I have an open and accessible toddler-friendly art corner in my small Montessori-friendly home, comprising a bottom shelf equipped with most-used art resources like markers, crayons, scissors and paper, an art and craft table as well as an art trolley stocked with less-used materials like paint bottles. This art corner is one of my toddler's favourite places at home, second only to the gross motor area (with the Pikler Triangle and Wobbel board).
My toddler's typical everyday art activities are self-initiated and include marker/crayon drawing and scissors work. Washi tape is her latest obsession. I recently incorporated a visual journal in our daily routine, inspired by Chalk Academy's memory journal. In the evening, we would talk about events that took place in the day (e.g. trip to the beach) and co-create a drawing that depicts those events.
On the bottom shelf of art resources, I would incorporate Montessori art trays with interesting and novel materials for her to express herself in new, creative mediums. I model the use of new art tools she has not been exposed to, but I don't dictate any end-outcomes, or provide instructions on what to create. This is so that my toddler can explore the art materials independently, focus on the process art and learn through experimentation.
These are 10+ Montessori toddler art tray activities I have put out on rotation:
1. Q-tip Paint Dabbing
Q-tips with their fine tips are great for dotting paint all over, as well as creating defined lines and shapes more accurately than paintbrushes.
I like to recycle bottle caps by using them as vessels for containing paints.
It is fun to dot paint with one Q-tip and also hold a bunch of Q-tips together to create a multiple dot effect.
2. Paint Spatter with Fork + Brush
I upcycled a plastic fork and old toothbrush for this activity. Note that this activity requires some modeling for children to understand how paint splattering can be done with the fork and toothbrush (the traditional alternative of the fork is a comb).
I first dab the bristles of the toothbrush into the paint, then rub it along the length of the fork in an outward motion. This causes small specks of paint to get dispersed and spattered onto the paper.
3. Sponge Painting
This activity is pretty intuitive for children to dip small pieces of sponge into the paint and spread over the paper.
I'll probably save used kitchen sponges (cut into small pieces) for this activity next time, to make it more environmentally-friendly.
4. Paper Chromatography
This activity leverages paper chromatography to create a color bleeding effect that is fascinating to watch. I used a washable marker to draw little colorful patterns on paper towel and provided water for my toddler to dilute the colors.
For water transfer, I provided a small pitcher of water, a vessel to pour the water into, and a syringe to draw water. In place of a syringe, droppers can be used.
It was fun to see colors spread across the paper towel and mix together. For more pronounced color bleeding, I would recommend drawing an elaborate pattern with the markers (as seen in this post by Montessori from the Heart).
5. Wooden Letter Envelope Addressing
This activity provides my toddler with the opportunity to glue wooden letters onto paper, which is a tactile way to reinforce letter recognition.
For children with advanced letter recognition skills/can spell, you could invite them to address envelopes with recipients' names. This is a great way to purpose artworks from our children as practical gifts to family and friends.
6. Hole Punching
My toddler is really interested in the hole puncher I use and requested to try it. However my hole puncher is not meant for children's use so I sourced a child-friendly version for her. I found this set of shape punchers from Fiskars.
I love the shapes in this set -- footprints, leaves and snowflakes. The little die-cut shapes could be saved for other glueing art and craft projects, particularly seasonal-themed ones (winter/Christmas).
I modeled the use of these shape punchers until my toddler was confident to try them. Initially she struggled with the paper alignment while pressing on the puncher lever but eventually managed it after multiple tries.
Note that there is a small catchment area at the bottom that can be opened to retrieve the cut paper pieces. Supervision is needed for that as the cutting mechanism is close to the catchment area.
7. Ribbon Cutting & Styling
My toddler enjoys baker's twine, thread and jewellery wire cutting so this is a new material for her to try her scissors on. I provided ribbon of different sizes and textures to enhance the sensorial experience.
Trimming ribbon stray ends was definitely manageable for my toddler. She required some help with holding the ribbon in place for her to make an effective cut. I'm teaching her to hold the ribbon in a loop so it is easier to grip in one hand as the other hand wields the scissors.
