Chances are your child is the sun, moon, and stars to you. Every milestone she reaches is cause for celebration. Every accomplishment is the sign of a brilliant future. Her block towers indicate a budding architect. Her scribbles show all the signs of the next Picasso. You know this kid is going places.

While you indulge your dreams and post your millionth kid-smiling-with-scribble picture to Instagram, it may be good to be aware just how much your child is actually learning during art time. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need complex art projects to develop their skills. They learn a lot through simple crafts like coloring with crayons or finger painting.

It’s a good idea to make time to interact with your child so you can maximize the activity to enhance learning. Here are a few simple ways to leap-frog your child’s art learning experiences.

  1. Use short writing tools: Whether your child is using a crayon, marker, pencil, or brush, giving her a short writing tool will automatically help her work on her grasp. That’s because the short handle forces the fingers to control the tool rather than letting it rest against the thumb or between the fingers. Accomplish this easily by snapping crayons in half and using short brushes. Short-handles art tools are readily available on Amazon from Melissa & Doug or from funandfunction.com.
  2. Give Instructions: Use art time to introduce your child to the skill of following instructions. Start with having your child follow one-step directions.  For example: “Show me the duck in the picture.” Always praise your child’s correct responses (“Good job!”). If she is unable to respond correctly, simply show her the correct response (“Here’s the duck! Point with me.”). Keep the atmosphere light and positive. Children learn best when they are happy and engaged. Smile. Giggle. Make it fun. If your child is responding well, try introducing two step directions. “Point to the duck and color it.” As your child responds, you can begin increasing the elements within your directions to make the process more complex. For example the instruction “Color the duck yellow” contains a verbal direction as well as a discrete element (color).
  3. Expand Vocabulary: Art time is a great time to expand vocabulary by naming objects, concepts, or themes from your child’s life. For example, if your child has seen a fire truck today, use art time to replicate the experience and reinforce the vocabulary themes. Label the colors of the fire truck and offer those colors to your child for art. Try naming the parts of the truck (steering wheel, tires, hose, siren, lights) and colors for each part. Help your child reproduce those things through art, in her own way. This is a great time to learn thematic vocabulary and part-to-whole concepts.

Whatever you do during art time, the opportunities to enrich the experience are endless. Engage with your child and give her a chance to learn something new. You can still post those pictures, and why not share the story behind the activity too? Hey, you just may inspire other moms and dads to be as awesomely engaged as you are – and you may just be raising a generation of Picassos.