A couple of months ago I became interested in hosting toddler art classes at our neighbourhood community room. Really, my interest in this has a lot to do with myself having some creative play time, and, oh yeah, my kid and her friends are welcome to tag along, too!
When I was a student working towards my BA in design at Emily Carr, I would often volunteer to teach children's art camps. I found this incredibly fulfilling and I enjoyed making art with the kids immensely, so I looked forward to making with my own little ones some day. However, I have found that creating with older children is a very different experience than creating with toddlers (for one, toddlers have very little attention span) and so I wasn't quite sure really where to begin.
With a little bit of research I came across the wonderful blog The Artful Parent and Jean's article of how to start a children's art group, all of which I found to be a wonderful resource for making art with little ones. I also ordered the two books that she recommended on the subject: Young at Art by Susan Striker, and First Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl.
What I learned is really quite simple: that creating art with toddlers is not about any final product, but about the process - It is with the process of experimentation and play that little ones learn about their world. With toddlers, it is important that art time be open-ended and process orientated, easy-going and just fun!
And, I love this quote from Young at Art:
"With the exception of baby's first steps, there is no more significant milestone in your child's development that the first mark he or she makes on paper. These squiggles herald the start of a lifetime of writing and drawing... do much more than just hand a child a crayon; your enthusiasm helps encourage future exploration."
While me hosting an official toddler art time is still held up in some odd community association red tape. And, to be honest I am not sure right now if I am ready to commit to a regular class schedule and the project planning this would take. But I am free to book the room anytime and host some making time at my whim. So the other day I decided to make up loads of soft homemade playclay and invite the neighbourhood little ones to come and play with Adelaide and I.
Rather than purchasing expensive (yet cheap) commercial playdoh toys, I simply went through my household cabinets and selected out a bucketful of tools: mallets, rollers, cookie cutters, spatulas, scoops, mashers, hair combs, empty thread spools, all sorts of treasures. For "adult" tools are really what little ones want to play with, anyways!
I was quite pleased with the result: about half a dozen toddlers, moms and dads, and me hanging out with a big old bunch of dough. Some kids got really into it - some didn't really - and that's fine by me!
But I have found that giving each child only two or three tools to experiment with at a time is much more effective than the whole lot at once - for little children get overwhelmed and overstimulated easily. And to play alongside of them simultaneously, but not directly interfering with their play process. I have found that if I am interested and give some of my energy into playing with the dough, then most times they will, too.
We still have a large container of the playclay here at home, and almost every day Adelaide wants me to lug it out for us to play together. I pull up her little chair to the kitchen table and we go at it - making our sweet sweet nothings. Yet she loves this creating time and she loves that she can do whatever she wants with the dough! And one batch of this playclay has lasted us for months.
Squeeze, roll, cut, press, model, and play with this super soft homemade playclay that is a delight to touch. There are many commercial playdoughs and homemade recipes that are too hard and stiff for the smallest hands to manipulate, but this one is great!
2 cups water
1 cup salt
4 tsp. cream of tartar
4 tbsp. oil
2 cups flour*
- Combine water, salt, cream of tartar and food colouring (.5 tsp for pastel colour and 1.5 tbsp for vivid colour) in a large saucepan.
- Cook on low heat and stir. As the mixture heats up, stir in the oil and then the flour slowly.
- Keep Stirring the mixture until it starts looking dry and pulling away from the pan. Remove from heat and pinch a piece between two fingers. If it is not sticky, it is done. Otherwise, continue stirring over low heat.
- Place the dough on counter and knead until smooth. Children will enjoy kneading the warm dough when it cools enough for them, too!
- When finished playing, store playclay in an airtight container or plastic bag to re-use again and again. Do not refrigerate.
* For children who cannot tolerate gluten or food colouring, you may subsitute rice flour for flour and use natural beet (red), spinach (green) or carrot (orange) juice for colour.