Painting with Toddlers

Art Painting

As an art teacher I love painting, I understand the importance of it, and I love seeing what is created when little ones get their hands on it. However, I don’t love chaos and craziness, lots of mess and potential disaster. 

I 100% get why parents don’t want to set up painting activities for their kids. However, like with all toddler activities being organised is half the battle! 

Here’s what my type A personality suggests. Let me caveat all of this with saying I’m just sharing what has worked for me and my son at home. It may be totally different for you, and I’d love to hear what works for you. 

 (Painting the salt dough dinosaurs we made)


Set yourself up for success. Have all the materials to hand: brushes, paint, paper, wipes, towel, ect. Tape your paper to the table so it’s secure. (Materials for painting can also include so much more than brushes and paper, but lets keep it simple for now). Egg cartons are great for holding paint, and they can be used again and again once the paint is dry. 

 Location location location: Changing the location of painting will create interest, as well as different results. Sitting at the table, standing at an easel, painting on the kitchen floor or even in the bathtub! My greatest successes with painting with my son is him standing at an easel. He’s seeing the paper from a different perspective, using different muscles in his arms, and it allows him to move and paint.

Even better, is taking the easel outside! I don’t care if paint gets on the grass, but I do on the carpet. If you are still unsure, locations like the bathtub or kitchen floor lend itself to easy cleanup. 

(Painting outside!)

The safest option: If you want to contain the paint, tape a piece of paper to the bottom of a large clear container. (Like the under the bed type of storage box). Give your toddler three colors, start with the primary colors - red, yellow and blue. Give them a few brushes and let them paint their masterpiece inside the clear bin.

(Painting set up on the kitchen floor)


I mainly use tempera paint for all our activities. It’s washable and toddler friendly! Most painting sets will come with the primary and secondary colors. We also have some fluorescent colors we use a lot! 


Another option is watercolour paints in a solid puck form. I like the watercolour set from Ikea. It comes in bright fun colors along with handy box to store brushes and cups for water. Toddlers love to mix all the colors together, and your pallet will eventually become a murky mess. Just run it under a tap to clean all the colors back to their original state. 


(Painting 'snail trails' to send to family during lockdown as part of our "Snail Mail" activity. Ikea watercolour paints seen here). 


Paint what they love! If it’s your first time painting with your child, spark their interests by incorporating their loves into the art. 

 So for example: if your son or daughter loves cars or animals, paint those- then wash them! Two activities in one. It may not be painting on paper, but they are using the materials and exploring the medium. Remember its all about the process and using the materials, not the final result at this age.


(Painting with cars, using our fluorescent tempera paint)

Let loose with some process art

 I’m a sucker for a beautiful Jackson Pollock painting (or any modern art tbh), so I love when my son paints on the ground. Kids also love to paint BIG, so by putting the paper on the ground it gives them a lot of freedom. We’ve made some beautiful process art works outside, on a large piece of cardboard or paper. Paint brushes, squeeze bottles and egg cartons with some paint make for great experimentation. 

(Process art at it's best!)


One paint challenge parents have is kids eating the paint. Like any activity, I’d set clear boundaries. The paint brush gets dipped in the paint and onto the paper, (not our mouth). If it continues, pack up the paint and try again another day. 

Finally, relax and have fun! 



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