Category Archives: Art Ideas for Little Ones

Muddy play

This week we are inspired by our collaboration with the Botanic Gardens and the amazing mud play area they’ve build us. You don’t need a giant area like this though, just some mud in a tray or storage drawer or an empty area of the garden to dig in will be enjoyed by children. Try to dress them so the play won’t be spoiled by either of you worrying about mess. It is fun to have some art materials like paper but also some toys for imaginative play and water to add to make it sensory. Give them lots of tools for mixing and bowls for holding it in. Try to follow the lead from wee ones and what they are interested in exploring as much as possible. Here are some ideas:


Have some bowls and scoops (just old kitchen ones are fine) for mixing and dishing out. A toy tea set would be amazing or some old pots.


Having some water for pouring will let them make foods and potions, mix paint or create a volcano like ours.


Add in some toys for imaginative play, like toy animals or dinosaurs or diggers and trucks. Children will enjoy creating small worlds in their mud area

You could try some muddy art work. The artist Richard Long used mud collected on walks to create art  works. In these he has made a huge mud painting on a gallery wall and a small work on paper with a pattern of mud finger prints.

If you show your wee ones that mixing water with the mud will make a paint you can let them experiment. It helps to have the biggest paper you can find. Even an old white sheet would do and give them lots of scope for some big splatters. Like us they could try making marks by splatting from a height, using a brush or just their hands.

    Or even their feet!

The important thing is to have fun getting a bit messy in this sensory and creative play and to enjoy watching how wee ones can experiment and test out a material. You may come up with lots of other ideas that we haven’t included.

Leaf pictures

We thought we’d share some of the activities for little ones from our collaboration with University of Dundee Botanic Gardens and today we are starting with making art from natural materials.

These pictures are from the artist Andy Goldsworthy and you can see how he uses natural materials like leaves and sticks to make patterns in the landscape.

Next time you are in the outdoors, like a park or the botanics, try encouraging wee ones to collect materials like fallen leaves, pinecones etc as you walk about. Make sure to only collect things which have fallen from plants rather than picking, unless it’s your own garden. And make sure not to pick anything that may be toxic such as berries. Toddlers especially seem to enjoy collecting so maybe take a wee bag that they can carry themselves and collect in. Then lay out all their finds for them on a grassy area and show them how to start making patterns or shapes. Then let them explore and chose how they want to arrange the materials.

Make sure you take some photos of their creations as the works themselves will blow away.

If they enjoyed this you might want to try making shapes for them to decorate with leaves. We used a simple hedgehog outline and they can use leaves or other natural materials to create the spikes.


You could draw an outline yourself or you can download ours below to use if you have a printer. You could also try making simple bird shapes or bugs for them to add wings with leaves. You could glue the leaves on when you get home or just take a photo then tip them off and use the picture another day.

hedgehog template

For other ideas with natural materials see our leaf printing or flower patterns

Botanic Gardens Collaboration

Inspired by the current exhibition at the DCA by Stuart Whipps, we have collaborated with the University of Dundee Botanic Gardens to offer families from Homestart and Dundee International Women’s Centre free visits and creative activities when they are there.

There is now an amazing mud pit for wee ones to explore, try out some messy play, and use their imaginations to create small muddy worlds.

And we have left activity packs with ideas for mud painting, creating rubbings and making art from leaves.








Happily the mud area is open to any visitors to the Botanics and you can now also pick up a worksheet with a rubbing hunt, crayons and a hedgehog to create with leaves from reception so please do visit with children and have a shot. The botanics is such a beautiful space to visit and the mud area is in a lovely cosy greenhouse so it’s perfect if the weather isn’t great.

We have also made 0-3 activity packs for the DCA create space which tie in to the exhibition. The Create Space is free to book for your family during your visit to DCA and you will be able to play and try out the packs. You can book online through the DCA website here

Art at the Start and Dundee Science Centre

All this week Art at the Start, DCA and Dundee Science Centre have teamed up to do science and art activities, all themed on art and looking. You can find them all on the science centre’s home learning portal here

You’ll find some colour theory, optical illusions, remembering games and more. There are also links to older ones activities that connect with previous exhibitions at DCA.

