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Look on Pinterest, google, Instagram and we see all kinds of cute little art projects to do with our toddlers. What those pictures don’t show you is the before/after/in between of the mess, the preparation, and all the art that isn’t worth showing. Art with toddlers isn’t necessarily the easiest activity to pull out, like a sensory bin or box of toys, but it is so worth it! I am here to show you how to do art with toddlers and enjoy the whole process, no matter what the mess is at the end!

The first thing that may come to mind when creating art with toddlers is the mess. Yes, it is messy- isn’t everything you do with a toddler? Lunch, bath time, etc. Well, the good that comes from art far out weighs the mess!

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According to, art has several developmental benefits. It encourages motor skill development, language development, decision making, visual learning, inventiveness, cultural awareness, and even can improve academic performance. What we might think of as just a fun painting activity is teaching our little ones so many different things, all at once! According to Michigan State University, art can even encourage cognitive development, such as cause and effect and patterning! And this is just by the child engaging in art activities. If you talk to them, imitate them, and support them through the art making process, there are even more benefits!

Take a look at this picture. Look past the mess. Yes, there is water on the floor, paint everywhere, but look at the art on the canvas in the background, the skills that were developed with the paintbrush and the brayers. Look at the color mixing that was practiced with the paint. Look at the tower that she built out of paint pots! See how creative she got to be by using different materials, like the rock, the match stick, and the bottle. So much happened with just one activity!

But we can’t ignore that mess! As busy mamas, sometimes the thought of doing art can seem like a backward slide into the oblivion of chaos and household chores that never end. But, there are several things you can do to less the mess!

How to Do Art with Toddlers and Less the Mess:

  1. Expect there to be more of a mess than a finished product. If you are expecting a masterpiece from every art session then you are going to be very disappointed and frustrated.
  2. Prepare for expected mess by putting clothes on your child that are ok to get painted on. Bibs don’t work as well as you think- they will get paint under the bib. I actually found the eating bib from Ikea to be the best! But still better to remove clothes that you don’t want ruined :). Skin washes the best! Or have special painting clothes.
  3. Related to #2: When you can, let them paint in diapers with non toxic paint and head to the tub afterwards. This makes clean up go super quick and easy! You can even give them the brushes and supplies to clean in the tub for another fun activity!
  4. Use washable paint, markers, crayons but realize there may still be stainsThis paint has been great!
  5. A shower curtain or drop cloth under the art area is always a good idea. Again, there is going to be mess. Just expect it and plan for it!
  6. Painting outside is great! Not only does that mean no mess to clean up, but you get extra outside time which is better for all of us :).
  7. Have some wet and dry cloths/paper towels nearby. Paint cleans up quickest when wet, so just wipe it immediately if there is a major catastrophe, rather than letting it dry and making more work for yourself!
  8. Limit supplies. Two or three colors is actually more fun than 20. Especially if you choose colors next to each other on the color wheel so mixing produces even more beautiful colors. I’ll discuss this a little further in a future post.

Letting the fear of a mess keep you from painting or making art with your toddler is like letting the fear of a mess keep you from making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And we know that never happens :). The result is always worth the mess! For ideas and more tips on how and what art to do with toddlers, check out some of my activity plans, like these…

Those are just a few of our favorite art projects. While not every project turns out beautiful and keep worthy, sometimes your little one will surprise you and make something amazing. Just relax, embrace the mess, and enjoy the experience!

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