Everything you need to know about coloring and drawing with your 1 year old

Are you wanting to start coloring and drawing activities with your 1 year old? Or maybe you are not sure if drawing and coloring is even developmentally appropriate for a 1 year old? 

And then there is the problem of your 1 year old eating the crayons! Or tearing the paper. 

I find 1 year old coloring and drawing activities seem to be a grey area in the mind of most of us mamas.  We really do want activities to do with them. But it seems like a waste to go to the effort of making craft activities. 

Your 1 year old always watches you for 2 seconds and then is over it. Leaving you to do the tidy up. 

The truth is that there is a level of coloring and drawing activities that 1 year olds need to do which comes before crafts. 

If you are looking for ways to get started with coloring and drawing activities for your 1 year old you are in the right place. 

Picture of 1 year old coloring and spontaneous drawing

Helpful coloring and drawing supplies for 1 year olds

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First off, what do you need to get started? 

Honestly not much! It’s a great idea to start building your arts and craft box from an early age with paints, pom poms and other supplies like this. 

But for a 1 year old you can start out with these 5 things: 

  1. These crayons
  2. Dot Markers
  3. This paper
  4. These markers
  5. This finger paint 

I also love these books and this drawing board for 1 year olds. And we will dive into why these and other multisensory art supplies are a great way to help your 1 year old learn to draw

Video: ideas for drawing with 1 year old

Toddler drawing activities for one year olds

This video shows some of the fun activities for drawing with your 1 year old that are featured below. Watch the video or scroll down. 

Benefits of drawing and coloring for a one year old

There are so many benefits to drawing and coloring with your one year old but here are just a few: 

  1. Developing attention and concentration on a task 
  2. The small muscles of the hand are developing and learning how to hold and manipulate different markers and crayons
  3. Time of engaged play with mama
  4. Learning the skill of imitating what you do —-> this is a critical thinking skill that kids develop at this age
  5. Sensory skills of understanding how hard or soft to press down and how different markers and crayons feel in their hands
  6. Shoulder, elbow and wrist muscles are also developed during coloring activities
  7. Developing their understanding that they are a creative being and have the ability to make something. 
  8. The actual skill of drawing lines and scribbles which is a developmental milestone in this year. 

Drawing milestones for 1 year old 

Obviously when we talk about 1 year old drawings we are not talking about Picasso. Developmentally a 1 year old needs to learn to: 

  1. Draw vertical lines 
  2. Learn to imitate you drawing circles
  3. Start to fill an area with color 
  4. Hold a thick crayon or marker so that they can draw 
  5. Start growing their attention span ( it will probably start at around 3 minutes and grow to around 6- 10 minutes by the time they are 2 years old). 
  6. Use paper and markers for drawing, not eating 
  7. Learn to open and close markers

Important points when it comes to drawing activities for one year olds 

  • The right chair: It’s really important that toddlers are positioned in the best supported way for drawing activities. That means a chair with a footrest and the table reaching their mid chest. I always recommend this chair because it is adjustable and will be useful well into the school years. 
  • Variety is key! It’s also important to think about drawing activities as multisensory movement opportunities. Use lots of different markers and crayons and try coloring in different positions. More on that a bit later 
  • For a one year old drawing is a creative play opportunity: meaning NO PRESSURE to do anything “right”. Coloring outside the lines is still good. Focus on learning to stay on the paper
  • Kids learn to draw by watching you. That means it’s great to draw with them and on the same page. It’s great to encourage them to color in a shape that you have drawn but try avoid coloring pages and worksheets. 
Description photo of a 1 year olds pencil grip. Showing hand grasp with thumb facing upward.

1 year old pencil grip: 

Generally 1 year olds will hold a crayon with a full handed grasp with their thumb pointing to the ceiling. In fancy terms we call this the: Palmar supinate grasp. 

The point is, at this age to let them play around with different ways of holding markers. As well as to provide a variety of differently shaped crayons. 

The only time I would be concerned about pencil grasp at this age is if a 1 year old is holding the pencil: 

  1. In between the middle ring or baby finger 
  2. Doesn’t seem to be able to pick up or hold a marker at all. 

Activity ideas for drawing and coloring with 1 year old

Here are 10 fun ideas for coloring and drawing with your one year old:

  1. Vertical line roads 
    • Like shown in the video, get your one year old to copy you drawing a vertical line. Once the lines are drawn you can ride over them like a road.
  2. Color in a picture that you draw
    • Filling a space with color is something that toddlers learn in their first and second years. By drawing a simple shape with colors you are letting your toddler watch you drawing (super important!) and keeping the coloring simple.
  3. Connecting stickers 
    • Stick two stickers parallel to each other and let your toddler connect them by drawing a vertical line. They might not get this totally right but practice makes perfect.
  4. Ocean and sea creature stickers 
    • Let your toddler fill the page with color and stick sea creatures on top – so it looks like the ocean.
  5. Vertical surface coloring
    • Tape some butchers paper to the wall and let your 1 year old draw away. This is great for strengthen the shoulders.  
  6. Chalk coloring on sidewalk 
    • You do need to watch that they don’t eat it but chalk drawing is fun and quick to clean up.
  7. Crayon rolling and rubbing 
    • This is a great way to use different small muscles of the hand and help your toddler understand that they need to fill a space with color when coloring.
  8. Using many colors
    • Laying out a few colors for your one year old to swop between is important in practicing creativity.
  9. Coloring with song 
    • choose any jingle you like and stick in “let’s draw a circle”, “coloring is fun”…. wherever the tune leads.
  10. Inside box coloring 
    • crayons: check, big box: check, toddler:check. Put your toddler inside the box (willingly) and let them decorate the inside.
one year old drawing using pencil crayons

Troubleshooting drawing with a 1 year old: 

How to stop toddlers from drawing on the walls 

This is a tough one. Naturally we want our toddler to learn to draw but not to picasso our entire house. My tips for this are: 

  • In the beginning stages keep drawing activities at a point like a table or highchair. Don’t let your toddler walk around while holding colors. That also means storing all markers in an unreachable place 
  • Only buy washable markers and crayons 
  • As soon as your toddler approaches a wall while holding a marker, redirect them back to the paper. I always say “we only draw on paper” to my very adventurous little drawer. 
  • Let them help you to wash off any markings on the walls

My 1 year old eats the crayons: 

Mouthing things is completely normal before age 2. It normally lessens after 18 months. But it can happen more during times of teething. 

My tips for your toddler eating the crayons are: 

  • Buy non-toxic crayons 
  • Supervise your 1 year olds drawing closely and redirect them to coloring. “Crayons are for coloring”
  • Try not to make too much of a show about it. You don’t want your toddler to learn that this is a way to get big attention. 
  • Offer another toy for biting 
  • In the beginning stages, keep the drawing activities short and pack things up when your toddler doesn’t agree to be redirected back to drawing. 

My 1 year old throws the markers: 

It’s normal that young toddlers throw markers, food and really just about anything. Especially if they are at a high chair. It’s a fun game for them- they throw, you pick up. Like a ball game except much more annoying for the parent. 

When this happens try ignoring it. Don’t pick up the marker. REdirect them back to coloring with another marker. 

If your toddler is in a loop of throwing, you can pack up the markers and give them some time to play with a ball. 

My 1 year old is not interested in drawing at all 

This could be because of lack of variety in markers or a lack of understanding of what to do. Try going back to the points above about you drawing first so your toddler can imitate you. And of using a variety of markers and crayons. 

My 1 year old tears the paper: 

Tearing paper is actually a good way to teach early scissor skills and develop fine motor skills. If your 1 year old is tearing the paper every time you try to do drawing activities: 

  • Provide opportunities for tearing activities. You can do this with a slightly different set up than you would for drawing activities. That way your toddler can visually understand that they are different activities. 
  • If they try to tear the paper while you are coloring. Gently put the paper back down and say “we are drawing now”. If that doesn’t help its best to pack up the activity and move onto something else
  • Keep persisting with trying and also show them that you are drawing on the paper, not tearing. 

My one year old only sits for 2 minutes before they want to get out of the high chair

  • We expect one year old to be able to sit and do an activity for around 3 minutes and up. Which can seem like the blink of an eye
  • Don’t be discouraged. You are not doing anything wrong. Short concentration spans are part of these early years. 
  • See those 3 minutes as something to build on and a way that you are training and developing your 1 year olds concentration. 

In Summary, 

  • Drawing and coloring is a really important daily activity for 1 year olds. 
  • It’s great to use variety and model for them first how you draw
  • Non-toxic, washable markers and crayons are the way to go 
  • Focus the activity on creative expression
  • Your toddler will learn how to draw vertical lines, circles and fill an area with color during the first year. 


pin for 1 year old drawing activities from an occupational therapist