8. Pinecone Painting
I love incorporating nature loose parts in art and craft projects. This activity invites the toddler to explore using pinecones as the paint 'stamp' or finger paint the pinecones.
I provided pinecones of varying sizes and shapes to provide a lesson on visual discrimination. It's interesting to share with toddlers that there are many types of pine trees and each bears differently shaped pinecones (which keep the pine tree's seeds safe).
Hello, Wonderful has a tutorial for painting pinecones to transform them into adorable Christmas trees.
9. Stone Painting
Another activity to repurpose the nature finds little ones bring back home! In this setup, I provided paints of strong, vibrant hues (I realised that lighter colours like yellow don't show up well on stones unless layered multiple times), paintbrushes and an assortment of stones.
Stones make great canvases for writing too! Chalk Academy has a post on how to use stones for reading and writing practice.
10. Coin Rubbing (with Pencil)
I was inspired by How We Montessori's crayon rubbing art tray and set up this coin rubbing tray.
This activity requires a demonstration to show toddlers how the coins could be placed beneath the paper and how the pencil should be rubbed against the paper with the coin underneath to create the rubbed coin effect.
In place of coins, you could use leaves or seashells with interesting textures that would show up clearly on paper using this pencil rubbing technique.
11. Leaf & Flower Bud Pasting
This activity is an intuitive one, inviting toddlers to glue leaves and flowers from nature onto paper. Nature loose parts with larger and flatter surfaces like broad flower petals are easier to glue onto paper. For pieces that won't stick well, provide washi tape as reinforcement.
When the glue has dried, leaf/flower collage can be pressed in a heavy book to preserve it.
12. Dot Sticker Art
This dot sticker peeling activity is great for refining fine motor skills for toddlers.
It's also a great way for color recognition and reinforcement.
You could also encourage little ones to practise counting as they stick the dot stickers on paper, teaching them one-to-one correspondence.
These are 10+ creative dot sticker activities I've tried with my toddler to encourage one-to-one correspondence practice.
13. Recyclables Painting
This is a great form of heuristic play as children get to explore and recreate everyday materials into works of art.
I provided a TP (toilet paper) roll and empty egg crate for painting. Cardboard boxes make great open-ended painting canvases too.
It's an interesting experience for little ones to paint on surfaces beyond the usual paper that's not quite flat, textured and has lots of grooves and corners for them to reach into with the paintbrush. Bilateral coordination is also encouraged because toddlers have to hold/stabilise the materials while painting, vs painting on paper.
14. Light Colors on Black Paper
This activity is a refreshing one for toddlers who might be used to doing art on white paper.
I laid out a sheet of black construction paper and provided light color pencils for my toddler to doodle on it.
If you're out of black paper, you could provide white crayons with white paper to do the crayon wax resist art technique (after drawing with the white crayon, paint over with darker colours to reveal the white crayon marks).
15. Rubber Stamping
This activity is fun for creative expression and storytelling. The rubber stamp set (including the washable ink pad) is from Melissa & Doug. (Note: The ink pad lid is pretty stiff and can be hard for toddlers to open, so some assistance would be required.)
I like to invite my toddler to do the farm animal stampings and then illustrate the background (barnhouse, pond, grass fields, hay) with other art materials.
16. Seashell Outline Tracing
After I modeled drawing my handprint using a pencil, my toddler has been practising to draw hers too! To encourage this interest and work on bilateral hand use, I created this marine-themed setup that invites her to trace unique shapes of seashells and sea star.
The fan shaped seashell and sea star are from Michael's. The oyster shell was saved from a prior dining experience.
Other everyday items you could provide that are great for outline tracing:
- Cookie cutters
- Number, shape and letter puzzle pieces
- Bottle caps
- Animal figurines
- Nature loose parts like stones, leaves, twigs, pinecones and acorns
I hope your child enjoys these varied Montessori art trays!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.