how you organize their art-making space, it can have an immensely positive impact on how they learn and appreciate art.
A toddler’s art environment should be set up purposefully; it’s going to look different and have a different function than an art space set up for children 3-6 years old, for instance. Art should be hands-on, which means it can get messy—especially with toddlers.
The goal is to set up an area designed for exploring and for keeping your toddler busy, as well as containing messes. Most traditional mediums (like paint) can leave pigmented marks that stain clothes and fabrics, so you want to set up an art-making environment that allows for some splashing, splattering, smearing, and dripping. If you do this correctly, your child won’t need constant supervision and you won’t have to worry about excessive clean up.
A Space for Developing Fine-Motor Skills
When thinking about setting up a toddler art making environment, it’s important to remember that art making in early childhood is an excellent opportunity for them to develop their fine-motor skills. (If you would like to learn more about how art can help children develop their fine motor skills and why it’s important, read this blog.) The general idea is to create a safe space so kids can practice their fine motor movements, such as gliding their hands in fingerpaint, making wide brushstrokes, rolling paint rollers, and squeezing, rolling out, and pounding clay.
Toddlers’ first interaction with art making is process-based, discovery-based, exploratory, and playful. It’s not until they get a little older that they will be able to sit and create with intention. So you want to focus on creating spaces for children to be able to do fine-motor-movement exploring tasks. You want to think about this early phase as learning art mediums through tactile senses, body movements, and seeing and feeling the textures the different mediums create and leave behind. As your child gets older, creating with intention will follow once they are familiar with mediums and what each one is capable of producing.
8 Elements to a Toddler Art Environment
There are several features to consider when setting up a Montessori art space for your toddler. Here are eight elements to include in your child’s art space, and the practical reasons I recommend them as both a mom and art teacher.
Because the nature of art making can be very messy, I recommend that you set up the art environment in a space around your home where messes can be welcomed, such as the kitchen, outside patio, or dining table. You may want to “move” your child’s art space to areas that make the most sense for each project. For example, I recommend smaller, less messy, more independent, and more manable art making projects to be done on a table in the Montessori space; and the larger, messier projects should be completed on a table in the kitchen that’s over tile or wood, or in an outside area. Over the years, the art spaces I set up for my two children moved all over our home! We mostly liked working in the kitchen areas; in fact, to this day, we still paint in this room!
Your table size will not affect your child’s ability to be creative, but the sturdiness of it will. I’ve witnessed children create beautiful artworks on a surface as large as their lap, so don’t feel like your child needs a glorious art table. I don't recommend an easel at this age, although kids do like to stand at one occasionally, but it’s not required to fulfill lots of art making activities—but a flat table is.
Along with a sturdy table, kids need a sturdy chair. Toddlers are movers; they will not always want to sit while making art. Sometimes I introduce activities without chairs so kids can move around the activity and reach art materials easily, but a chair is still good to have at times they’re more focused.
You can probably attest to the fact that toddlers love to open drawers, cabinets, boxes, anything they can get their hands on—that’s why it’s important to store art supplies where children can’t easily get into. Stash paints, craft supplies, markers, anything small your child can choke on, or anything that needs your watchful eye on in a space that’s out of reach. This might mean a high shelf or in a container with a closing mechanism or latch your toddler can’t open.
- Art Shelf
Although an art shelf isn’t necessary, I highly recommend it as an option for art making inspiration and activities. This space serves as a place where your child can have easy access to the materials they’re able to use on their own (those they won’t choke on or make a mess with). Place these items in baskets, jars, or trays so your toddler can make projects as they choose. This shelf can also be a springboard for inspiration if you stage it with beautiful books, models, nature elements, toys, and lovely artworks.
- Floor Covering
Wherever you decide to place an art making space, you’ll need to consider the chance of regular spills. For this reason, make sure you set up your child’s art space off carpets; tile, wood, patio, or concrete are easier to clean when messes do happen. If you’re still concerned about stains, you can purchase a floor covering (like a tarp or cheap rug) for your child to work on.
- Light Source
A good light light source is important for children to create visual art. All art projects are colorful and need a light to identify the varying pigments and color hues. Natural sunlight is the best, but a bright desk lamp can work just as well.
Not every art project will require a smock, since some of them (like drawing, building, and sewing) aren’t very messy. Asking your child to wear a smock—and giving them a place to keep it—can help them understand that some art projects can be messy, and help them build great artist habits.
I’ve spent more than 20 years observing how children learn art, and I’ve learned how important their art environment can be. As a former homeschool mommy (my two kids are both grown now), I know what a treasure it is to their curiosity explode when they’re given the space to explore and make art works. For more information on how toddlers learn art, check out my blog post on Early Childhood Art Teaching Methods; I originally wrote it for Montessori teachers, but parents like you can benefit from the information and art nurturing strategies as well!
Spramani Elaun trains Montessori teachers and parents Internationally how to teach kids art. Spramani’s 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.