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Encouraging the Young Painter

Girl pouting

Painting is another activity your 2- to 3-year-old will greet with gusto. The best art materials for this age group are water-based (and thus washable), nontoxic poster paints, several thick brushes, and large white drawing or newsprint paper. A junior-size easel allows your toddler to see her masterpiece from a convenient vantage point.

Since early painting efforts are a messy business, buy your child a smock or make one from an old shirt, and cover the floor with newspaper or a painter's cloth. Then give your child free rein -- to dip a brush into various colors and to stroke the paint on the paper in blobs and splashes.

Don't offer advice or direction, other than perhaps the admonition (for obvious reasons) to stay on the paper. As tempting as it may seem, it's best for a parent to resist the urge to direct a child's activities. Even if your child is the next Leonardo da Vinci, you won't see any recognizable forms in his artwork for a long time to come. Drawing and painting are slowly acquired skills. In the meantime, give lots of praise and encouragement for these early efforts, and display the results prominently.

Modeling clay is a medium your 2-year-old will also enjoy. She can pound it with a small toy hammer, cut out shapes with plastic cookie cutters, or just knead it with her hands. Keep it in an airtight container between uses to prevent the clay from drying out. Once again, designate a work space on a plastic drop cloth and supervise the play.

Other art activities to share with your 2-year-old (all under close supervision): finger painting, crayon rubbing, using a simple stamp that you've carved on a potato or carrot, poster painting, sponge painting, and decorating a flannel board with felt shapes (such as farm animals, stars, hearts, or houses) that can be put on and taken off.