All posts by Abigail Cole

Having little ones around at home and seeing the world through their curious and playful eyes each day can offer a perfect opportunity to enjoy creative experiences together as a family, both for parents and children alike. Whilst there is certainly no pressure to take up arts and crafts during the early years (there will be opportunities in groups, and hopefully eventually at school/during home-education), so many young children have an in-built tendency to build, make, create, with their toys or anything else they can get their little hands on, that you might find this natural enthusiasm rubbing off or sparking a new creative ideas and hobbies of your own, even if arts & crafts haven’t been your cup of tea before. Having young children around can give a sense of permission to get crafty, but it can also be a bit overwhelming knowing where to start, where to find the time, to plan or not to plan, and how ambitious or simple projects might be…    

Drawing from my own experience both at home and in groups, this blog explores some tips and ideas on keeping creativity with younger children fun, approachable and do-able 😊

Follow your child’s interest – creativity, and playing, is natural to children in their enthusiasm and curiosity. They are inherently creative in their games and play, and often building and creating with their toys or natural materials they find around them, regardless of whether any actual craft materials have been reached for! Consciously adding in extra opportunities (via art-making materials etc) for creative expression, based on something that your little one is already interested in can be as simple as letting them wheel some toy cars through paint to make marks, or you could design a project around a special interest they might have – this gives you a starting point, and your child the motivation to explore.  It can be exciting to follow a child’s interest, not knowing what they will discover next, and give the feeling of learning along with them.

Start simple and let the love of crafts and creativity grow gradually. Use kits and craft ideas in children’s magazines, or online ideas and tutorials that help to find a starting point, or just to get that feeling of inspiration about something that you really would like to try with your little ones. It really can be as simple as making some playdough together and adding a few things to pop with the playdough, like beads, lego buttons, gems, straws, child safe cutlery all either to decorate/print shapes into or play with the dough in a new way…

Process art vs crafts/following tutorials so often, the process, over the final result of a creative session is so important for younger children. Process art is usually more open-ended than structured with instructions to follow, and doesn’t have to have a clearly defined outcome or piece of art or craft at the end. The learning that they experience as they explore materials, colour, shape, texture, will be invaluable in understanding how things work and later developing confidence in core areas such as decision-making. Often children might not finish a project, or they will be supremely proud of something they have made that either doesn’t stand the test of time or they quickly forget about – it doesn’t matter, the process will still have been incredibly valuable. Knowing this upfront can help when it comes to offering a few simple materials and prompts and seeing where things lead.

Offer a range of materials – the basics like paper, colouring pencils, marker pens, tape, some glue, are of course a good place to start and you can gradually introduce more over time. Don’t forget things like playdough, clay (air dry clay, polymer clay), fabric, yarn, dried food (pasta, seeds), old magazines, toys, craft wire, tissue paper, paints, watercolours, pipe-cleaners and things from a craft shop, nature treasures, bath crayons can all be used creatively as materials too! Offer as wide a variety as possible to offer a range of experiences. It’s totally fine to use inexpensive materials from somewhere like The Works (UK), however better-quality materials will stand the test of time, usually last longer and often, lead to less frustration too. I often used to let the children use my own art materials – with guidance and supervision – and always had an approach of collecting good quality materials slowly and over time.

About 20 minutes of concentration time is often a good expectation to have. Some children will hyper-focus for much longer than this, and others less, but if 10-20 minutes engagement seems like a short amount of time for the amount of effort in setting things up, don’t be disheartened! Often children will go and come back, make a bit, play a bit, return a bit and so on. It’s perfectly normal, and even short amounts of time crafting together are still valuable!

Set up a space to create I personally liked to have the sense when my children were small, that art-making could happen anywhere – at the kitchen table, in the living room, clip boards were handy for working on the floor in the bedroom! But it can make things simpler to have a dedicated space, if you have the space, for creative activities, and allow them to come and go freely, engaging with art-making as they feel like it. Having a dedicated space can help with finding a regular routine for creative activities as it is often much less effort in terms of storage, setting things up/tidying away and protecting surfaces. If you can’t dedicate a whole room, it could be a corner of a room, or even, a storage trolley and one end of a kitchen or dining table that is the dedicated activity space.    

Work outside! – as the warmer days open out it’s a great time to play and explore creative projects outside. You can take paints, crayons etc outside to make some artwork, or you could have some fun making nature art with found items.

