Creative Tots: Art Supplies and Activities for 1-3-Year-Olds

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

Mar 18
Introducing art materials and activities to my oldest son has been so fun! Any fear of the messes that will be left behind fades away when I see how excited he is to try out something new and the look of pride as he masters new skills. There are quite a few art materials that can be introduced to toddlers when they are ready, and a variety of ways to introduce them. We like to start simple and make a few modifications to activities so that they can be learned and experienced in small steps. We also like to keep a few materials at a time out on “art trays” for easy access and encouraging choice. Here are a few ideas for art trays and activities to encourage creativity for one to three-year-olds:

Crayons are simple, but such an important early learning experience for toddlers. We started using crayons with my boys around the age of 12 months. These jumbo triangular crayons would be a good set of beginning crayons. The size makes them easier for tiny hands to hold, but the shape still encourages a pencil grip for future writing skills. As toddlers, we’ve liked leaving a few crayons out on a wooden tray with blank pieces of white paper. The blank paper encourages creativity and having access to the tray gives toddlers more opportunities to color and build fine motor skills. When learning colors and building language, we also started with just a blue, red, and yellow crayon to signify primary colors.

Jumbo Triangular Crayons
(10 Pc.)

Pasting is an important early skill for toddlers. It encourages fine motor skills and cause and effect reasoning. Glue sticks are an excellent option, but another option for even more fine motor control is pasting jars and brushes. Liquid glue can be squeezed into a small jar with a lid and combined with a brush. Another option (that we used when my son was younger) is to use an empty nail polish bottle with liquid glue in it. These pasting bottles/jars also incorporate the skills necessary to unscrew the lid in order to use the glue. For early pasting trays, we set out simple cut-out colored shapes and blank white paper. This encourages open-ended creativity.


Paint Sticks
Paint Sticks are a great introduction to painting for young toddlers, and give older toddlers many creative options! The stick is easier to grasp and control movement for younger toddlers. They are also quick drying and can be used on so many different surfaces! We do a lot of cardboard box projects (houses, barns, zoos, grocery stores, etc.) so my two-year-old often uses these to decorate those projects. These are also perfect for setting out on an art tray for older toddlers to access.

Kwik Stix
(Classic 12 Pk.)

Washable Finger Paints
Both of our boys’ first painting experiences were with these washable paints. Around the age of 6 months, I placed a piece of white paper with a few dabs of paint on it inside a Ziploc bag. The bag can be taped to the floor for infants to explore and “paint”! This has been such a fun sensory experience for them and a cute keepsake. As young toddlers, we’ve used these paints with these jumbo paintbrushes and large easel paper and blank canvases. These painting sessions offer more opportunities for learning color names through natural exposure.

Watercolors are another open-ended option for older toddler art trays. With watercolors, new fine motor skills are needed to use the thin brushes. Also, this kind of painting continues to improve hand-eye coordination and encourages more creativity. I usually set watercolors, the thin brush, white construction paper, and a small bowl (that will get filled with water) out together for this art tray. Another fun variation is to draw pictures on white paper with chalk. When painted over with watercolors, the “secret” drawings will be revealed!

Buddha Board
The Buddha Board offers a mess-free version of “painting” for toddlers. It comes with the board, a bamboo brush, and a water tray/stand. Kids can paint on the board with water, and the image will darken at first and then fade away. It’s an easy art activity to leave out and accessible since it doesn’t use any actual paint, and it has the benefit of being a calming activity for toddlers too!

The Original Buddha Board

Stickers are such a simple and beneficial art activity! We introduced stickers for my older son around the age of 18 months and have watched his skills develop with them over time. For the first year or so, I would cut the stickers into strips if they were part of a larger page to minimize options and make the task less overwhelming. The sticker “background” paper can also be peeled from the backing, leaving just the sticker shapes and the backing. This makes it so much easier for small fingers to peel the stickers off!

Stamps are another fun art activity for toddlers, and they have the added benefit of more language exposure. We use this washable stamp pad, and the ink has easily washed right off anything that’s been accidentally stamped. Really any stamps can be used, and for a wide variety of purposes! They are fun for birthday and holiday cards for family and friends, sorting activities, “habitat” scenes, and so much more! My son loves to use things in a purposeful way, so during the holidays, he decorates all of our Christmas presents for others with stamps. Depending on what children are ready for, they can also be given access to wipes or water to clean the stamps themselves. This set or this set would be a great beginning set of stamps for toddlers beginning to build more fine motor control!

My First Wooden Stamp Set (Animals)

These are just a few ideas for open-ended art activities and supplies for one to three-year-olds! Providing toddlers with some of these experiences can help to encourage creativity and fine motor skills, and they can help to build confidence! Well worth any mess left behind in my book!

About the Author

My name is Katie Menko, and I’m wife to Justin and mom to Asher and Aiden. We live in Royal Oak, MI where I (try to) balance my time between living life with my boys and being a middle school special education teacher. I am entering my tenth year in teaching and feel blessed to work with students who always inspire me and stretch my thinking. I’m also a Montessori student-turned-parent! I attended Montessori school preschool-6th and want to pass on my love for Montessori-style learning to my sons. I believe education should be hands-on, engaging, and should meet the child or student where they are at.