Help your preschooler learn about art.

How to Teach Art to a Three-Year-Old

by Erica Loop

Whether your 3-year-old is a pint-sized Picasso or simply shows an interest in her big sister's crayons, even the most unartistic mom can give a young preschooler a lesson or two in the fine arts. Don't worry if you don't know a Monet from Mickey Mouse; teaching your little one the basics of art is easier than you may think. Put away the coloring books, break out the smock -- and probably a tarp, too -- and get painting, sculpting and more.

Start an art-related conversation with your child. Ask him open-ended questions about what he already knows. This can help you move on to teaching your child something new about art, instead of reiterating what he has already done at preschool or daycare. Avoid asking your child general questions such as, "Do you know anything about art?" Instead, play detective and ask him specifics such as, "How did you make that picture of the dog in school?" and "What materials did you use?"

Choose a simple process-based art activity. Don't throw everything at her at once. While a preschooler needs choices to feel in control, overloading your child with the option to paint, color, collage, cut, glue, build and sculpt all at the same time can quickly get confusing. Go activity by activity, picking one process to work with at a time. For example, opt for a process-based paint project where your child can mix the primary colors -- red, blue and yellow -- into new shades and hues.

Add in new art vocabulary. No, this doesn't mean that you need to teach your preschooler words like neo-realist or art deco. Use basic concept words such as texture, pattern or primary color. Continue to infuse the words into art activities as they come up. If your child is making a collage, talk about the textures that he is building up with different papers or use different colors of stampers to make a repeating pattern using the three primary colors.

Talk about what your child is making and doing in a specific, concrete way. Avoid general compliments such as, "Oh, that's so pretty" or "You did a good job." Make interjections and questions that directly tie to her project such as, "I like how you used red and blue paints to make purple" or "Can you tell me how you molded the clay to make your twisty sculpture?"

Look at art with your child. This doesn't mean that you have to take your preschooler to the museum every day -- although looking at real-life masterpieces is an authentic way to introduce your little one to the art world. Remember that there's art all around you. Take a look at your tot's artwork, illustrations in children's books, reproductions at home or child-friendly art on the Internet. Talk about what your child sees and feels. Use a general question to get him started and ask him to tell you what he can find when he looks at the artwork. Ask more specific questions such as, "What colors do you see?" or "What material do you think that sculpture is made from?"


  • Switch up your art activities. Don't let your little learner get bored. Instead of painting every day for a month, try drawing or playing with clay on occasion.
  • Don't always expect your child to make "something." It's normal for a 3-year-old's people to look more like tadpoles than Grandma and Grandpa. Let your child explore with the materials and create from her imagination.


  • Only use non-toxic, child-safe art materials. Look for the Art and Creative Materials Institute logo for certified non-toxic products. Read the labels for appropriate age use.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images