When toddlers scribble on a page or mold play dough, they are building their fine motor skills. Dr. Ytterberg explains that drawing is a precursor to writing. “It’s like reading to children early,” she notes and explains that the benefits of early art exposure go far beyond physical development and also help build confidence and encourage self-expression. “I think it allows them to feel more free as they get older to be able to have fun with art,” Dr. Ytterberg says.
“It’s teaching them at a young age this kind of play is important. They learn to take the creative process seriously,” adds Rachael Gardner, owner of The Painting Workshop in Baltimore, Maryland, which offers Mommy & Me sessions for children as young as two. During one class session (about an hour long), pint-sized artists paint wooden picture frames, make spin art, paint and glitter wooden animal pins, and become Play-Doh chefs.
Gardner watches a lot of little ones discover and then excel at art. She suggests the following tips for getting your tot off to a creative start:
Infants and Babies (Ages 0 to 2): This is the time to let your little ones do what they do best—get their hands in everything. Gardner recommends encouraging your child to play with different materials, from modeling putty to finger paint.
Toddlers and Early Preschoolers (Ages 2 to 3): The expressionism continues. Gardner says a love of manipulating play dough and other materials draws out preschoolers’ artistic tendencies. She says this age group also enjoys playing with glitter and glue, explaining it takes some time to learn the sequence; a three-year-old can generally understand the need to put the glue on the paper before adding the glitter.
You can expect your child to start respecting the borders of a page and also to take pleasure in playing with the materials, adds Gardner. Separating and moving crayons from one bin to another can be fascinating in its own right.
Preschoolers and Pre-Kindergartners (Ages 3 to 4): Age-appropriate activities include continuing to paint and draw, stringing beads, and (around age four) starting to use scissors. As seen through Dr. Ytterberg’s Art Milestones list, Gardner agrees that children will generally master a circle first and then move on to a sun image with multiples lines coming from the circle, or a circle with pairs of lines to represent arms and legs.
“They are able to understand the process of one step leading to another, and you end up somewhere different from where you started,” shares Gardner.