Organization and Resources, Paint Play

10 Ways to Play with Paint

Kids love painting. It is such a versatile way to engage the senses and help your child learn and thrive. Your child will grow their fine motor skills, expand their knowledge of color, deepen their understanding of cause and effect and learn to self regulate big emotions when they find engaging with the act of painting can be a tool to calm the mind and body.

You can easily bring painting into your rotation of tools to engage your children at home in a way that feels easy and natural to your parenting style and comfort level with mess. There is a way to play with paint that works for everyone—even babies!

1.) Painting Objects

Thinking outside the canvas can open up a new creative world for your little artist.

Painting rocks
Painting a birdhouse

Paintable objects are all around us: rocks, sticks, wood birdhouses and boxes, cardboard forts/rockets/houses. Your child will love exploring color and increasing spatial awareness as they navigate painting a three dimensional object.

2.) Painting with Objects

Painting with objects is such an engaging way to play with paint! The possibilities are endless.

Painting with loose parts from nature
Painting with dinosaurs

We’ve painted with all kinds of objects from nature, dino and animal figurines, hot wheels, fruits and vegetables, flowers—the list goes on and on. What kinds of objects could you and your little artists add to this list?

3.) Wet on Wet Watercolor

This watercolor method is used in Waldorf schools around the world. When the watercolor paper is wet, the paint dances in a beautiful flurry of color as the child leads its movement. The emphasis is taken away from line and shape, and allows the little painter to have an immersive color experience.

Wet on wet with spring colors
Wet on wet Valentine’s Day cards

I find this painting method to be particularly calming. My very active 3.5 year old will often choose to retreat to his wet on wet painting if he needs to calm down. It has been an invaluable tool in developing self awareness around emotions in our home. There is always a wet on wet painting in progress at our house.

4.) Bring it Outside

If the fear of mess is keeping you from facilitating painting projects with your kids, bring it outside!

Young painter hard at work

You don’t need an outdoor easel to paint outside (although we love ours and use it daily). We have painted snow, and grass, and driveways and sidewalks. Chalk paint can easily be made with cornstarch, food coloring and water. Washable tempera also comes off of most surfaces easily.

Kids chalk painting outside

Earn yourself some extra cool parent points by freezing up some chalk paintsicles for the kids to play with outside this summer.

5.) Beyond the Brush

Paint brushes are not a requirement for painting fun! Put some washable tempera paint in spray bottles, use hands and feet, sponges, squirt bottles and old cosmetic containers.

A little hand immersed in the joy of painting
Recyclables make great paintbrushes!

6.) Bath Tub Painting

This is a two part activity that will buy you lots of independent play time. Give your little painter some bath paint and brushes in the dry bathtub before bath time. Let them go wild. Then, let them have a fun time scrubbing it all off with some sponges and bubbles during bath time.

This bath paint is made with cornstarch, baking soda, water and food color

7.) Large Scale Painting

Painting on large surfaces is FUN. You can facilitate this by taking it outside to the driveway, a cement wall, a window, a large piece of cardboard, or simply taping down more paper than usual on the dining room table.

A little artist painting on a paper covered table
Window art
Large scale chalk painting
Painting on cardboard (and cement) with washable tempera paint

8.) Paint for Someone

Kids love creating art for their loved ones. Before writing skills are top notch, art serves as a tool for our children to communicate their love and demonstrate gratitude for important people in their lives.

Wet on wet watercolor greeting cards

We regularly paint cards for our loved ones, save and send paintings, and use fabric paint to decorate clothing as gifts for special occasions.

9.) Painting with Water for Babies

This is a great way to introduce your baby to painting! She or he will love dipping their paintbrush in and out of the cup, and taking plenty of tastes of that yummy paintbrush.

The water makes a mark on dry construction paper taped to a wall or high chair tray. Keep the paper in place when baby is done. After the paper is dry, you can do it again!

This method also works for outdoor surfaces like cement, wood and brick. It’s a great way to involve baby in the play while older siblings are painting.

10.) No-Mess Sensory Painting for Babies

This sensory paint play is fun for older siblings, too. in fact, you’ll probably have a hard time keeping them away from the fun!

Baby’s first painting

This activity is mess free, because the paint is all contained in a ziplock bag. Baby will love experiencing this sensory play as she squishes the paint around to make her mark. My 10 month old has been enjoying this play since she was three months old.

Process Over Product

Remember, art play for children is about the process, not the product. When your child is “done”, the painting could look different than you envisioned it would. Celebrate their process for what it is as you guide and expose them.

I hope this list gives you some ideas to facilitate paint play at home with your littles in a way that feels easy and natural to you. Have fun!

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