Painting with Toddlers

Every day, around mid-morning, after the kids have finished their breakfast and done their initial playing in the living room, we clean up and I break out the broom.  Immediately both kids jump up and go grab their little broom and the dustpans.  It’s sweet.  Except that their help always makes more of a mess.  Pretty much every day, I consider tweeting something about the futility of sweeping with toddlers and pretty much every day, we somehow manage to get the floors looking better than they were.

So one might think that I would have learned from this and done some thinking on how to make painting with toddlers a successful experience.  After all, painting is obviously a far messier process than sweeping.  Well, I did and I did not.  This is what I learned:

What I Did Well:

I saved big cardboard pieces about a month ago and stored them between the fridge and the wall.  Today I threw them onto the living room floor where they made a great space to sit and play with paint.

We cleaned up the living room before breaking out paints.

I scheduled no important anything for after the painting session.

The kids dressed up in their painting clothes.  White pants for the little girl proved to be the best because all the colors show up and look so delightfully messy.

I broke out four tubes of  WASHABLE non-toxic finger paint  (I later learned just how important washable is)

I had no rules or expectations other than just to play with paint.

I cleaned the floor and put away the cardboard (the cleanup looked like it was going to be horrendous, but actually wasn’t so bad because of the washability of the paint.)

Overall, it all went well because they had fun and explored paint a bit, but it just wasn’t the experience I’d envisioned.

What I Didn’t Do Well:

I somehow assumed that the kids would just dive in and play with the paint and swirl and cover things in great colors.  They did not.  They were reticent about getting their hands dirty which was unexpected given their artistic endeavors with their food.

I used four different colors.  It looked SO NICE and sweet when I first squeezed out the paint and then in all of two seconds, we had one mixture of color via my son’s paintbrush.  Next time we’ll stick to one or two colors.

I didn’t have anything for them to DO.  I’d been so concerned about being too structured and inhibiting their natural exploratory curiosity, but I failed to remember that this was a really new activity for them.


What I’d Do Differently Next Time:

I think next time I’ll have an activity like painting with water colors on wet paper ( or covering one big sheet of heavy paper with one or two colors and let them just explore that.  I also think I’m going to plop them in the tub tomorrow with some shaving cream and food colors for some tub painting.  I’m pretty sure they’ll get a kick out of that and I’m pretty sure the mess won’t stay contained to the tub, but that’s okay because our bathroom is long overdue for a good cleaning.

It’s so interesting having kids because sometimes I forget that they don’t know things – particularly about things like crafts and painting.   A month ago, my little boy couldn’t do craft activities on his own.  He knew about the glue stick, but he didn’t know how to make things or what to make or how to just play with glue and paper.  Now he can sit at a table and really create his own stuff completely independently.  Little girl loves the glue stick, but a year younger than brother, she hasn’t made the connection of how to glue and so stickers are really her thing while simultaneously exploring the cap of the glue stick with her tongue.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the mess around crafts and painting.  It’s easy to get frustrated with all the things they do wrong except that I like to think there are no rules around creating activities, but still – it would be nice for the glue stick to stay on the table and off of the sofa.  And I do get mildly frustrated when the little one pulls off all the things she has just glued on, but of course, this is where she is at.  Just like playing with food as a developmental stage, so is playing with taking things apart.  I do have to say that I absolutely LOVE when they stack things on top of things or color over something that they really love.  It covers the original image, but they do it so purposefully that I can just breathe in their intentionality and creativity.  These are the works of art I love.

Last month we did puzzles and puzzles and more puzzles.  That seemed to be the focus and this month it has been crafts so I’ve been thinking about crafts and creativity and their awkwardness at it and the need to have loads of adult support when we’re at library kid time and craft time.  And then I remember something I’ve told myself on occasion, “Of course it is hard.  They don’t know how to do it.  They need to have more opportunities and not fewer.”

So tomorrow we plop into the empty tub for shaving cream with food coloring painting.  I think it will be one messy wonderful experience.


Filed under Life with Kids

2 responses to “Painting with Toddlers

  1. Wow!! It sounds like you are game for just about anything. I usually am too on the most part, but I never attempted playing with paints in that way. I applaud your bravery. Crafts with toddlers can be frustrating, but they do learn something and the results are well worth the frustration and the mess,


    • It did seem really daunting, but wasn’t SO bad. I talked to a teacher today who threw a painting activity into the day since it was the day before spring break. She said it went great, but was also a huge mess because she never gets to do art so the kids don’t know any of the procedures. Smiling – we have no procedures at our house yet! I’d better get thinking!!!

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