Authentic Art Materials for Toddlers Part 2: Charcoal

Posted In: Arts & Crafts

Authentic Art Materials for Toddlers Part 2: Charcoal

Kate from An Everyday Story is here to share the next post in her series about introducing authentic art materials to toddlers. Today she is exploring charcoal…

Hi everyone. So tell me, how did your little one enjoy playing with clay? Today I thought I would talk about one of our other favorite art materials; charcoal.

Charcoal is another inexpensive art material that is really responsive to a toddler touch. The dark contrast of the black on crisp white paper really invites a little one in to explore.

I often find that when presented with black, particularly with painting or oil pastels, it seems to dominate the other colors. Sarah will use the black more heavily than any other color. Now I offer black by itself and charcoal is the perfect medium.

Authentic Art Materials for Toddlers Part 2: Charcoal

I think a little bit of effort to create an inviting art activity goes a long way towards an authentic experience. You might like to consider:

  • a plain table cloth so as not to distract from the materials and activity
  • crisp white paper
  • a shallow bowl or tray for the charcoal
  • a clipboard or background for the paper – to focus your little one’s attention on the materials

While your toddler is exploring you could encourage them to:

  • hold the charcoal in their hand
  • explore the texture of the charcoal
  • see what happens when you press lightly, or really hard
  • see what kinds of marks they can make

Authentic Art Materials for Toddlers Part 2: Charcoal charcoal-4

After they have had a chance to really explore this new medium, maybe after a few sessions, you could:

  • show them how to blend the charcoal by dotting their finger on the paper
  • press down and run their finger across the page
  • see what happens when they use their whole hand
  • show them how to rub the long side of the charcoal across the page
  • introduce some coarser, thicker paper and see how this changes how the charcoal moves

My daughter Sarah is still discovering how charcoal works; how it moves and how much pressure it takes to make a mark. She isn’t creating representational drawings yet, rather still enjoys the rhythmical motions of moving the charcoal round and round and back and forth across the page.

These early experiences with authentic art materials allow her to become highly familiar with a range of art mediums. Toddlers explore mostly through their senses and so this is a wonderful time to introduce different art materials, like charcoal and clay.

So, have a damp cloth handy for wonderfully blackened hands, set out some charcoal sticks and enjoy exploring with your toddler.

Have fun and I’ll see you again next month for the 3rd part of our Authentic Art Materials for Toddlers series.



Kate Gribble lives with her husband and two little ones, Jack and Sarah, in Canberra, Australia. She is a former high school teacher but now spends her days happily homeschooling. Kate likes to dabble in a bit of photography, is a hopeless but aspiring kitchen gardener, and loves a bit of crafty goodness. You can find more inspiration over at her blog, An Everyday Story.



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  1. This is great. My kids discovered our BBQ charcol the other day and were using that to create art on the paving stones it’s inspired me to get them their own proper charcol to draw with.

    1. Not formally, just for pleasure. I do love it though, just sitting down and sketching and doodling. I love being outside and drawing too. Whenever we head to the Botanic gardens or take a picnic somewhere we always pack the clipboards, some paper, pencils and watercolours. It’s so relaxing. Jack and Sarah love it too.

  2. Thank you for the reminder about charcol, I loved using it when I was in art class in high school. I will definitely get some for the kids to experiment with.

  3. What a lovely and inspiring post Kate…I have never thought of using charcoal with toddlers but it makes sense! love the exploration and the use of the clipboard!

    1. The clipboards are fantastic Jode. They really define the space and focus the attention onto the paper. Also they give a nice solid base for the paper; stops it slipping around and folding up. We have a couple in the car for when we are out and about too.

  4. Such a great idea Kate. I think my kids would love this, and as you’ve pointed out, cleaning up is as easy as wiping things down with a damp cloth. (I’m keen to have a go too 🙂 ) xoxo P

  5. I think my son would love this immensely! He tried it on the pavement already, but paper is a total different medium. And I love listening to him when he makes up little stories while drawing.

    1. My son makes up little stories too when he draws. He’s 4. They are so sweet, aren’t they? I love listening to them. They also give you little clues for new materials you could add to an art exploration to extend their play.

  6. I’m loving this monthly series, thank you! I have some questions for you. How often do you set up these kinds of art invitations? Do you set it up daily? Weekly? Do you let them discover the invitation on their own or do you say, “look what we have here today?” Do you keep the materials on a shelf within reach the rest of the time? Do you explore the medium alongside them? Thank You for your lovely, thoughtful series.

    1. Hi Elizabeth.
      At home we have a small art area with a set of shelves for art materials. At the moment there is coloured pencils, oil pastels, crayons, watercolour paints, brushes, playdough and tools, clay and tools, coloured and white paper and loose recyclables for collage and model making. Jack (4yrs) and Sarah (2yrs) have free access to these materials.

      For the last few weeks I’ve also been having one art activity out for a week. We started with playdough, then watercolours, clay, and charcoal. I leave them on the table with paper and other materials for the kids to return to. They are creating so much more since I started doing this. The first day I put it out (if it’s a new material) I’ll sit with them and talk with them as they explore. On the days after that they explore by themselves (sometimes I join them). Over the week their art changes so I like to add different materials or types of paper to keep up with their interests.

      If it’s a particlulary messy material (like charcoal) I still have it on the table but have the charcoal in a clear container. This stops little charcoal fingerprints covering the house 🙂

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series 🙂 Two more parts to go.

  7. That sounds like a good strategy. Like yourself, I have some art materials out on a shelf but the boys don’t seem to do anything with them but use them for dumping and hauling (they’re into vehicles). I haven’t been good at introducing materials to them. I will try your strategy of putting one material out front and center for a week with a family exploration first. Thank you for your response.

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