Painting for Toddlers; Minimize the Mess, Maximize the Fun!

Painting is both fun and beneficial to your little one’s development. Painting allows toddlers to explore textures and colors, and even to share their emotions through art when they may lack the language skills to express their feelings verbally. Not to mention, it’s a great way for kids to practice hand-eye coordination and to develop dexterity and muscle tone in their hands and fingers. Below you will find some tips & tricks for painting with toddlers to minimize the mess and maximize the fun! 

If you are looking for some other ways to have fun along with painting, check out our list of fun & educational activities for toddlers!

Painting for Toddlers; Minimize the Mess, Maximize the Fun!

painting for toddlers

How to Make it (a Little) Less Messy

Let’s face it, toddlers and paint can make for a messy combination. This leads many moms to avoid this particular art project. After all, when you’re already frantically cleaning messes all day long, it doesn’t seem wise to provide your toddler with the means to create yet another one, right? Here are some ways to change this! 

Mitigate the Mess Beforehand

Make this a clothing optional activity! Strip your child down to the bare minimum so you’ll only have to worry about wiping down skin instead of scrubbing the entire rainbow out of that one outfit she insists on wearing every single day. For the paint itself, you can use disposable items that you won’t have to clean. For instance, an old egg carton makes a good paint palette and cotton swabs can be great disposable paintbrushes.

painting for toddlers

Provide a Large Workspace for Your Little Artist

Toddlers are still developing fine motor skills, because of this, it is smart to give them a large area to paint in. Instead of a single sheet of paper, we recommend investing in a large roll of butcher paper or craft paper. Broken down cardboard boxes can also provide a great work surface. If the weather permits, your toddler can even use washable paints outside on the driveway, sidewalk, or grass.

The larger the workspace, the less need for you to try to control where the paint ends up or clean up errant strokes.

Use the Plastic Bag Trick 

This is finger painting without the mess-stress! This tactic allows for painting fun without the need for much supervision. Simply squirt a few different colors of paint into a sturdy plastic freezer bag, seal it, then use masking tape or painter’s tape to affix it to a table or window.

Make sure all the edges are secured with tape in case of leaks. Then, let your little Van Gogh go to town squishing the paint all around the inside of the bag.

This is a project they can go back to multiple times throughout the day without the need for clean-ups or concern. When you’re done, simply toss the whole bag into the trash.

When Painting with Toddlers… Have an Exit Strategy

It can be difficult to tear a toddler away from an activity they’re engrossed in, but you’ll need to bring the painting to an end sooner or later. So, it behooves you to have an exit strategy in place beforehand.

For example, if your toddler is motivated by screen time, you can offer a few minutes of their favorite show. If your child is more motivated by food, consider offering a favorite treat, such as a popsicle, when the painting comes to a close. Doing so just might stave off a melt-down!

How to Make Painting Fun for Toddlers

Allow Self-Direction

When your toddler is working on a creative activity like painting, try to let go of control a bit. Let them freely choose paint colors, techniques, and tools they use. Try to go with the flow and remember that creative expression is developmentally important for toddlers.

Combine Painting with a Water Activity

You already know you’ll need to clean your toddler up once the painting adventure is complete, so why not have a built-in clean-up at the ready? This could mean scooping her up and depositing her directly into the bathtub, letting her spray herself with the garden hose, or even painting the inside of your kitchen sink and then allowing her to help you scrub the paint off afterward.

Let them Experiment

painting for toddlers

Who says painting activities have to involve brushes or fingers? Let your toddler experiment with different textures, tools, and shapes. Sticks, leaves, cookie cutters, and sponges all make for great “brushes”.

If painting outside is an option, the possibilities are nearly endless. Plus, then painting can become a lesson in nature as much as in colors and shapes.

If you’re feeling ambitious, potato painting is a particularly fun way to engage a toddler in a painting project!

Display Your Toddler’s Painting Proudly

Creating a painting is a big accomplishment for a toddler, so display it somewhere show them you’re proud! Showing our kids that artistic endeavors are worthwhile and worthy of celebration helps them to further embrace these concepts in their cognitive and social development.

Although many moms are rightfully hesitant to encourage mess-making, painting is both fun and educational for toddlers. The tips and tricks above illustrate that painting doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all project! You can adopt a style that suits your needs and keeps your stress and mess levels low.

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