Toddler Led Art

Mr R, our little toddler absolutely loves to paint! He gets very excited when I get the paints out and enthusiastically helps me by choosing which colours he wants to use. Usually we stick with 3 colours because we have 3 pots and 3 brushes. I find that this number actually works quite well though and it gives him a good amount of choice without being overwhelmed and getting (too) silly.

Toddler finger painting

Sometimes I leave little suggestions for how we could paint. I might bring his cars out and start rolling them through the paint, sometimes I leave the brushes and suggest finger painting and once I encouraged him to paint on a mirror. He loves all of these experiences and I enjoy doing them with him. I never force him to paint in a certain way and leave each experience open for him to lead it in any direction he wishes, but I have found that if I suggest a way then he usually follows me and continues his art in that way.

Today I wanted to try something different. I wanted to give him paint and paper and leave the rest up to him. I didn't start for him, I didn't leave any hints or suggestions, I didn't even tell him to come to the table and start painting. I just set it up and waited.

Toddler painting with a paint brush

Sure enough, he spotted what was going on and choose to come and check it out pretty quickly. He started with the paint brushes and enjoyed moving from one end of the paper to the other.

Toddler painting with cars

Next came the cars. They were already outside so he ran over and grabbed a few of his favourites. He had a great time driving them through all of the paint.

Toddler painting with a car

And of course lining the up. He spent a long time playing with his cars like this, just like he does when he plays with them anywhere else. Without me there encouraging him to keep driving them through the paint he got to experience it at his own pace and in his own way.

Toddler lining cars up in paint

After he had had enough of the cars he moved on to some finger painting. A quick glance in my direction was all he needed to know that it was OK and away he went with both hands squishing and sliding through the paint.

Making handprints on paper
Finger painting on large paper outside

Toddler painting with his hands

He ended up with this magnificent painting and was very proud of his results. I love looking at the photos now as the painting still tells a story to me. It tells me a story of my little boy who experimented with the paint, who took his time, who had fun and who felt a great sense of achievement and pride.

The completed painting

While I love setting up little experiences for him it is more important for him to have the time and space to explore, experiment and discover things for himself. He didn't need me to give him suggestions, he didn't need me asking him a million questions about what he was doing or what colour he was using. If he had needed help he would have told me, if he had needed a playmate he would have involved me, but he didn't and I respected that.

Hand prints on paper

Respecting his choices and giving him the time and space to paint gave us both this wonderful experience. Mr R got to let his creativity shine and I got to watch my grown up little boy experience true joy and deep concentration. We will be doing a lot more of our art in this way in the future!

I would love to know how often your children paint at home? Do you feel like you give them the opportunity enough? If not, what is holding you back?

Happy Painting!


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  1. I love this. I read an article a few weeks ago that talked about how often we pull our kids out of playing by asking questions or placing expectations on them-'what colour is that? How many 'trees' did you paint? I love the cows-cow starts with c. What happens if you mix the yellow and red' And all of a sudden you've pulled them out of their experience and play to use it as a teaching moment.... Something to think about.

    1. I think a lot of teacher's feel uncomfortable just observing, like they aren't doing their job. I once had a senior staff member tell me that I wasn't interacting enough but I have always found it hard to interrupt and ask useless questions like the ones you mention, I really don't believe it helps a child. I much prefer to let them play and be there to guide them when they need me too.

  2. I love how he engaged with the activity, with his own ideas and creativity :-)


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