Toddler Art: Glue Dots and Buttons

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“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?

Face Collage for Scribblers

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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!

Resources

  • 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

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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.

Materials

  • 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?

Tissue Paper Collage

Back Camera

I have a child who rarely smiles for the camera and doesn’t seem to appreciate a mom who wants to document everything (she’ll thank me when she’s older, right?). When bribed with something along the lines of cupcakes, I may have some luck, but I usually hear comments like “put your phone down!” and “Mommy, no pictures! Make art with me!” Sooo, when I snapped this picture at the end of a recent art moment, I thought to myself, “hey, we must have hit art project gold here!” In hindsight, I think she was wowed by the idea of camouflage (more on that later), but why not start a blog post with a smiling kid, right?

What you will need:

  • White glue and Water
  • Small pieces of tissue paper. I cut mine into little irregular rectangles, but any shape will do. Ours is the “bleeding kind” from Discount School Supply, but if you’re scrounging around for materials for a project you’re doing RIGHT NOW!, see if you have any stashed away with your gift wrapping. Basically, you want really thin paper that will easily soak into the glue. My daughter called this “booger paper,” presumably because we use tissues to wipe noses. So funny.
  • Paper to use as a substrate
  • Thick paintbrush
  • Containers to hold glue and tissue papers

Mix a little bit of water with glue to make a paintable paste. Liquid starch will also do the trick.

Mix the glue and water together. I thought our brushes were clean, but it appears that the glue soaked some purple paint out of the bristles. No worries — we happen to like the color purple, and it added a nice splash of color to the paper :)

Paint some of the glue mixture on the paper, and then stick pieces of tissue paper on the glue. Encourage layering. The piece in the foreground is where I demonstrated the process, trying to keep it simple and not too prescriptive.

Selecting pieces of tissue — creative and critical thinking at work!

The project evolved into making “teeny weeny pieces of art.”

And then we opened a factory.

Surprisingly, this is what cracked her up. She glued a piece of white tissue to the paper, which of course disappeared. We talked about camouflage, and how we can’t see white paper when it’s glued to another sheet of white paper because they “match.” With Halloween around the corner, I placed an orange tissue paper on top of one of our pumpkins, to show that this phenomena occurs with colors other than white. And then the laughing started. So, in case you were wondering, camouflage is pretty funny in the mind of this 28 month old!

Beans are for Gluing

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Unless they’re refried and smothered in guacamole, my daughter is not a huge fan of eating beans. But, when given the opportunity to glue the little suckers to a piece of paper, the very same beans are her friends. After spending way too much time grazing the bulk bins on a recent trip to the market, we filled up a bag with a colorful potpourri of bean soup for art making, of course.  This simple little activity is a great way to extend gluing, glittering, and collaging activities. My kid adores glue, so this one was bound to please.  And for the last week, a bowl of beans has graced our art table for spontaneous moments of bean art.

The Creative Hook

  • Picking up little beans builds fine motor skills
  • Making art with non-art materials teaches kids to think outside the box
  • Problem-solving skills will be encouraged as children make choices about where and how to place the glue and beans

Materials

  • Beans
  • Paper
  • Bottle of Glue

Directions

  • Offer your child a piece of paper, bottle of glue, and a bowl of beans
  • If gluing objects is a new activity for the child, demonstrate — on your own sheet of paper — how to squeeze the glue and drop beans in the glue puddles. Otherwise, let your child have at it.

Follow up

My daughter made two bean pictures the first day we made these. When I thought she was “done” with her second piece, I was surprised to watch her make the decision to coat each of her beans with another layer of glue “to make them disappear.” Very cool. And then, a couple days later, I was was reminded of the importance of making creative activities and supplies accessible when she walked over to her table to make bean art just minutes after waking up.

Extension for School-Age Kids

If you have older children, they may enjoy making a bean mosaic like this one from Frugal Family Fun Blog or this one from Disney’s Family Fun.  And here’s an edible version, using jelly beans, which is definitely for the older crowd. My child would just spend the whole time eating, and none of the beans would make it into the art.

Glitter, Glitter Everywhere

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Okay, I’ll be honest. If you want to keep your home clean or you have a fear of “the mess,” this may not be the post to read. Today we played with glitter, and the stuff can get everywhere!  The initial plan was to use some glitter glue, but as I squeezed the bottle for our trial run, a crack in the bottom of the bottle split open, causing a mound of glitter glue to ooze all over my hand. So, with a glitter-eager toddler awaiting this highly anticipated moment, I was obliged to pull out some shakers of real glitter and the show went on.  The upside here, for anyone who’s feeling less than enthusiastic about embarking on a glitter activity after reading my report thus far, is that N LOVED playing with the stuff. And, if you choose to go the glitter glue route, there’s barely any mess at all.

We had some doilies left over from our Doily Drawings so we used them as the substrate, but any 2-D surface will do. Actually, the holes in the doilies posed some glitter-shaking problems, and I’d probably shy away from them next go around (although there is something pretty about lacy doilies and shiny glitter). With a two-year old, there’s only so much you can do with glitter, but if you have older kids, you may like to try making glittery fairy wands or glitter leaves. And if YOU are giddy for glitter too, Martha Stewart has a whole slew of Halloween glitter activities that will keep you busy for the next few months. Finally, if your child likes glitter like mine does, it’s a great embellishment for just about any art activity. Think of it as an art accessory.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need if you want to get your glitter on:

The Creative Hook

We did this activity for a few reasons.

  • My daughter had yet to use glitter, and the novelty of a new materials posed all sorts of opportunities for exploration.
  • The steps involved with working with glitter are somewhat involved, and the process requires patience and focus.
  • My initial plan was to use glitter glue and then introduce the glitter shaker on a subsequent day, but the plan fell through. The reason for this is that I’ve noticed my child is bonkers for shaking things out of littler containers (candy sprinkles, parmesan cheese, cocoa, cinnamon, etc.) and it was apparent that shaking glitter would be a natural extension of her current fascination with shaking and sprinkling.
  • The visual payoff can be striking, and kids may be wowed by the shimmery effect of the glitter.

Materials

  • Glitter-Glue or Glue & Glitter Shakers. You can find glitter in craft stores, and I’d recommend buying stuff that’s specifically in the kid section because it’s less likely to be super fine and/or toxic. Buy a few colors if you can.
  • Paper
  • Plate, box, or trash can for shaking glitter into

Directions

  • If you’re using glitter glue, show your child how to use it, and let him or her explore how the material works.
  • If you’re using glitter AND glue, show your child how to squeeze glue on the paper, gently shake glitter over the glue, and then shake the extra glue off and onto the plate or into the trash can.

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