Play with levels – lots of younger children like to work on the floor – you could either put a surface covering down on the ground, or use rolls of paper to make larger spaces to draw, colour or paint on. You could invest in a small toddler-sized table and chair, an easel, or you could tape large sheets of paper or cardboard to a wall, window or door at a height your little ones can reach. Even very little ones could enjoy some simple painting whilst strapped in their high-chair (supervised, of course!).

Craft alongside your children occasionally I found that having my own version of a given project alongside, was a way of modelling the value to be found in creativity, and gave me permission to enjoy our creative activities for myself as well.  It also meant that they were free to come and go on their own project without me finishing it for them, and they often got to see a finished version of the project even if they didn’t manage to finish theirs. Seeing plenty of creativity, even if they weren’t always engaged themselves, I think it also led to them having their own amazing ideas that only seemed to grow as they did!

Play with size – you could try out large pieces of paper taped to a wall, or a cardboard box to draw on, down to post-card size pieces of paper. You can also encourage children to explore all kinds of other surfaces to work on by using everyday recycled materials – acrylic paint pens are a great option as a material that isn’t too messy and can work on lots of different surfaces… also, if it turns out your child/ren simply isn’t in the mood to create something after you have set it up, you can still enjoy it with less fuss, frustration or disappointment over a ‘missed opportunity’ or wasted effort.

Set the atmosphere – if you have an established routine or an enthusiastic crafter there might not be any need to add anything else, but sometimes it can be helpful to quieten things down a bit by playing some gentle background music, or an audiobook. This will depend on the child and the type of music (it can create a greater distraction and make concentrating harder for some!) – if possible, choose something to listen to that is calming and enjoyable to both you and your children.

Display some of your children’s art – have some fun displaying some of your children’s creations somewhere in your home. It’s impossible to keep everything, of course, but valuing at least a few things that they have made will encourage them to value it too. They might choose different pieces to display – not everything they make will be something they like or want to keep, but you can let them choose, and change things over from time to time. You could also make it a creative project in and of itself to curate a dedicated gallery wall or corner. It could be a smaller space like a shelf in a bookcase, or you hang them with pegs on a ribbon around a room.

A note on colouring sheets… I used to think colouring sheets were too prescribed and offered little by way of encouraging a child’s own imagination. However, over the years both at home and in groups, I’ve found them to be useful in different ways. There was a madly prolific colouring-in phase that we went through here at home and I just went with it. There was often just as much pride in a fully coloured-in picture as something created from scratch! I’ve also found them to be useful in groups in lots of different ways, not least in small group settings as an easy bonding way to sit and chat whilst doing something gently creative… I ultimately came to re-frame my thoughts on colouring sheets and find them occasionally very useful. 

Colouring sheets still offer the chance to make choices – about colours that they like, colours that go together, colours that relate to particular images, what to colour and what not. They are also always developing their fine motor skills, and sometimes, having a clear starting point for a creative activity, rather than a blank page, can be a helpful prompt for some children. There is an element of creative decision-making that will become more sophisticated later on in different projects. Even having some fun with a pack of stickers can be a creative activity – it might not seem like much, but creative choices and decisions are being made every time a sticker is placed.  You can always link colouring sheets to a broader project or topic – like an art history lesson on a favourite artist – if you would like colouring sheets to be purposeful. The key is perhaps, simply not to over-use them or rely on them too exclusively.

An atmosphere of creativity during the early years can offer so much, not only in terms of physical skills that can be honed for example, pen holding whilst mark-making, working with scissors and so on, but also in terms fostering a resourceful, independent, ‘we can make that’ spirit, a good outlet for busy hands, oftentimes calming, as well as an everyday sense of purpose and possibility. Establishing creativity as a kind of baseline ritual for connection, can also be something that children return to over and over even as they get older.

You don’t have to consider yourself an artist, and you certainly don’t have to know how to teach art or creativity. Following the lead of naturally open and curious children can be an invitation to facilitate creative experiences and mini-adventures at home, let ideas spark more ideas, and hopefully enjoy some family creativity yourself as well 😊

Useful Resources:

The Artful Parent – Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity – Jean Van’t Hul

The Creative Family Manifesto – Amanda Blake Soule

Any of the children’s compilations by Celidh-Jo Rowe & Matthais Weston

© 2024 Abigail Cole

For more creative ideas visit

Leave a Reply