CMA Stories

Tom’s Tips for Early Learners

If you’ve attended drop-in at stART Studio or joined us for open art activities during public hours, you’ve likely met Tom Burnett, CMA’s Director of Early Childhood. A seasoned musician, actor, educator (and leader of CMA Live’s Music Time With Tom), Tom compiles of his favorite art projects for early learners for CMA families to enjoy at home. Don’t forget to show us what you come up with using the hashtag #cmanychallenge.

How to Make Playdough

Make your own playdough, the CMA way! Follow along as Tom, CMA’s Director of Early Childhood, reveals tips and tricks for making a squishy, stimulating batch of playdough that will provide hours of fun. We’ll even sing a special playdough song (also translated into American Sign Language!) Don’t forget to store your playdough in an airtight bag for longevity!

Playdough Recipe


  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • liquid watercolor paint or food coloring


  1. Combine and stir dry ingredients
  2. Add water and stir until lumps disappear
  3. Add vegetable oil and stir
  4. Add paint or food coloring and stir (have fun!)
  5. Cook and stir continually over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until dough is no longer sticky
  6. Dump dough out, knead, and let cool. Once cool, store in airtight container for longevity

Drawing Time with Tom

From approximately the ages of one to three, children go through what is often called “the scribbling stage.” Scribbling is a long learning process, and your child needs your help and encouragement just as much as when he or she was learning to walk or talk. Given patience and encouragement, the first scribbles will become a drawing that is recognizable, and shortly thereafter, letters and words. However, it is important not to push children into making some “thing” that is recognizable. Their experience at this stage is more about the “feeling” of the crayon, marker, or brush on paper.

From ages one to two, children scribble randomly. From ages two to four, they begin to establish a full vocabulary of scribbles, experimenting with the building blocks of writing and drawing, Dots, zigzags, vertical and diagonal lines, curves, spirals,  circles, etc…. towards the end of the scribbling stage children spontaneously draw “mandalas.”

“Mandalas” are circles or ovals divided by crossed lines and are symmetrically balanced.  “Mandalas” consistently precede the first attempt at drawing a human form.  The first drawing of human figures seem to spring from experimentation with the mandala form, as arms and legs branch out from the basic circle or head shape.

Fun Fact! If it were possible for a child to never draw until age four, he or she would still pass through the scribbling stage. No matter what age a child begins to draw, he or she will still have to pass through the scribbling stage before learning to draw or write!

Exposure and Child-Directed Learning

EXPOSURE: A child who is exposed early to positive creative art activities, and who is allowed to develop freely and naturally (with adults encouragement rather than direction), will take to writing very easily when the time comes, and will continue using art as a means of self-expression.

CHILD-DIRECTED: Let go of your own expectations of how an art project should be completed, and let the child decide how the art materials will be used. Instructions at an early age, before 3 years, can be overwhelming and prevent exploration, which is the essence of creative thinking!

While our doors are closed, CMA is here for you and your family with at-home art projects to keep children entertained and engaged. However, every day we’re closed puts the future of CMA in further jeopardy. 

Will you be there for us? Every dollar you donate directly supports the Museum and ensures that CMA will remain a pillar of educational and artistic leadership in New York City. Click here to donate.

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