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Beyond the Brush! How Painting with Unusual Objects Builds Toddlers' Brains

Photo by martinedoucet / iStock
Photo by martinedoucet / iStock

By Rachel Ward

Crash! Bam! Thunk! 

Got a toddler? You’re probably used to two things in your house: noises and messes. Toddlers’ exuberance may sometimes be frazzling, but they are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing at this age.  

“Two-year-olds are expanding their understanding of the world in every way they can,” says Meg Davis from KinderCare’s Education team. “They love fun textures, bright colors, loud noises, and big movements. Every new experience brings new information and discoveries that help children map out the world they live in.”

We’re keeping the noisy fun and learning going in our Discovery Preschool classrooms by introducing kids to another entertaining object: flyswatters! And even better, we’re adding in a slightly messy dash of creative expression by asking our awesome two-year-olds to paint with them. (Don’t worry, our paint is washable, and our kids wear smocks.)

Go for It! Practicing Creative Expression and Exploring New Uses for Common Objects Builds Brains

It doesn’t take long for toddlers to figure out how much fun slapping paint onto paper is, especially when there’s such a satisfying “thwack!” (Idea: We recommend this as a family project, too! Put some paper out in the yard and go for it; it’s a surefire way to shake off a tough day.)

Along with building hand-eye coordination, flyswatter art brings a lot to the classroom (other than colorful paint designs). “By using flyswatters instead of paintbrushes, children are developing flexible thinking as they begin to realize that some objects can have more than one use,” explains Davis.

You can help your child work on their flexible thinking by exploring creative uses for items at home. We’ve got some great suggestions to get you started.

What Can THIS Be Used For? 3 Ideas to Help Your Toddler Think Creatively About Everyday Objects

Photo by belchonock / iStock
Photo by belchonock / iStock

1. Turn Socks into Toys and Cleaning Supplies

There’s more than one way to use a sock. Your toddler’s obvious favorite will be sock puppets (of course). Slip a sock over your hand and you’ve got a duster. (And yes, even toddlers can help with chores!) Stuff a sock with some beans, tie it off with a rubber band, and you’ve got a DIY stress ball—great for texture-loving toddlers.

2. Paper Plates Make Great Percussion Instruments

 Is your toddler musically inclined? Make a homemade tambourine by placing some beads or buttons on a plate, stapling another plate on top of it, and voila—you’re ready to rock with the whole DIY jam band.

3. Beach Towels Are Great for Pretend Play AND Learning

These fluffy beach must-haves don’t need to be relegated to solely the shoreline. Is your tot in the mood for some pretend play? A beach towel serves as an excellent cape for your little superhero in the making! It can also serve as a pillow or back support when rolled up, or create shelter from the sun when hung over a tree branch. Ready for some science fun? Let your toddler use a smaller towel to explore how the wind makes it move!

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