Let Them Grow: Setting Up the Toddler Who Wants to Get To Work!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Industrious Toddler

I have found that young toddlers thrive on exploring the world around them. Finding new ways to create and explore can mean the difference between a boring day and a day filled with the emergence of new skills. Lately with the snow over the babes heads, finding new ways to master skills such as cutting, grasping, gluing, sorting and creating has taking up the bulk of our art time.

Toddlers love repetition, as you may have noticed. They love the predictability of repeated motions, motions that will soon be a mastered skill. They thrive in a child-centered environment. A place where all the tools on the table are for them to explore, there is no one telling them “please don’t touch” instead all the supplies are screaming “touch me” and “ figure me out.”

The industrious art projects that can help you through this winter are just as much educational as they are fun. Help your toddler master fine motors skills such as scissors, tweezers, knives, forks, spoons by giving them the opportunity to uses such tools on a toddler friendly forum!

Whole Punches and Glue

Whole punches can get expensive, I buy them when they are on sale at the craft store and have many on hand now. The children love the process of whole punching shapes and designs out of magazine paper. Using a light weight paper will allow for easier punching and eventually your toddler will be able to use the punches on her own. Have a container on hand for your little busy bee to move the punched shapes into. After you have a bunch-a-punches, you can glue them or find other creative uses for them, however it is the process of punching that is the project here.

Tearing and cutting paper

Tearing paper is a favorite past time of mine. By selecting different weights, colors and sizes of paper, you can make tearing and cutting interesting for even older toddlers and preschoolers. I enjoy collecting a huge array of interesting papers, magazine clippings, nature photos, images of people etc.,. and allowing the children to choose what papers they would like to cut or tear. Mastering scissors is a huge feat. This fine motor skills it takes to operate these complex tools is no joke. Toddler will need an adult to help orientate the scissors a few times before they can hold them properly. They will need a little help practicing opening and closing the blades before they can start to cut. Once they get it, encourage them to cut out shapes, faces or everything (green, big, orange). Beginning to sort is a great cognitive task, they won’t even realize that they are learning.

Cutting Dough

Using scissors to cut dough is also a lot of fun. When working with dough, offer your child a bunch of utensils to choose from. I prefer offering actual tools such as dull scissors, knives, forks, pizza cutters and so on. Using dough as a learning tool is a fun way to pass some time and have fun together.

Filling bean pots with tweezers

Using tweezers is a hard task for anyone. I purchased giant plastic toddler tweezers that seem to be a good fit for around 15 months-4 years old. Tweezers are an excellent fine motor tool that can require a lot of attention to detail. By offering things that are easy to pick up like pom-poms or packing peanuts, your child can feel success right away with tweezers. As soon as you feel they have mastered the bigger lighter objects, begin introducing smaller more difficult objects like beans. Beans are a tough challenge, so be on hand to offer support if your child becomes frustrated. To make this activity more interesting, offer a container with a lid that your child can transfer the objects to and from. You can mix this up by offering different sized spoons and forks for the bean transfer.

Stamping and Rolling

This is by far my favorite toddler industrious activity. Children love stamping. There are millions of stamps to choose from. At any school supply site, you can find stamps with handles that the children love. However, any kind of stamp is fun. Making your own stamps from found objects is also a fun activity. By using fruits, paper towel rolls, caps, blocks and just about anything, you can make stamping a engaging art project. A helpful hint for toddler stamping is buying toddler stamp pads, the bigger the ink pad, the better. Other than that, let them go. Stamping is a great art activity that children of almost any age can do by themselves. We like to save the stamped paper to create cards, or gift-wrap later on. Rolling tamps are another great toddler activity.

Any activity where a toddler can explore sensory and fine motor skills is a win -win. It is fun as for the adult to watch and even more fun for the toddler to create.


Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programing for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.

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