Lights and Shadows

This week we are making art from light and shadows. This activity is very easy, needs only things you will have at home and makes no mess. It is also a really nice direct way for little ones to see how their actions have immediate effects; as they move about, their shadows move. This is a way to help them learn that they can take actions which do the things they want and that they have control over events or actions, what we call ‘self efficacy’ and ‘agency’. Both of these can help build their sense of self. This game is also nice for relationships as you can make up stories together and have each others shadows interact. For babies the high contrast of black and white is engaging. As always this activity is designed to be done together so don’t leave unsupervised children with lights.

you need:

  • some white fabric like a sheet or a table cloth spread out between 2 chairs so there is a space where you can go behind the sheet.
  • a spotlight, table lamp or torch aimed at the sheet
  • a darkened room
  • hands for making puppets and maybe some toys that will cast good shadows or card fro your recycling to cut out your own.

Start by shining the light onto the front of the sheet and then you can sit in front and show wee ones how they can use their hands to cast shadows onto the fabric. You can play about at trying to make your hands look like animals. The easiest is to use your fingers to make some kind of beak or mouth and then your puppets can talk to each other. Or just see what different effects you can create together.  Show them how putting their hands nearer or further from the light can change the size of the shadow. Babies especially will be happy to just look at the high contrast visuals they are getting from the shadows whereas toddlers and pre-schoolers might want to develop more of a story or ‘show’.

Once wee ones understand how it is working you could move the light behind the sheet to make it into more of a puppet theatre if you like.  You could take turns showing each other an idea or get siblings involved in putting together a story for you to watch. Our pre-school aged tester really liked to have his ‘show’ filmed on a phone so he could then watch it back but sometimes you might prefer to just stay in the moment and focus on the game together.

You might like to add to your range of puppets. What about making some extra features from card to hold in their hands like we make an extra snake tongue here. Or you can add in some of their own toys to hold up and see what they create as a shadow. We are using play mobile figures and trees here. If you want to be really fancy you can use sticky tape to tape some toys to chop sticks so there is a handle to hold and it’s easier for them to keep their own shadow out of the way.

There are lots of different possibilities so have fun experimenting and seeing what engages little ones’ imaginations.

Footprint trails

When painting with wee ones we seem to make a lot of footprints. This is great as they like the feel of the paint on their feet and it’s also a quick way for them to see their impact in the world through mark making when they stamp down their print. It’s also nice to keep prints to see how they are growing. If you are looking for something else to do with all those footprints then try this trail idea to turn them into a game.


You need:

  • Paper
  • Paint (or you could draw round feet in pen and cut out instead)
  • scissors
  • covered floor


Start by painting wee ones feet or having them step into a tray of paint and then pressing their feet down onto paper. It’s a good idea to have an old towel ready to wipe off on or a bowl of water ready so it doesn’t get spread through your house. You can make as many footprints as you can, the more you have the better.

Once they have dried you can now cut out the footprints. If you have toddlers or pre-schoolers they could help you with this but it’s also fun to do it secretly after bed time so you can set up the trail as a surprise. If you don’t have enough footprints you can also cut round some to create extra. Once you have a big handful lay them out round your house or garden as a trail for them to follow. At the end you might want to hide a toy animal or have a little treat to find.

Children will enjoy recognising that it’s their own prints which have made the trail. You can play at having them jump from print to print or you can space them out a bit further so they have to hunt. If you ask them to do the trail backwards after they’ve found the end then you can keep the prints for another day. We’ve done this trail every day this week so far in different places as it was very popular. I had to stop leaving jaffa cakes at the end and switch to cuddly toys!


Some explorations with clay

In this activity we want to allow little ones to explore clay; how it feels and what it can do. So we are setting up a couple of invitations for them to explore it and trying to follow their lead rather than giving them a set idea of what they have to produce. It can be tricky for parents to go with the flow like that but even young children enjoy directing their own ideas and you may be surprised by what they come up with. If you provide interesting materials and a little demo of ways they might work together and then just support them in what they come up with it will be really fun for you both.

Some ideas of materials to use:

  • Clay – air dry clay from the craft shop or you could use salt dough like this recipe
  • interesting objects that leave a mark when pressed in – we have used shells here but you could try a fork, sticks, toy figures, just make sure anything you use is safe for your age of wee one
  • some stick materials for construction – we used lolly sticks but you could also use actual sticks or straws or pencils
  • some water for smoothing clay or helping it stick
  • rolling pin if you have one or a can or bottle can work to roll out if you don’t

Our first clay exploration idea is to show little ones how objects can leave a mark in the clay. Help them to roll out a piece of clay to about a cm thick and offer them a selection of interesting objects. You might show them how an object can be pressed in to make a mark yourself and then see what they chose to do. They may want to make impressions or they may like to leave the objects embedded. Do they make a pattern or do it randomly. Even babies will like to see the park they can make as it lets them see how they can have an impact on the world. You can leave their creations to dry on a sunny windowsill if they are clay or in a low oven if they are salt dough. (If they are full of bits and can’t go in the oven salt dough will also eventually dry out on a window). On another day wee ones might like to come back and paint these.

