Toddlers and paint sometimes don’t mix…. Well, that is not the case with yarn painting! This is a process art activity for toddlers that is sure to be colorful and fun, as well as provide lots and lots of focus on the process!
String Paintings for Kids
When I watch my preschoolers paint, I rarely see a method. You know, the gentle strokes of intertwining color that tell an imaginative narrative. Instead, I see smudging, dropping, crinkling, wiping, blobbing, smearing, squeezing, and pushing, just to name a few.
And everything I see is exactly what I want to see! Because it is all about the process of making art.
Preschoolers and toddlers use process art as a means to tell a story. Just listen to what they say as they work:
“See my apple tree? It’s big and has big red apples on it!”
You may look at your toddler’s painting and see nothing that resembles an apple tree or even a hint of red. But that’s not what matters. To your toddler, she is making an apple tree with big red apples on it (even if the apples are actually purple rather than the red she says they are).
And that’s just fine.
The power of process art is that it allows toddlers the freedom to use materials for the simple act of exploring and experimenting.
That’s what makes “Painting with Yarn and Watercolors” such a great process art activity for toddlers. Even though every student in my preschool class began with the same materials, the results were very, very different. Their differences were astoundingly beautiful because of the exploration of the materials and techniques that took place.
And every exploration is valid, as are the stories they told while they painted. One of my preschoolers particularly made me smile. She asked, “Why are we doing this? What holiday?” When I told her it was for “just because”, she then said, “Oh, well, then I’m going to make a gumball machine.”
FAQ About Doing Process Art with Toddlers
By definition, process art emphasizes the act and process of making art over the product produced. It is open-ended, self-motivated and based on experience and experimenting. Characteristics of process art include:
> no specified outcome
> no step-by-step directions
> no sample for children to follow
> work is entirely of the children’s own choice, both in product and whether or not to participate
True process art is simply allowing children a range of materials to use and allowing them to create at their own cares and whims. Ideas for inspiration can be posted, however process art is not about the outcome, but rather the intent of the creator.
Here are some fun process art ideas to get you started:
> paint and an atypical “paintbrush” like a comb or using string
> oil and water paintings
> magazine collages
> glue resist paintings
> cellophane collages on sticky tagboard
Check out all my process art ideas for toddlers and preschoolers here.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) touts Process Art as highly developmentally appropriate for the preschool classroom. Some benefit of process art includes:
> nurturing social and emotional health
> reinforcing skills like focus, relaxation, and emotional sharing
> inspiring creativity and problem solving
> builds cognitive skills like comparison, planning, and problem solving
> encourages vocabulary development and verbal expression of language
Yarn Painting Process Art Activity for Toddlers
Just a few basic materials will get your toddler or preschooler creating frame-worthy abstract art:
- liquid watercolors (Colorations is my absolute favorite).
- watercolor paper
- rainbow colored craft sticks that coordinate with the colors of liquid watercolor you are using
- white cotton yarn
- hot glue and a glue gun
- paint pallet (But I really prefer using small baby food jars for liquid watercolor).
It will only take a few minutes to do the little bit of prep work before your kiddos can begin painting. Follow the steps below to make the “paintbrushes” with the yarn and colored craft sticks:
- Cut six pieces of yarn to about 10-12 inches each.
- Put a dab of hot glue in the center of the craft stick and wrap the yarn around the glue (about five times). The yarn will hang from the stick about six inches.
- Wrap each baby food jar in color coordinated paper. (This step is optional but really helpful. Often, the color of liquid watercolors is so saturated it is difficult to see which color is which).
- Fill each baby food jar with about 1/4 inch of the corresponding color liquid watercolor.
- Place corresponding color “paintbrushes” in each jar. (The craft stick should be placed over the top of the opening, not dipped inside the jar. The yarn will dangle in the jar).
- Set out a sheet of watercolor paper and invite your preschooler or toddler to come and paint!
Painting with Yarn
Invite your preschooler to use the craft sticks and yarn to paint! Notice how the color of the craft stick coordinates with the color of watercolor. This helps the preschoolers remember from which jar they got their craft stick and it helps keep the colors from becoming contaminated with others.
The technique of painting with the yarn varied among the children. Below are listed examples of different preschooler’s perspectives of the materials provided with some fun process art!
As you can see, the result was a variety of different shapes, circles, swirls, spirals, and loops.
One student wanted very specific designs. He carefully laid the yarn as he pleased and then tapped to push it down a bit, ensuring that the whole piece of yarn made a print.
Another student shook the craft sticks and made a splatter-paint, Jackson Pollock effect. Another dragged the yarn across his paper to make a series of straight lines that bled into one another when the wet paint overlapped.
Other students tried a little of everything. My toddler would lay the yarn on his paper and then pull both ends at once, creating a skipping effect.
As the children worked, they told stories about what they were creating. And those stories changed as their pictures progressed. One student had butterflies that turned into puppies that turned into tornados, while another student painted a fire truck and fire that then became a rocket ship with flames.
The end result was amazing, and each piece so very different.
You can see how some children were very deliberate in their painting while others played a lot with techniques.
When doing process art activities for kids, it’s ok to “challenge” the children’s frame of mind by asking questions like:
- What happens if I drop the string onto the paper?
- Or if I pull it?
- What will it look like if I drag the yarn all around?
- Can I press the yarn between two papers?
- What if I press the strong and then pull it?
These are questions that are sure get the children’s minds thinking as they explore the different process art ideas. They will begin to question all the things a little piece of string can do. This is an easy art project that has a big impression!
About the Mess
Any process art activity for toddlers can be messy.
Just take a deep breath, use washable paint, and you’ll be fine. Your toddler or preschooler will appreciate the fact that you didn’t hold them back! And honestly, so will you, when you see what they are capable of creating when they are free to use their own process.
More Activities for Toddlers
I love doing process art projects with toddlers, but what else can a toddler do? Try some of these activities!
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.
I’ve been meaning to string paint for some time. My kids love alternative ways to paint and this one seems like so much fun! Thanks for linking up to TGIF Linky Party!
maryanne @ mama smiles says
I did this ages ago – thanks for the reminder to do it with the kids again, it’s perfect for summer when we can paint outside!
What a great idea! I love that it sounds like he had more of a narrative with the yarn than when he just makes a picture.:) So fun.
Looks like a lot of fun – especially love that last picture! One of our favourites is using toy animals or cars to make tracks and footprints – my son loves making up simple stories to paint along with!
Thanks for stopping by The Sunday Showcase – hope to see you there again this week!
So much fun…thanks for sharing on Hey Mom, Look What I Did at Adventures In Mommy Land!! hope to see you again soon
btw, I am featuring your craft this week 🙂
Sarah, do you know what kind of table they are using? I need a small one with space to create like this one! Thanks, I love your site and content. 🙂
Sarah Punkoney, MAT says
I have this table: https://amzn.to/2O9T71B
But if you’re looking for something a little smaller this one looks good: https://amzn.to/2O60VBl
Can you use arylic yarn? Or only cotton? Just wondering. I have I think everything else on hand. 🙂
Sarah Punkoney, MAT says
You can use anything you have on hand. I think acrylic yarn might be a little more difficult to cut because it is “slick”, but it will work just as well.
Jurrien Collins says
We use watercolor paper too, but would any other paper work? I think thicker paper such as poster board, or cardstock would work better than thinner paper.
Sarah Punkoney, MAT says
Yes, for sure!