Painting for Toddlers Magic Tips – from Nightmare to Fun!
Painting for toddlers is an amazingly enriching sensory activity for them – but it can also be a parent’s worst nightmare. The preparation, the lack of ideas, the play, the mess, the cleaning up afterward can feel daunting. The main reason why we might easily gravitate away from toddler activities that involve paint.
I can assure you it was like this for me at first. My children did amazing things at the nursery because the space was designed to explore in that free form. But I was not ready to bring most of those activities into my own home. So some I have adapted, and some they will just do at nursery because I was not willing to have paint flying all around.
So, after 2 children and some experiences, I am here to share our discoveries, tips, and painting ideas so you can make the most of it and enjoy it at your own pace and in your own way.
Why is painting important for toddlers?
I am no expert – I am just a mom – but I believe everyone thinks painting is a great activity for toddlers from what I’ve seen and read. It not only helps them develop creatively, but it also stimulates their brain. It helps them to work and improve on skills and areas that are important for their development:
- hand-eye coordination
- fine motor skills
- creative thinking
- learning to use tools
- learning about shapes & colors
- builds their confidence
And I would also add that it can be a great bonding moment that you can both share and enjoy together, by yourselves, with other siblings and grandparents and carers. So… Is painting good for toddlers? Definitely yes.
How to set up painting for toddlers?
I love to paint, but the idea of my toddlers with paint on their hands in our apartment with white walls – I must confess – terrified me. I was scared they would go crazy and paint everywhere – it was never the case.
Toddler painting can be amusing, but in order to enjoy it, as a parent, you must also be in the right mindset. If it has been a stressful day or you are worried about something… you might not enjoy it – it could actually backfire – and the shared experience might not be great for either of you. Which clearly is the opposite of this whole endeavor.
As with everything, I believe we must start with baby steps. I would recommend doing it on a day that you have time and space (mentally and physically). Maybe on a Saturday morning, after you’ve had your shower and they’ve had their breakfast, and with nothing ahead of you for the next couple of hours, you finally have time to set everything up for a lovely experience together.
This is how I usually set up:
1. Protect the surface – you must think big… protect all the areas where your child’s arms can reach and an extra palm just in case. If you just protect a small area, don’t think they’ll keep to that area (at least until they are in their late twos)
- plastic tablecloth (I saved one from a birthday party, and I keep reusing it)
- newspapers or A3 papers and tape them to the surface with washi tape
- trash bags are also great for this
- use a couple of big plastic or silicone mats
2. Protect your child by using a long-sleeve apron or smock on the child – if you are a bit worried about your child staining his clothes, you can use an apron, you can strip him down and leave him just wearing his nappy, or have dedicated clothes for this kind of activities. If you are not worried about the clothes, in particular, you can clearly skip this. (When I was little, we didn’t have aprons or smocks, my mom would take a trash bag, make a hole for the head and 2 for the arms, and that would be it. It would not be the cutest outfit, but I had loads of fun).
3. Have support to place the paints – you can use a paper plate, a plastic color palette, or paint cups with lids for kids to avoid any spills.
4. Always have baby wipes ready – they can help you wipe surfaces, hands, faces… and all those places you don’t want to even imagine.
5. For some activities, you might even like to use a tray to limit the paint (e.g., when you paint rolling a ball or blowing the paint).
The first time might feel like you are climbing Mount Everest, but the second time will be more accessible, and the third and the fourth… the more time you spend painting, the easier it will be, and the more you will enjoy the experience.
How to make painting for toddlers fun?
It is vital to find a balance between letting them explore & having fun and our comfort level that will allow us to have peace of mind. I believe that if we explain to our toddlers the rules of painting and all the things they can do positively, they are more confident and have a better time.
This has been our painting process evolution, starting when my children were around 1 year old:
1. Limited access to paint – letting them explore without much mess initially (e.g., painting in resealable cellophane bags, under film, in a salad spinner, blowing). Everything is so new to them at this stage that everything surprises them. However, I can assure you that they have a great time even it they don’t get whole hands-on messy.
2. Limited movement & Freedom of access to paint – having them located at all times & not putting any limits between the child and the paint (e.g., painting sitting in a highchair either finger painting, mark-making, or with tools like brushes).
3. Freedom of movement & Freedom of access to paint- letting them completely move around & not putting any limits between the child and the paint (e.g., sidewalk painting).
What paints to use?
There are many choices, but I would say the most essential features for any paint you use with children are that they are non-toxic and washable.
We prefer squeezable bottles with flip-top caps to avoid spills or getting colors mixed. We then squeeze the paint onto the canvas, card, a paper plate, a plastic color palette, or cups, and we are ready to start having fun! Our top choices are the following:
- Scola Artmix 600ml Bottles Ready Mix Craft Poster Paint Set 12 Assorted Colours – this is a big set… I bought it 3 years ago and we are still loving and using it 😉 They are also gluten & dairy free – Can be found in Europe
- Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paints – the great thing is that it is also Allergen free (does not have most common allergens latex, dairy & casein, egg, gluten, peanut & tree nut, or soy.)
- Crayola Washable Finger Paints – I believe it can be found worldwide – but they do not state on their website or Amazon if they are allergen free.
You can also make your own chalk paint for outdoor projects, like painting on the sidewalk or splatter painting in the garden. It’s a great way to recycle and use those little chunks of chalk that are left. It is very easy to clean with a garden hose if you do not let it dry, but if the surface is porous or very light, it might stain (so always test in a small – preferably hidden – area before so you see how your floors react).
This is how we make our own chalk paint and some ideas of what to do with it!
Have fun painting!!
What can you use for painting?
Anything, really! Honestly, you can use anything you can get your hands on (and that you won’t mind getting a bit messy).
- their fingers, hands, and – if you feel confident enough – feet
- brushes: paintbrushes, nail brushes, toothbrushes, hairbrushes…
- rollers: flat, with patterns & textures
- sponges: traditional, with shapes,…
- comb, forks, spoon, spatulas,
- nature elements: leaves, sticks, flowers,…
- recycled materials: cork, bubble wrap, string, caps, bottles, paper roll, straws, aluminum foil,…
- toys: building blocks, cars, animals, balls,…
- fruits & vegetables: potatoes, carrots, artichokes, apples, lemons,…
- salad spinner, tray,…
Painting techniques for toddlers
There are so many things you can do, but I have listed some of the techniques you can explore together.
- Hard-edge painting (squares, circles, triangles, etc…)
- Lines, Waves & wiggles
- Pressure variations
- Dot paintings
- Symmetrical or mirror effect designs
- Animals from hands, fingers, and feet prints
- Splash painting
- Spinning: place a paper with some dollops of paint in a salad spinner, put on the lid, and spin… the results are always surprising
- Stamping: using corks, sponges, vegetables, actual stamps…
- Texture with tools
- Crayon resist
- And, of course… complete freestyle.
Painting for toddlers idea gallery
I hope you’ll give it a try
Painting with toddlers can be really fun. They can enjoy it immensely and so can you. Discover your comfort level and, little by little, try new things and let them explore more.
It is fun if you also participate and create something of your own – this way, they see and learn from looking, and you can have fun too, letting your inner child come back to life. Because when we do… we can connect much better with our children, and the memories of those moments will last longer for sure.
Have fun painting & creating!