Staying sane with more than one child is all kinds of challenging, especially when it comes to artistic endeavors. Maybe you have a curious baby who unintentionally sabotages the hard work that an older sibling puts into a drawing, or perhaps you value a tidy-ish home and could use some ideas for creative projects that won't destroy your living spaces. One solution, of course, is to force a long nap upon the family. When that doesn't work (and really, how often does it?), these low-mess, easy-to-set-up activities might do just the trick.

I value my free time (and a moderately clean house), so I always have my eye out for simple activities that engage my active girls, don't require a lot of fancy materials and are easy to contain. I hope you'll find something in this list that makes your mornings or afternoons more easy-breezy than whiny-grumpy.

High chair activities for the Baby

My kids are about two years apart. When my older daughter was 3, she wanted to do a print-making activity, but I was worried that her little sister would destroy all of her hard work. Not intentionally, of course, but she just wanted to make art too, I'm sure! So I placed the baby in her high chair to give her free reign to explore her own art project without disturbing her big sister. Once safe and sound (and contained), she could:

  • Make a batch of yogurt + food coloring paint. Offer this to your baby to safely explore on the high chair tray.
  • Make small amounts of "vegetable paint " by blending up mashed peas or carrots.
  • Try painting by setting up an ice cube tray filled with water with a few drops of food coloring, a brush, and a piece of paper taped to the high chair table.
  • Invite your older baby to chop butter with a dull butter knife or popsicle stick.
  • Easy clean art activities for toddler while baby is up high

    These art projects require very few materials, and clean-up is a snap.

  • Leaves and Glue. Supplies needed: white glue, paint brush, paper, glue.
  • Doilies and Scissors. Supplies needed: Paper doilies, scissors, tape.
  • Office Stickers and Hand-drawn Frames. Supplies needed: Colorful office stickers, paper, marker.
  • Contact Paper Collage. Supplies needed: Clear contact paper (sticky-back shelf liner), scraps of paper
  • Messy sensory activities for toddler while baby is up high

    While some of these activities are borderline messy, toddlers can be entertained by sensory activities for a long while. The extra cleanup is worth the head space that it affords you. Aside from the first activity (play with a bowl of water), these projects are best attempted while your baby is contained in a highchair activity or during baby's nap time. To aid with clean-up, set these activities up over a large blanket, patio, or on an easy-to-clean floor. Please use your best judgement and watch your child carefully if you offer small materials such as dry rice or wheat berries.

  • Give your child a deep bowl of water with scoopers such as measuring spoons or little bowls.
  • Set up a large under-the-bed style tub full of wheat berries or rainbow rice. Add some small toys, scoopers, and funnels for exploring the phenomena of filling containers and dumping them out.
  • Put your child in the bathtub with some washable bathtub crayons.
  • Mix flour and water or cornstarch and water in a large plastic container. Invite your child to squish these around, pour, and scoop.
  • If you like these activities, check out my new book: TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors.

    Rachelle Doorley is an artist and educator, mom to two girls, and founder of the popular children's creativity blog, . She is also the author of TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors (Roost Books, 2014) and has written articles on creativity and arts education for School Arts Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, and FamilyFun Magazine. Rachelle lives in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and her two curious daughters, where she leads workshops on visual thinking and hands-on creativity.