Saturday 3 November 2012


Ok, paint is not free, but you can get it for next to nothing and a few squeezy bottles of the stuff can keep them entertained for ages.

Small children do not create masterpieces, they create what adults call mess; however they definitely get a huge amount of enjoyment from the process of painting so it's got to be worth the hassle.
Getting an early taste for painting.
I am not house-proud, which means I don't have a problem with painting indoors. We've got wipe-clean table cloths and a fairly resilient kitchen floor, and I've long since mastered the skill of carrying a paint-plastered child upstairs to plonk them in the bath without letting them make contact with walls, stair carpet etc.

Zac not limited by paper!

Babies and toddlers seem to take a while to conform to the notion that you usually paint on paper. It is evidently much more satisfying to paint on yourself, or just paint everything within reach. Similarly, they may like to use a paintbrush or sponge to apply paint, but they will probably mostly favour using their hands.Putting paint on stuff is a delightful, tactile experience, and although I've met some children who didn't like to get dirty, somehow mine never had any hang-ups about it.
It's maybe also worth knowing that little kids are not trying to come up with a fantastic end product, once they've done the fun part they generally don't care what happens to the outcome, so although I'm as sentimental as the next mummy, and certainly put their first ever paintings on display on a cupboard door, after that I didn't feel too bad about rolling up most of their paint-sodden creations and binning them as soon as they were distracted by something else.
Using the slide as an easel.
Decorating the tree house
Tennis ball printing!
You don't have to put your house at risk, painting outside is just as fun and probably offers a lot more scope for experimentation. They love painting things- the boys decorated our climbing frame and the tree house with big decorators brushes, and since it was kids' water-based paint it pretty much disappeared the first time it rained. If they're going to make a picture outside, then it can be as big as you like, which is good when your fine-motor skills are not that developed yet. A roll of wallpaper lining paper goes a long way pretty cheaply and is big enough to let you try some really fun stuff. We experimented with throwing paint-covered balls and sponges at it, and rolling balls and cars driven through paint across it to see what tracks they made.

Putting paint-coloured water in a plant-spray bottle was one idea that went down really well. The boys spray-painted an old sheet, and then spray-painted each other, and me. Weirdly the sheet washed clean but the top I was wearing always kept its new designer pattern (so don't wear anything precious!)

Outside, you don't even have to use paint. Brushes and water seem to do the trick on their own. We've got a rendered wall which shows up the wet brush-strokes really well, and then they "magically" disappear again when they dry. And if you paint each other, there's no major clean up afterwards!
Painting with water.

None of these ideas for things to do with paint are mine. You can pick them up watching Mr Maker type programs on tele or reading parenting books/magazines. The only tricky part is making yourself try them and then going with it when the kids take the idea and do something totally unexpected with it!

Zac aged 4 with his battleship painting!

Incidentally. Although all these ideas look completely random. Zac suddenly decided, age 4, that he wanted to make art that actually looks like something! He turned, almost overnight, into the kind of artist that did produce finished articles, and even demanded I frame some of his pictures, rather than just sticking them on the back of a cupboard door, so if you find it hard to be enthusiastic about the  messy stage, it's maybe worth remembering that it could be the start of an artistic career!

Other things to do with paint-
Any kind of printing- hand prints and foot prints of course and also dipping different shaped vegetables, toy car wheels, lego bricks etc in paint to see what pattern they make- so long as they can be washed, the kids will have just as much fun doing the washing up afterwards.

Squirty butterfly pictures.
Mix some glue and paint together and add it to cooked spaghetti. Then make a crazy spaghetti mess. You're supposed to let it dry on grease proof paper and hang it up like a spaghetti mobile (?!) but mine always mixed it so much that the different colours blended together to make sludgy grey brown, so we binned it after the playing part.

Butterfly pictures. They use a lot of paint but the boys still love doing this. Fold a big piece of paper in half and then open it out. Using squeezy bottles squirt blobs of paint all over one side of the paper. Fold the other side over. Smooth it with your hands so the blobs will spread and blend together. Open it up and Hey Presto, it's a beautiful butterfly!

Bubbly painting. When they're little it's best to use a sponge to make the bubbles. Add a little water and washing up liquid to paint and let them squeeze a sponge in it until they get a lot of colourful foam, Squeeze the foam onto a tray or wipe-clean table cloth, then lay some paper on top to get a bubbly print. Once you can trust them to only "blow not suck" you can give them a straw to blow bubbles in the soapy paint mixture. You get bigger bubbles that make a different kind of print. 

I Was Featured at The Weekly Kids Co-Op


  1. What an awesome post with lots of ideas! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. This is brilliant! What fantastic ideas you have! I'm going to pin them for another day. Thanks so much for linking with me x

    1. Thank you! My younger son did a very careful watercolour of a tree when he got home from school this afternoon, and I rather wished he still wanted to do lobbing painty tennis balls instead!

  3. Totally agree, painting in any form is great. I like the idea of spray painting.
    Thanks for sharing #LetKidsBekids

  4. Love the idea of using the slide and tennis balls. I'll be pinning this post for future use this summer!

    1. I was really good fun, and the "artwork" would have been quite at home in the Tate Modern ;)

  5. Some wonderful activities and ideas for great messy paint fun! Zac's painting of the battleship is very impressive for a 4 year old, he's obviously moved on from his abstract years! Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

    1. My sister got married at Mount Edgecombe- opposite Plymouth, and having watched battleships in the bay all weekend Zac became somewhat hooked. He did some amazing paintings of them!

  6. Wow your 4 years old drawing's awesome! Lovely painting activities too #CountryKids