Nature Art Activities for Toddlers: Painting with Leaves, Flowers, and More

hands painting with branches and leaves

By Rachel Ward

For toddlers, curiosity is the name of the game—and it keeps them moving all day, every day. Weary grownups, take note: This boundless energy and spirit of exploration is a good thing! 

“With every new texture, sensation, and item they discover, toddlers are building an understanding of the world around them,” says Meg Davis from KinderCare’s Education team. “That’s great for their development because it actually helps them form neural connections in their brains, which enables them to learn even more.” 

That’s why this week, toddlers in our KinderCare centers are diving into nature (and getting a little messy) with a fun creative expression activity that helps them explore natural items and new art materials! 

Kids’ Art with Natural Materials Opens the Doors to Higher Learning

Rather than use a same-old, same-old paintbrush, our tots are using leaves, flowers, and sticks to plop, swirl, and mash paint to create their masterpiece.

There’s a reason why we skip the paintbrushes. “By working with natural objects, children are exploring their different textures, shapes, and colors, all while building fine-motor skills,” says Davis.

At the same time, painting with different items—say, a twig and a leaf—gives kids an intro to the scientific concept of cause and effect. (“I spread paint with the leaf and it crumbled, but the twig is still fine.”)

Here’s some quick and easy ways you can explore creative expression at home.

Welcome to the Wild Side: 4 Ways to Get Creative with Your High-Energy Toddler

1. Make Some Mud Doodles

Just say yes to mess! (Especially the outside variety.) Find a nice mud puddle (or make your own mud in a bucket) and encourage your child to draw whatever patterns or images they like using their fingers. You can also whip up some mud pies, too!

Photo by Jelena Jojic Tomic / Stocksy / 431854
Photo by Jelena Jojic Tomic / Stocksy

2. Have a Dance Party

Creative expression isn’t just arts and crafts. Whether your tastes run Taylor Swift or Sergeant Pepper, family dance parties are a great way for toddlers to explore movement and show how they’re feeling. (Also great if your workout regimen has taken a backseat to…toddler-rearing.)

3. Explore Unique Art Materials

Try using other kinds of materials to create some art! How does paint spread when your tot uses cotton balls or an aluminum-foil square? What kind of mosaic could they create with glue sticks and natural materials like dry rice, corn, or grain*? (If you want to take it to the next level, check out our great options to turn the walls of your house into an art-friendly zone.)

*Safety tip: Always supervise your child around small objects that could be choking hazards.

4. Pull out the Pots and Pans for a Jam Session

Lots of pots plus lots of instruments for jamming (think whisks, wooden spoons, spatulas, and egg beaters) equals a raucous good time. Get in on the act or throw in some ear plugs and let the wailing begin.

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