Sometimes children need more than a pencil and paper to encourage them to form early marks which later develop into their first written words. Today I’m sharing my top 10 mark making ideas for toddlers that can easily be adapted for preschoolers and school aged children.

Before children learn to write they experiment through early mark making in a variety of ways. I always have mark making materials out for the children to access freely but I like to mix it up a bit by providing a range of exciting and engaging ways to encourage children to make those early mark.

A few weeks ago the lovely team at Early Years Resources sent me this huge box of mark making materials and we’ve been busy testing different mark making ideas since.

The First Mark Making Kit contained the following which we have been testing out

  • 25 assorted paintbrushes
  • 10 chunky non-roll brushes
  • 4 creative brushes
  • 4 paint scrapers
  • 9 paint bellows
  • 12 droppers
  • Polystyrene balls
  • Cotton reels
  • String
  • 5 chubby markers
  • Glue spreaders
  • 4 patterned wooden rolling pins.

The whole thing came delivered in a really sturdy plastic box with a lid that had enough room to also add my painting table cover, overalls and the ready mixed paint we were also sent to help us put the mark making kit to good use.

The children I currently childmind are aged between 2 and 3 years old so the mark making activities below are perfect for toddlers to enjoy.

10 Easy Mark Making Ideas for Toddlers

1. Sand
Sand is such fun medium for making marks in and adds a great sensory experience for little ones. It can be as simple as using fingers to make different types of marks and patterns or even sticks. We used the paint scrapers from our mark making pack to test the different marks they made. They were a perfect size for little hands to grip hold of and drag through the sand.

To make the marks stand out more you could use damp sand (ours was dried out from all the hot weather we’ve had). The bold colours were also great for some colour recognition and we can’t wait to test these out with paint next and maybe even shaving foam.

2. Painting with string

This was a totally new technique for us and I loved watching how they all used the string in a different way. I set out the ready mixed paints and cut several different lengths of string and left them to create. At first, they weren’t sure why there was no paint brushes but soon started dipping the string in the paint and making marks on the paper.

One used the end of the string like a tiny paint brush, Jack dragged it over the paper to make different coloured snakes and worms and another enjoyed dropping the string from a height to see what marks it would make. More on painting with string.

Painting with string

3. Making marks in playdough 

There was 4 different types of rolling pin in our kit that the Little Tots have enjoyed making marks with by rolling through the playdough. The rolling pins are the perfect size for little hands to grab and rolled easily through the playdough.

mark making ideas for toddlers

There was also 5 different chubby markers in our mark making kit that had rubber ends with different shapes, again these were fun for poking into the playdough and checking out what marks they made whilst my 5 year old used them to mold her clay.

mark making ideas for toddlers

4. Nature print painting 

We bring back so many treasures from our walks that we love to paint with. Nature print painting is a fun way to explore making marks with different textures and the Little Tots love to see if they can guess which item made the different marks.

nature painting for toddlers

5. Water Painting

If you’re looking for something a little less messy then water painting is your answer. My Little Tots love to spend ages with a paint brush and some water making marks on the patio or the shed. On a really hot day, the water disappears almost straight away so they get a mini science experiment thrown in at the same time.

The chunky brushes in our mark making kit were such lovely size for tiny hands to grasp easily so even babies can join in and have a go at their very first mark making. They have the added benefit of being anti-roll as well which is perfect for when we’re painting at the table indoors.

The kit also contained paintbrushes of different sizes so the Little Tots could test out lots of different styles to see which marks they made.

6. Chalking outside

Chalking outside offers the chance to make marks on a really large scale which is a hit with any toddler. Being outside also means less chalk dust on your floor inside!  There’s something about being allowed to draw on the floor that always excites the Little Tots and chalking outside always holds their attention for a long period of time.

Sometimes we combine chalk with water and have fun painting over the chalk with water as another fun way to get those early marks in.

7. Potato print painting 

Potato print painting is such a classic I had to include it in this round-up of mark making ideas. As well as potatoes we’ve also used cookie cutters and even Duplo to dip into paint and make a mark. The sponge burshes in our paintbrush selection are also perfect for printing marks on paper with the paint.

8. Painting with Cotton Reels 

Another totally new mark making technique for us and one that was a lot of fun. Grab a roll of paper and a large tray (we used our tuff spot) and head outside. Again the ready mixed paint from Early Years Resources was perfect for this as the colours are lovely and bright and I added some of the cotton reels from the huge bag that came in our mark making kit.

We’ve previously rolled trucks through paint and you could also use conkers or the polystyrene balls in out kit would be perfect for this. You could also use smaller individual trays that the children can move around themselves and watch the marks that are made.

Watch our cotton reel painting in action with a video I made of the Little Tots having fun with it.

9. Salt Trays

Salt trays offer a fun way to make marks as we tried one out for the first time this week. I placed the salt in a black baking tray so it added a lovely contrast and gave them the non-roll brushes to use. They spent ages moving the brush around the salt, giving the tray a shake and starting again.

Anna over at The Imagination Tree has loads of sensory writing trays that are perfect for preschoolers, I’m in love with the Unicorn one.

10.Painting with different types of brush

For this activity, I used the creative brushes from our mark making pack but you could also use a dish brush or even an old hair brush. Anything that would make a different type of mark to a regular paint brush and capture the attention of little ones.

The Little Tots loved testing out the different marks these brushes made and the chunky handles made them easy to grab and move from the paint to paper.

We’ve had a lot of fun testing out the First Mark Making Kit and I’ve been really impressed with the number of items and the quality of them. Being a childminder I need products that will last and withstand being used by all ages and this kit hasn’t disappointed. I’ve got my eye on the Outdoor Mark Making Kit next which Learning and Exploring Through Play have been testing out and it looks amazing.

I hope What simple mark making activities to your little ones love? We’d love to know your favourites in the comments below.

(Disclaimer: I was sent the mark making kit and paints for purpose of review, all thoughts and opinions are my own)

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