You’re the parent of a toddler, and you’re getting that urge to let them express themselves artistically. Great! You’ll have new artwork to hang on the refrigerator in no time. But first – don’t tell anyone! You’re guaranteed to get raised eyebrows and comments of ‘You’re brave,” if you mention this idea to other parents. The general myth is that painting with toddlers is more trouble than it’s worth. However, take a deep breath – painting with toddlers can be a rewarding experience for all you ‘brave parents’ out there, if you know what to do and how to do it. Here’s a few tips:
Painting tip #1: Have all your supplies ready– When you start a painting session with your toddler, have everything that you will need within reach. You will need – a table covering, a ‘toddler’ covering (oversized shirt or apron), paper, tape, cardboard, watercolors, paper towels, and a cup of water.
Because you are painting with toddlers, watercolors are best at this stage – they’re washable, don’t stain as much as other paints, absorb into the paper, and aren’t as potentially messy. You don’t need a high quality paper, but something thicker than newsprint will be necessary. A good stubby, thick brush will be best for your child’s small hands and awkward grip. You will also want to tape the edges of the paper down to a piece of cardboard (tape all the way around) – this prevents your toddler from pulling the paper up when it’s wet, or moving it around.
Painting tip #2: Prepare the workspace – Set up your toddler’s painting area before you place them in it. Consider placing them in their booster seat at the dining room table, with a plastic tablecloth overtop. Place the paper/cardboard as far to the edge as you can, but keep the watercolor palette and water cup out of their reach. Make sure there are no priceless artifacts or antique documents nearby, within a paintbrush’s reach.
Painting tip #3: Give limited choices– When your toddler is painting for the first couple times, they don’t need unlimited freedom of artistic expression – that will come later, after they have experience. Right now, they need to learn how to hold a paintbrush, what happens when a wet brush touches paper, and how colors make marks appear. Don’t: give your toddler the whole watercolor palette (they won’t know what to do with it). Do: show your child how to add water to the watercolors, stir it, announce “This is green paint“, make a mark on the paper to show your child what to do, then give them the paintbrush to hold and experiment. When they’re done making marks on the paper or want a new color, take the brush, clean it and give them a different color.
Painting tip #4: Don’t get upset; do give positive feedback– Parents, don’t panic if your toddler doesn’t keep the brush on the paper, if they paint their arm, or if they mix colors to create a brown blob. If they paint their arm, simply guide their hand back to the paper and say “We paint on paper, not our arms.” If they create a brownish gray mess from mixing all the colors, say “This is what happens when we mix all the colors together. Now let’s try some red somewhere else on the paper.” If a little paint gets on the table or the wall, remember – they’re watercolors, and they’ll wash off. If your toddler doesn’t create a masterpiece – that’s okay (they’re learning!). Most of all, be encouraging to your toddler – let them understand that painting is a fun activity that you are willing to do with them, but there are certain guidelines they need to follow.
Painting tip #5: Keep it short – The old saying goes: “Leave them wanting more.” Don’t force your child to keep painting long after they’re visibly done, restless and bored. Once the signs of “I’m done with this activity” begin, put a stop to the painting and clean up. This prevents your toddler from experimenting with the paint in undesirable ways.
You can put a stop to those myths of painting being impossible or incredibly messy with toddlers. When you give young children the opportunity of artistic experiences, and you are prepared for what happens, even those as young as a year and a half can learn what is expected of them. So go ahead and grab some watercolors, some paper and proudly wear that “brave parent” badge!