Toddler Art: Glue Dots and Buttons

“Art is skill, that is the first meaning of the word.” – Eric Gill

Since she was 15 months old, gluing small objects to paper has been one of Baby Rainbow’s favorite activities (second to climbing into a big bin of cloud dough…sigh). We’ve also done this with sequins, feathers, and pom-poms, but I find that she gets frustrated when the sequins start sticking to her fingers. And when my older daughter was a little older than two, she spent weeks gluing beans, beans, and beans to any paper in sight [see this post]. 

To set this up for a baby or toddler who’s working on fine motor skills, I recommend using a non-white sheet of paper that white glue will show up against. Add big dots of glue to the paper and provide your child with buttons, pebbles, beans, pom-poms or other small objects of uniform shape.

As she gets older, I’ll fill a small bowl with glue and give her a q-tip to apply it to the paper herself. Shortly thereafter she’ll learn how to use a glue bottle on her own, but for now I add the glue and she’s fine with that.

And while she didn’t seem to care if she glued a pink button or black button, as time goes on she’ll refine her choices and a personal aesthetic will develop.

In their early days of art making, children begin with sensory experiences and skill building — in this case, developing fine motor skills and gaining an understanding of glue’s property as an adhesive. When my older child was this age I found that MaryAnn Kohl’s First Art : Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos was an indispensable, dog-eared resource.

I would love to know — What are some of your children’s earliest art-making experiences and art-making skills?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers |
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

Is this your first time here?

Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

It’s Snowing! Contact Paper Collage

This 2-D activity is fantastic for children of all ages, and it doesn’t require any drawing at all. You’ll see how we did this two different ways, making it suitable for children with various drawing abilities and fine motor skills.

{Bonus: Nine more contact paper project ideas at the end of this post!}


  1. Contact Paper (links to Discount School Supply)
  2. Scissors
  3. Colorful Construction Paper
  4. Glue Stick
  5. Markers

To begin, I cut a sheet of contact paper (approximately 12″ x 12″) from a roll, peeled the backing off, and placed it sticky-side up on the table. My daughter cut shapes from the paper and stuck them to the contact paper in whatever way she wanted. Then we attached it to a window, using a long strip of contact paper to seal it in place.

Pretty! While working on this project, my daughter talked about making people, which led to a second project that eventually turned into a winter snow scene.

Again, I set up her work space with a sheet of contact paper, sticky-side-up. We both cut shapes from the paper, and N put them in position where she thought they looked right. The nice thing about contact paper is that it’s tacky, but not super sticky, and pieces can be easily repositioned. We did a lot of that!

I cut a variety of geometric shapes (circles, rectangles, and triangles) and a bunch of organic shapes for her to choose from. She also placed requests: In the process of making this person, she asked for long, skinny pieces for the arms and legs. I liked that because it showed that she had ideas and could direct the outcome of her image.

She chose to stick most of the pieces directly to the contact paper, and others were glued in layers on top of other pieces.

Every now and then she’d lift the whole thing to see how it looked with light streaming through it.

She started making a pattern of small circles on the top of the paper, and then decided it should be a snow storm. I got busy cutting circles, circles, and more circles until she deemed that there was enough snow! The big white pieces on the right side are part of a snow bank. Ha! She knows a lot about snow for a California kid!

And we hung it in our sunny, warm, snow-free window when we were done.


Having a roll of contact paper in our art cabinet is a life-saver. In case you’re looking for a reason to buy your very own roll, here are nine more ideas:

  1. Contact Paper Sun Catcher: TinkerLab
  2. Sticky Autumn Collage: TinkerLab
  3. Flower Mandala: The Artful Parent
  4. Flower Art Box: The Artful Parent
  5. Fall Leaf Garland: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
  6. So Easy Kaleidoscope: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
  7. Rose Window: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
  8. Animal Collage: Art for Little Hands
  9. Mess-Free Chanukah Pictures: Creative Jewish Mom

Do you have a favorite contact paper project? New feature: Feel free to add a link or an image in the comment section!

Face Collage for Scribblers

When I was an art teacher, the youngest age group I worked with was Kindergarten so I rarely had the chance to witness a child’s transition from scribbling to representational drawing. My three year old daughter is at the precipice of representational drawing and it’s an exciting place to be, but she can get frustrated that she can’t create what she imagines (which is often!) and frequently asks me to draw things for her. This can be tricky because it goes against my belief that children should find their own way with visual representation and I’m often reluctant to draw things for her.

This project was born from a need to manifest her vision while also matching her abilities, and would be appropriate for children on the verge of creating representational drawings as well as those who draw realistically. Links to information about stages of artistic development at the end of this post.

