3 Toddler-Friendly Art Hacks

toddler art hacks
Tea and coffee drawings, flatbed scanner photography, and substituting play dough for bakeable polymer are three quick tips for young artists from toddlers to teens. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

I live in a house of busy hands.

Both of my girls are on continuous searches for the next creative project. Although I am proud of my girls’ creative passion, I’m also in a constant struggle to keep supplies on hand to meet their latest whims. Not to mention, the need to come up with safe, age-appropriate ideas.

flatbed
A flatbed scanner and small found objects make some clever photography projects.

This is especially true with my four-year-old, who is extremely hard to corral when her artistic urges get the better of her. Fortunately, through working with my older daughter, repeated trial and error, and many instances of panicky rifling through craft closets, I picked up a few little “life hacks” over time.

Here are three of the simplest:

Flatbed Scanner Photography. When kids bring in their small “treasures” from outside, a regular flatbed home office scanner is a good way to display them in a more permanent manner. Place small flowers, leaves, feathers, or other flat items on the scanner and hit the “photo” setting. Make sure there’s no dew or moisture on the items. Once scanned, print out on regular letter-sized paper, or as an instant “snapshot” if the scanner includes a print setting for 4-by-6-inch photo paper.

tea paint
Out of watercolors? Brew up some tea and coffee paint.

Tea and Coffee Painting. My daughter goes through watercolor paints alarmingly fast. In those instances when no paint is available, use small cups of very thick tea, coffee, fruit drinks, or other beverages to make natural paints. Anyone who has dyed eggs with natural dyes should know how much variety in color there is from different tea types (green tea, Earl Grey, etc.). Textured manila paper works best for this, and gives the drawings a natural, rustic look. They also smell wonderful while painting.

preserve playdough
Sealing play dough with decoupage on smaller projects is a good substitute for polymer clay.

“No Bake” Play Dough Sculpture. Bakeable polymer is the best medium for small-scale sculpting, but when it’s not on hand, kids’ play dough works just as well as a “no bake” version. As this type of clay tends to crack when it’s dry, use a little school glue thinned with water or decoupage to seal it. This will preserve the projects much longer. For smaller sculptures (like clay beads, flowers, etc.), this will look about as good as anything made with bakeable polymer, minus needing to use the oven.

All of these tips take little-to-no preparation and clean up, and are quick boredom busters for weekends or after school.  Toddlers can manage these tasks with the help of parents, and older siblings will want to try as well.

Plus, kids love to tell others how they made things, and watch the impressed looks on Grandpa’s face when they declare, “I drew this with coffee!”

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Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.