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Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Top 10 Tips for Painting with Tiny Humans

I used to HATE getting paint out for craft time.  As in, I avoided it like the plague.  I hardly have any "artwork" from Lily's second year of life... cause I just didn't know how to let the 2yo paint while keeping the 1yo occupied and NOT covered in paint.  The control-freak in me didn't handle that stress well, so I just didn't bother.

But now is a different story.  I finally put on my big girl panties and decided my girls needed to embrace some form of daily art.  And once we started, we just can't stop!

I think the biggest push to pull out the paints more regularly came when I was researching home preschool ideas and fell in love with this blog all over again.  It's a gold mine of ideas and activities.  But her post on The ABCs of How to Home Preschool has a great section about how D is for Daily Art.  I also highly recommend The Toddler's Busy Book as it has a lot of great ideas in general, but specifically some great tips on making art time less stressful and more fun.  Most of these "top ten" ideas come from these two sources.  

So here are some of the things I've learned while working with my budding Picassos...

1.  Use washable paints or mix dish soap into acrylic paint.  I really like the Crayola Washable Kids' Paint because it even comes out of clothes!  But I have also found that simply mixing a generous squirt of Dawn into our acrylic paint makes clean up SO much easier!

2.  Reuse egg cartons as paint holders.  You were going to throw them out anyways!  They make for a nice paint palette for the girls and I can customize for each day by just ripping them down to size.  Plus I toss them in the trash when we're done!  Less to wash.  (Though the hippie in me cringes a little cause in Germany we usually recycle the cartons... but oh well, it's all about making craft time simpler, right?  I'll save the environment in other ways!)

3.  Upcycle an old adult t-shirt into a child's paint smock.  Exhibit A is modeling my old camp t-shirt that I used to wear when coloring my hair.  I just cut it in half right up the sides, then I secure it in back with a rubber band for each kid.  Wa-la!  No paint on clothes... usually...

4.  Don't try to multi-task.  We usually only paint for a half hour at the most, and I need to give the girls my full attention during this time.  At best, I can sip a cup of coffee, but usually it's best if I just sit at the table with them and watch them at work.  i.e. I can't be on facebook or someone will have paint up their nose faster than you can say "what's on your mind?"  (Also remember that timing is pretty important... we generally paint in the morning after breakfast.  I find that well-rested, full tummies are less likely to be whiny and fussy during craft time.)

5.  Focus on the process, not the project.  And don't be bossy.  It's really important for kids to just explore and play while they paint.  It was hard for me not to direct them at first... especially when they kind of suck at it ;o)  But they get better and more creative all on their own if you just let them be.  It's actually really fun to just sit back and watch!

A cool example of this is in the above pictures from the other day... I was taking photos for this post and wasn't really paying much attention to how the girls were painting.  All the sudden Sammy started to paint with the "wrong" end of her brush in the wet paint... and it made a really neat pattern!  When I commented on it, Lily of course wanted to try, too.  And a new experience was had.  Just from letting them explore!

6.  Prep everything before you sit them down to paint.  I have a pretty good system going now... but one thing that's really important for me to remember is to set out a big piece of paper in the hallway as our "drying spot".  The girls machine-gun through their papers and I am constantly running into the hallway with dripping masterpieces needing a place to rest.  It helps to have everything set and ready to go before we start.

7.  Use old towels as table protectors.  I tried using large sheets of paper, but they don't seem to stay as well.  And the girls would just end up painting on the table paper, or it would get wet and soak through to the table anyways.  Old towels do the trick.  Plus there's the added benefit that when they're working on a glue project they can wipe their little fingers off on the towels.

8.  Bring out the art on a regular basis... daily if you can.  We don't do it daily right now.  But that's the goal in the back of my mind.  It's great for their little brains and it's fun, too, once Momma stops being a control-freak ;o)  Keep it fresh by trying different kinds of paint, different brushes (we've used qtips, cotton balls, and even toy cars to paint!) and different projects, like gluing gems to paper or working with stickers.  Kids generally love any kind of art but they need regular exposure and variety to reap the full benefits.  

9.  Make a rotating art display somewhere in your house where your kids can see it.  I try to put up at least one new "work" from each kid every time we do art.  I hung some twine in the hallway so we could use mini clothespins and switch out the display easily.  Here in Germany we have a wood cabinet panel over our fridge, but using magnets to display some art on the fridge is classic, easy, and still awesome.

10.  Save and date the precious masterpieces.  I put each artist's name on the artwork and also the year.  At the end of the year I'm going to borrow Megan's (Hi Megan!) great idea and do a collage project with squares from my favorites in a framed poster.  That way I can save bits of the work of these early years and display it without saving stacks of papers and without wall-papering with gobs of paint scribbles.

Bonus clean up tip:  Use an old rag/washcloth.  I always have a load of rags to wash anyways, but if you're worried about paint getting on your other clothes, just wash it by hand and hang it up till tomorrow's paint adventure!  (I also never wash the table towels or paint smocks... just let them dry and put them in the craft cabinet till next time)  A washcloth is way more heavy duty to handle the tough job of getting in between those pudgy fingers... plus it's reusable! Be nice to the Earth and just say no to silly paper towels!  (There you go, we cancel out the disposable paint palettes by using washcloths!)  Love, your resident hippie.

And that's our "daily art" folks!  Happy painting and let me know if you have any other great ideas to add to this!  


  1. tip #11 (and the best part for the extended fam) put a few in the mail every month and send them off to those tiny human's grandparents! - Gigi and Gram get to have fridge art in their houses too!!!

  2. This post is AH-mazing!!!! The wanna-be mom in me has bookmarked this for when I have kids and macaroni glitter time has me shoving blunt pencils into my eyeballs. Not to mention the beautiful photographs that follow your 10 tips. You're a genius. Seriously the photos rock. My favs are as follows (and not necessarily in this order): Sam's cheesball grin, Lily's hands painting with the wrong end of the brush, artwork drying (great example!), & the stack of fine million dollar toddler art. I'm somewhat on the mend now from the sinusinfectionmaybe?strep from hell. This weekend was a wash.... all I know is D somehow managed to feed me. Definitely miss you like car-a-zay..... we're going on three weeks now.... unacceptable. I'll write you a long message later. Just wanted to remind you how awesome you and your blog are. (:

    1. LOL reading this made me laugh! Thanks for the encouragement :o) And I'm sorry you were so sick! "all I know is D somehow managed to feed me." awwww you poor thing! I'm glad you're back in the land of the living!

  3. You're so smart. This post was super pin-worthy.