I cut circles, rectangles, half circles, and some organic shapes from colorful recycled pantry boxes and spread them out on the table for my daughter to choose from. N chose a light blue oval for the face shape (also pre-cut), glued it to a 9 x 12 sheet of paper, and selected pieces to represent the parts of the face.

Facilitating and Asking Questions

I acted as a facilitator and if she seemed stumped I would ask questions such as, “What part of the face is next to the eyes?” “Ears? Okay, can you find a shape that could be an ear?”

I tried not to guide her decision-making and made room for her to adhere the pieces in the way she envisioned it, even if I didn’t think it was “accurate.”

She added the eyes (on top), nose, ears, orange cheeks, a mouth, and an aluminum foil philtrum (the area between the mouth and nose!). Did you know it’s called a philtrum? I didn’t!! I thought she was adding a mustache on top, but she explained that it was just a ribbon! Always ask before making assumptions!

She wanted to make curl the ribbon into a circle and I helped her glue it together. I enjoyed watching her vacillate between reality and imagination in one sitting.

When she finished the first picture she moved on to the next one (after a costume change, of course!), and this time it was all about the imagination — no faces involved!


  • For more on the developmental stages of children’s drawings, Viktor Lowenfeld is the last word on this topic and you’ll learn a lot about it here.
  • For even more from Viktor Lowenfeld, you could read this seminal book from him: Creative and Mental Growth. I just bought a used copy for myself for just $7!

How did your children make the transition from scribbles to representational drawing?

Glittery Cotton Ball Collage

My very active almost 3-year old hopped off her bike just long enough to work on a collage. The weather has been so nice, and I can’t really blame her.


  • Cardstock: 8.5 x 11, from a fat ream I picked up at the office supply store
  • White glue in a jar
  • Glitter
  • Scissors
  • Short-handled artist brushes
  • Collage Materials: Cotton balls, tissue paper, pasta, paint chips

She mixed the glitter and glue with a brush. Now that N’s fine motor skills are more refined, I really like these short-handled artist brushes because they enable her to paint marks as she imagines them. I think I picked them up as part of a set in the art supply section of JoAnn Fabrics. We also have a stash of fat toddler-friendly brushes, which cover large surfaces quickly in case that’s what she’s after.

She painted the glitter-glue onto the card stock.

And then she added do-dads to the glue.

A few pieces of pasta and tissue paper later and we had ourselves a beautiful child-designed glittery cotton ball collage.

Do you have a favorite collage technique?

Glittery Collage with Acrylic Gloss Medium

Have you used gloss medium before? It’s a clear acrylic paint that is great for sealing two-dimensional projects.

I was cleaning out the laundry room and came across an old bottle of acrylic gloss medium and varnish. Have you ever used this stuff? It’s awesome! It’s essentially glue wrapped up in a paint bottle, and so easy to apply with a paintbrush. And when it dries it leaves a beautiful, unifying glossy finish that makes everything look purposeful.

I also have a stash of laminate and wood pieces that I thought would make a good substrate for this project. I let N go through the pile and choose the ones she wanted. You can see her two choices in the picture up there.


  • Acrylic gloss medium. I also like matte medium, but the final look is obviously different.
  • Wood, linoleum, cardboard or some other sturdy surface to collage onto.
  • Paintbrush
  • Collage papers: We used aluminum foil and bleeding tissue paper
  • Scissors
  • Bowl for the gloss medium
  • Glitter

We put the materials out together, and N wanted to cut the aluminum foil. I showed her how it’s easily torn, but she loves cutting. It’s very empowering, and I guess foil is pretty fun to cut.

While she worked on the aluminum foil, I started cutting the tissue paper. Why, I don’t know, since she wanted to do that too. I should know better.

Once it was all set up, she began painting gloss medium on the laminate…

and sticking papers onto it. We talked a bit about layering and composition, and I used language like, “You’re layering the yellow paper on top of the blue paper” and “I see you chose to put the red piece vertically, next to the green piece.” It’s the teacher in me, for sure, but language like this also helps build vocabulary and contextualize the process.

Once her fingers got a bit gooey, some of the pieces stuck to her hand and she realized she could ball them up and stick them down in a new way.

And then she spotted the glitter and came up with the idea of shaking it right into the medium. Bravo!

And oh my goodness, the party just began! This got goopy and gluey, and the middle layer got higher and higher. I can’t even remember how many times she asked if she could add more medium to the bowl.

Once dry, the medium is completely clear, allowing all of the colors to shine through. I’m really excited about this piece, and love that it was created on a more permanent substrate…perfect for hanging. It feels substantial and archival and I’m thinking it could be a pretty nice father’s day gift.

What are your ideas?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime