My Favorite Art Activity For 3 Year Olds to Encourage Creativity and Confidence

My Favorite Art Activity For 3 Year Olds to Encourage Creativity and Confidence

Setting my son up to paint on inexpensive wooden shapes from the dollar store or the craft store is perhaps my favorite art activity for 3 year olds. I love joining in on this activity too!

This little art project somehow holds my 3 year olds attention for hours. One day he sat and painted for at least 2 hours and made about 20 wooden tree ornaments. And he was ready for more the next day!

3 year old art activity painting on wooden christmas trees

We are now using his finished painted trees to count the days to Christmas by tying one to our blanket ladder everyday. And because we painted so many tree ornaments, we had a ton leftover (after setting aside 25) to make a long garland we hung from our bathroom mirror as some fun festive Christmas decor. 

painted wooden christmas tree art activity for 3 year olds

Reasons I Love This Art Activity For 3 Year Olds

  • Develops self confidence and self esteem
  • Develops creativity
  • Encourages creative exploration
  • Fun for child as well as for parent/caregivers
  • Versatile for different seasons/holidays/child’s interests
  • Can be done as a long term or short term project

This art activity for 3 year olds is pretty simple to setup and I don’t have to do much once my 3 year old gets going. In fact, I can enjoy a little craft time myself!

And the reason I love this activity for my son’s development is because it provides some structure while still allowing a lot of freedom and room for creativity.

Three year olds really want to exercise their growing independence. They also have a ton of wild energy. So this activity allows them to paint independently, while not getting too out of hand. The wooden shapes create both a literal and psychological boundary that helps contain little wild toddler energies.

Of course some adult supervision is necessary and perhaps some gentle redirection, but I have found I have only had to be involved minimally when my son is focused on this activity.

I have a background in art therapy, and the following phrase by the famous art therapist Judith Rubin was always referenced in my training; “a framework for freedom.” This means that setting people up for success is all about providing them with the right tools and structure. The structure isn’t meant to be restrictive in an overbearing way, but more to contain energies and impulses that are actually counterproductive to free and meaningful self expression. 

Free painting on wooden shapes also helps little ones develop their self confidence and self esteem. The shapes contain wild and free brushstrokes within an identifiable form that delights little ones.

My 3 year old loves hanging his finished pieces all over his room as garlands or single pieces.

finished pieces from a painting art activity for 3 year olds

And every time he looks at them he is reminded (at least on a subconscious level) of his creative power. As well as the joy and pride that went into making his creations. I’m hoping this sense of empowerment stays with him as he grows up. As well as the joy and excitement of creating.

Additionally, this art activity for 3 year olds is great because it is so versatile. You can create different themes depending on your chosen wooden shapes to go with different seasons and holidays, or for just any ordinary old day.

For Christmas, we painted on a ton of wooden ornament, tree and snowflake shapes. And then hanging all the ornaments on our mini tree became another fun activity.

hanging 3 year old's painted christmas ornaments on a tree

My tot has also painted many wooden cars (he is obsessed with cars in general).

toddler painting on wooden cars


  • Wooden shapes (from the dollar store or craft stores like Michaels)
  • Acrylic paint (or washable paint, depending on how comfortable you are with your toddler and paint)
  • Paint brushes
  • Cup with water for paintbrushes
  • Old dish towel or paper towels
  • Tray or newspaper or plastic sheet to paint on
  • Painting bib

In addition to being versatile, it’s also a very affordable activity for 3 year olds! For example, I recently bought a set of 16 neon acrylic paints at Michael’s for $10. And at Christmas time I got 50 wooden ornaments for $5 (that was a solid 6 or more hours of activity!).

You can also get wooden pieces at the dollar store. They have all sorts of shapes and sizes. The dollar store also has little acrylic paints and paintbrushes.

Creative Growth for Kids

There are so many rules and directions that kids have to follow everyday. So setting them up with projects that allow them to exercise their creativity, independence and self-expression is so important. Plus, sometimes tired parents just need something to keep their wild children busy sometimes! 

How did this art activity go for you and your littles? Please share in the comments below!

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