Tips on Painting with Toddlers: Don’t Toss Out That Easel Just Yet

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Sergio and I like to paint. Not every day, because you can imagine how messy and time-consuming that would be. But, on rainy days like today, we like to fire up our creativity with a few art projects. I am not a creative person when it comes to colors, paints, or anything visual. I’m still learning, I suppose. However, I am one of those stay-at-home moms with nothing better to do than cook up ideas for the kids. Painting is one of those ideas that always sounds fun. It can be frustrating for mom or dad though, so here are a few tips to keep it fun.

I am interested in researching how to recycle paint, and which paints are better for the environment. For now, we paint what we can (old jars, rocks, pieces of wood, and of course, paper) with what we have. This keeps the price for materials down (canvases look great, but are incredibly expensive).

Washable Crayola paint, watercolor palette, brushes, and a recycled jar to put rinsing water in

I love trays. This one is made from silicon (I think? It doesn’t say on the bottom) from Aldi. It has handles and is lightweight; Sergio can lift it also when helping to clean up. Trays tend to keep everything together, easy to reach, and this particular tray doesn’t mind a few spills. Other good options are available on Amazon.

Set up your area, including snacks, utensils and paints, mediums, and whatever else you want to add, before telling your son or daughter about the day’s activity. I have made this mistake many times, and am often followed frantically by an excited, chattering three-year-old on my quest for supplies.

Something else to consider is where you and your little artist will paint. I like to set up a spot outside, so that stubborn paint stains can be pressure-washed from concrete areas or, more ideally, absorbed by the grass and dirt underfoot. For me, painting can have calming effects, which are multiplied when practiced in the open air. I have a screened-in patio, so making a paint station outside is easy for us. If you have a few more obstacles in the way, think creatively, and hoard some cardboard or old linens to use for covering important spaces in your home.

Once your area is clean, covered with an old tablecloth or piece of cardboard, arrange your tools of creativity and make sure the child can reach everything. I also use this easel (I love that it is not made largely from plastic and is easy to carry from room to room) to give Sergio ample access to his work. This is not a fun activity for the children if you don’t allow them to explore and grab their own materials.

On this note, painting is an excellent way for toddlers to dabble in colors, shapes, and textures. It’s a good time to practice vocabulary, so don’t forget to talk about whatever they’re doing. (Today Sergio said the words “dark” and “star” while painting.)

I practice my own creative efforts while spending time with my son.

Mistakes and spills will happen, making supervision necessary. Young children are prone to tasting, smelling, and smearing things all over the place. While working with paints (washable or not) supervision is very important. While sitting next to Sergio, I looked away for one second, and turned back to see a blob of blue paint in the tin of rocks still to be colored. My son had opened a paint jar by himself, and dumped everything out; at least it wasn’t on the floor. Another good reason to use washable paint.

We quickly found a solution by simply painting the rest of the rocks blue. Painting is a nice way for children to explore their surroundings because accidents can turn into artwork.

Another tip is to slyly remove items or tools that are not currently interesting your child. Too many objects to use or things to do can be overwhelming for young ones, and you might have less mess to clean up if you secretly take away the less exciting stamps, stickers, or glitter. Please don’t let them catch you doing this, and remember: I am not liable for any tantrums that occur in your house.

Don’t forget to have fun and don’t worry about cleaning up: everything is much easier with a tray to toss it all into. If you and your artist made it outside, there should be even less to worry about cleaning. Stick your brushes in a jar of water (mineral spirits or paint thinner for acrylic and oil-based paints), and go take a break. You’ve earned it. Keep that easel for the days when you’re not sure what to do, or those times when inspiration strikes.

Plans for a gallery of Sergio’s work are under way because displaying your toddler’s artwork is just as important as making it.