From painting to tracing, leaf prints to homemade necklaces, these craft ideas for toddlers will not only keep him busy, but improve his motor skills and social-emotional development.

By Nicole Harris
Updated April 14, 2020
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Toddlers experience a tremendous amount of cognitive and physical development. Indeed, they’re constantly improving “fine motor dexterity and coordination, creativity, problem solving skills, frustration tolerance, self-esteem, and language comprehension and expression,” says Laura Phillips, PsyD, ABPdN, clinical neuropsychologist at the Learning and Development Center for the Child Mind Institute

To help your child reach milestones faster, consider doing educational crafts and activities that encourage learning. “Crafts have an important role to play, especially as kids get older,” says Phillips. “They also encourage the development of other critical executive functions like organization, planning, sequencing, and perseverance.” Plus, when your child completes the crafts with another child, they offer an opportunity to practice critical social skills like sharing and turn-taking.

Here are nine craft ideas for toddlers that assist with growth and development

Yunhee Kim

Looking for a fall or summer craft for toddlers? Make leaf-print collages, which teach about nature while improving motor skills. Take a walk outside to collect fallen leaves in different shapes and sizes. Bring the leaves home, paint one side of them, and press them onto a blank canvas (paper, T-shirt, tote bag, cardboard, etc.). The painted leaves double as makeshift stamps. 

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The whole family can participate in this activity! Here’s what to do: Have your toddler lay down on a large sheet of paper and trace her body with a pencil. She can decorate her body with markers, paint, crayons, fabric, buttons, or other art supplies. This project fosters creativity, strengthens the hands and fingers, and gives a lesson in anatomy.

Dane Tashima

While finger painting is usually reserved for younger babies, it can also improve your toddler’s fine motor development and creative thinking. Swap paper for textured objects to give her a full sensory experience; for example, she can paint on ripped cardboard, bubble wrap, or plastic trays. Encourage your toddler to discuss her artwork, which exercises her linguistics and conversation skills, and praise the finished product to boost her self-esteem

Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski; beaded necklace idea by Pam Abrams

Not only is this activity budget-friendly, it also encourages fine motor skill development, hand-eye coordination, and creativity. Simply gather pasta with holes—like rigatoni, penne, or ziti—and have your child string the pieces on yarn. This project can be a little tedious, which teaches frustration tolerance and perseverance. As a bonus, the finished bracelet or necklace can double as a thoughtful Mother’s Day craft for toddlers! 

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Don’t throw away those toilet paper rolls! You can upcycle them for various educational crafts, such as DIY binoculars made with construction paper, string, and tape. Assembling the binoculars requires fine motor skills, while using them inspires the imagination. Pretend play is important for your child’s social-emotional development.

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Want to teach colors to your toddler? Choose a couple of primary or secondary shades (like red and orange) and search for art supplies in those colors. These can be buttons, string, magazine clippings, stickers, etc. Glue all of the items to paper for a color-coded collage. This toddler craft also teaches organization, planning, and problem solving skills.  

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To prepare this fine motor craft, Mom or Dad can draw a face on a paper plate, then attach colored yarn as makeshift hair. Your little one can use child-safe scissors to “give it a haircut.” Once your child gets the hang of scissors, he’s one step closer to writing! This project also gives a lesson in language comprehension (your toddler must follow directions) and perseverance (he should finish the entire project).

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Phillips says that toddlers are learning about letters and numbers, and they might be interested in tracing them. You can either print out tracing worksheets or make your own versions. Keep in mind that children don’t need to use pencils or pens; she can also trace with paint, markers, stickers, pipe cleaners, or other crafting supplies.

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Teach your kid an important scientific principle with this toddler craft idea. Fill an ice cube tray with water, add some food coloring, and insert a popsicle stick. Once the ice hardens, teach your child to use the colored ice as paint; the popsicle stick doubles as a handle. She’ll learn an important scientific principle (ice melts into water) while improving dexterity and cognitive development. Plus, you'll end up with a unique piece of abstract artwork!

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