Intentionally Simple Art



I like to keep things simple. When it comes to creating an environment or play opportunities for children, I plan straightforward things. I’ve come to learn that what one person considers to be artistic effort does not always match my own.  While I could not determine the worth of an art experience for someone else, I do make very specific choices when offering art experiences for my daughters. 


When I come across what looks like an irresistible play experience, I try to consider the quality of the proposed experience from my daughters’ perspective. So often, I have spoken with parents and educators who get excited by fun ideas, and naturally want to share these with children.  Adults are eager for children to have novel experiences – fun times. My interest is in giving my daughters time to learn about materials, to have ample time to get beyond their novelty. To do this, I keep things simple – very simple.



At 2 years, 2 months, Greysen is now regularly transforming clay lumps into other ideas. I have, on occasion, given Greysen sculpting tools for her to use with the clay. Sometimes she uses them, sometimes she doesn’t.  I have recently decided to stop giving her tools to use with the clay. She was reliant on her hands and didn’t need them, and she has not used playdough spaghetti strainers, cookie cutters, or molds at home, or any other art-related tools that presume that she needs them in order for her to “make” something.


The more that she relies on her hands, the more I notice that she is confident she can transform clay into anything. A lump is labeled “cat,” “cake,” or “bird.” She does not look to me to create things for her, nor is she even dissatisfied because something she molded does not look like someone else’s idea of what it should look like (i.e., as with molds).


I take the “necessity is the mother of invention” approach to setting up art for toddlers.


Recently, I’ve been explaining my choice to keep things simple in our art group. Simple does not equal boring. Well, I guess it could, but rather than define “boring” by an adult’s familiarity with the materials, I try to put my expectations aside and watch the children’s hands at play. Do they seem bored?


Simple blues. Simple intrigue.


I put a high value on offering the familiar art mediums, like paint and brushes, over and over and over again because children, especially infants and toddlers, need loads of time to discover before they have a working knowledge of the art material. Once they develop an internal knowledge of the art material, the play and the ways in which they use the material will transform from exploratory to expressive.


Am I uncommon in this thinking? Do you offer novel art materials frequently, or do you relay on a handful of tried and true mediums?



6 thoughts on “Intentionally Simple Art

  1. We’ve been offering T sidewalk chalk whenever he desires, and not much else. It’s at point where he uses them several times throughout the day, and he is demanding us to do so as well. It’s such a pleasure to watch him become more and more comfortable with the medium each time he picks one up and touches it to the ground, even if that ground is often times my tile kitchen floor.

  2. Thank you. This will change how I help my kids explore art. If I teach school again, it will also change my teaching. It seems so simple, yet I never thought of it!

    1. Alison, thanks for sharing. With so many options it is not always easy to keep things simple. At least for me, I question myself asking if I’m doing enough but am reassured when I see her play. I’d love to hear about and see how art transpires. Keep me posted!

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