Our next exploration is using clay to build a construction by combining it with some sticks like lolly sticks or twigs. Help little ones to create a base and show them how the sticks will hold upright if you put them in the clay. Then they can get started exploring the possibilities. Some may like to make something that looks a bit like a stick hedgehog or a Stonehenge. If you see that toddlers might like to build something higher, show them that clay can be used as a joining material by placing a ball where sticks meet. You can also show how a little bit of clay dipped in water can be smoothed over to hold pieces together. Sometimes things will fall down but that is OK, most children will enjoy the process of experimenting and you can let them try out different ideas and support them when they need it or have an idea they need help to realise. Ours ended up looking a little bit like an Eiffel Tower. You can let wee ones decide if they want to keep their creation and let it dry on a window or take it apart and save the clay in something airtight for another day.

Flower patterns

We are continuing with the Children’s Art Week theme of nature and trying out some flower patterns. If you have older children then DCA have put up an activity for making nature inspired wallpaper here but this is a slightly simpler version for little ones. It’s a really nice way to connect little ones to nature through something creative and explore colours, textures and shapes. You will need to start by exploring the garden or a local green space to collect some interesting flowers and leaves. Make sure you have permission to pick and if wee ones are still putting things in their mouths make sure plants are non toxic. Good edible flowers are rose petals, pansies or violas, borage or calendula but always be careful and if you are not sure give it a miss. You could chat with wee ones about how you just take one flower from each plant so that the plant will still be happy to introduce some thinking about the environment. Talk about how the different plants feel, look and smell.

When you get home get wee ones to help you spread all the finds out and you could see if they can play at sorting them into colours or size or into number of petals if they are big enough. Then give them some paper and let them experiment with making patterns. If they are small they might want to lay out their favourites but toddlers might start making repeat patterns or trying some symmetry. You could demonstrate some patterns yourself.


These are transitory art works but if you would like to keep them, take a photo or you could try pressing the flowers. To do this put another sheet of paper on top and put them in the pages of a book with lots more heavy books on top. After a week or so flowers should be pressed and could be glued down to keep or put onto cards. Or you could use the flowers in our ice stained glass activity here.


Leaf Printing for children’s Art Week

This week we are celebrating Children’s Art Week. Try this activity designed for 0-3 year olds on the CAW20 theme of nature. You will need to take your wee one outside to the garden or for a wander in a park so you can collect some interesting leaves to print with. Talk about the different shapes, textures and colours you are finding. 

If you have a baby putting things in their mouth then make sure any plant you pick is non-toxic. 

When you get home you need:

  • A baking tray
  • Green paint
  • A brush or roller
  • Paper
  • Their leaf collection

Start by helping your wee one to spread the green paint over the back of the baking tray using brushes, roller or hands. Once the tray is covered they can choose the leaf shapes they like and lay these out in a pattern.

Lay on a sheet of paper and help them to rub all over the back of it. When you peel it off you should have a print with the negative shapes of the leaves.

Now if you carefully remove the leaves and press on another sheet of paper and rub over the back you will make a print with the leaf textures on it so you get a pair of images.


Really long brushes

This is a fun way to add interest and a new way of painting for toddlers. It is good for their motor skills as they try and use the long brushes and it also lets them paint really big and with lots of expression so it’s nice to see what they come up with. This is easiest done outside so you don’t need to worry about mess so it’s good in this nice weather. You obviously need to be able to stand and hold the brushes for this one so it doesn’t work so well for teeny ones. If you want to do something similar with babies you could try holding them over big paper on the floor and letting them use their feet or letting them crawl on top of the paper and through the paint and use their whole bodies like we did here

You need:

  • water based paint in trays 
  • Paint brushes
  • Long sticks – we used bamboo canes, the handle of a broom and a mop pole but anything long will do. If the ends seem sharp you could make them safer by putting a ball of blue tack or some tape over them
  • Tape or string to tie on the brushes
  • A big painting surface like a roll of paper, an unfolded cardboard box or some fabric like a sheet or old curtains

Help your children to attach brushes to the end of the long sticks by wrapping them on with tape or tying with string. Then lay out something big to paint on to and let them experiment with standing up and trying to dip the brushes into paint trays on the floor and then making marks on the paper. You could do a demo if they are not sure what to do but most will pick it up quickly and enjoy being given this freedom to experiment and go big. This one even looked fun enough for big brother to join in!