7 Simple Open-ended Art Ideas For Infants and Toddlers

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Open-ended art can offer many opportunities for your child to strengthen their skills and develop new ones. Allowing them to expressive themselves and explore their creativity with art not only provides an opportunity for emotional development but can also support social, language, cognitive, and physical development as well.

What Is Open-ended Art?

Open-ended art focuses on the process rather than the final product. This is different from adult-led art or crafts which follow a set of steps to create a specific product.

Here are a few differences between the two types of art.

no instructions to followstep-by-step instructions
opportunity to explore variety of materials and toolsonly specific materials and tools are used
no sample, ideas are child’s ownpattern and sample to follow
focus on process and the experiencefocus on the final product
finished art is uniquefinished products all look the same

Open-ended art may not look like much of anything when a child is finished, especially for infants and toddlers, however the important part is the skills they are building while creating the art.

Benefits of Open-ended Art

There are numerous benefits to engaging in open-ended art activities. Here are my top 3 reasons you need to give it a try.

  1. It supports the development of the whole child. By engaging skills from all areas of development, open-ended art provides multiple learning opportunities for children.
  2. Allows children to explore art as they wish instead of following an adult-led product focused experience.
  3. Encourages creativity that allows children to create individual and unique pieces of artwork.
finger painting

Spending time on open-ended art experiences allows children to use and strengthen skills that will help them succeed later in life. You can read more about the benefits of open-ended art on child development here.

7 Open-ended Art Ideas

For infants and toddlers just starting to do art activities there will be a lot more time spent exploring materials and tools. You can still offer guidance and set rules, for example “the paint goes on the paper”, while allowing them to explore. With this in mind here are a few ideas to get started with open-ended art at home.

Water Painting

Does the mess from painting make you apprehensive about trying it with your little one? Give this a try instead. Offer paint brushes and water for painting. You can do this on paper or cardboard or even bring it outside and try it on the side of the house or sidewalk. It’s mess free! You can easily wipe up spills inside, while outside the water just dries up. Recommended for any age.

Window Art

This is such a simple activity to try. You will need some coloured paper (8.5×11), scissors, tissue paper pieces (I buy precut squares) and a roll of ‘peel and stick’ laminating paper (you want one side to be sticky). With the coloured paper you want to cut out a frame (any shape is fine) then place it on the adhesive side of the laminating paper and cut it out.

Now offer the framed laminate paper to your child with pieces of tissue. They can then place the tissue onto the adhesive side of the laminate inside the frame. When they have finished you will need to cut a second piece of laminate to seal their art, put both adhesives sides together. Hang it in a window to see the sun shine through the coloured tissue. Recommended for 10 months and up.



Offer paper and crayons to provide an opportunity for scribbling. This is an important step in building fine motor strength and movement needed to develop writing skills. Look for beginner crayons, which are larger than normal and allow the child to use a full grasp, then move on to other writing tools for them to explore as their skills develop. Recommended for 12 months and up.

Finger Painting

Allow your child to explore their creativity with an added sensory experience. It’s a great first step for infants while they are still learning to hold paintbrushes or other art tools. Be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don’t put any finger paint in their mouth. If you’re having trouble finding finger paint safe for your child’s age you can try make your own with this recipe. Recommended for 12 months and up.

Modelling Clay

There are so many creative possibilities with modelling clay. Squish and mould the clay, or try rolling it out and make animal, car, or dinosaur tracks. Once it is dry it can even be painted. This activity is an excellent way to strengthen fine motor skills, get my recipe here. Recommended for 18 months and up.



Paper, paintbrushes, and paint are standard for this activity but feel free to think outside the box and let your child get creative. There are more options than just paper and paintbrushes for them to explore. Try other tools such as cotton swabs, kitchen utensils, items from nature (leaves or flowers), or sponges. Let them paint on old boxes or items in your recycling. Recommended for 18 months and up.

Play Dough

Use my favourite no-cook recipe to make this play dough that lasts for weeks. Children can start by squishing and exploring play dough on its on own. Then they can start to mould it into shapes to build and create with it. Recommended for 18 months and up.


For all art materials and tools make sure they are age appropriate for your child. The activities listed are just suggestions and may not be appropriate for all children. It is common for children to go through periods of mouthing where they are putting objects or their hands in their mouth. Some activities may need to be more closely monitored or you can avoid activities with paint, clay and dough during these periods of mouthing. You know your child best.

Offering open-ended art materials gives children opportunities to explore their creativity as well as express their ideas and feelings freely. Children can find so much joy out of doing their own art rather than product-focused art. One of the best things we can do as parents is let our children be themselves.

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