10 Quick Tips For Easier Painting With Kids

I think most of us, as parents, want to do creative things with our kids. We want them to paint and colour and do all of those things that look great in photos and are great for their spirits, but life and its many walls get in the way. The mess, the set up, the clean up, the unpredictability of little kids and paintbrushes … it’s all enough to stop us before we start. I’m guilty of this, too. It becomes a chore and an event, and it doesn’t happen often enough to feed the creative well that kids have; that need regular filling.

Here are some quick tips that you could start implementing in the next few days so that you can give your kids the creative outlet they need:

  • Have a bin of go-to supplies handy. We keep kid-paints, brushes, cups, plates and random crafty bits in a non-ugly bin from the dollar store so that we can grab and go. Set up is quick and easy this way.
  • Painter’s tape is your best friend. Yes, you can use it for various crafting and painting activities, but its utilitarian abilities here are exactly what you need. For all kids, you can use it to tape down watercolour paper to the table or counter or floor, and for younger kids, it can be used to secure (somewhat) canvas or papers (for colouring) so they don’t slide around. This removes an element of frustration for the creator, and for you in terms of clean up needs.
  • Craft paper or plastic table cloths are also besties. Big rolls of craft paper or dollar store plastic table cloths are easy to roll out, tape down (painter’s tape!) and then clean up. You can recycle the craft paper, or let it dry and fold it up for future use, if you have somewhere to store it. You can wipe down or simply let the plastic table cloth dry when the painting is finished, or simply toss it when you’re finished. While I prefer the greener route, the plastic tablecloth is easier to cram into the art supply bin for storage.
Look for: the bowls and the tape.
  • Use bowls, not cups. The next time you’re at Ikea, pick up an extra pack of those cheap kid bowls and plates. Bowls are harder to tip over and spill, resulting in fewer unwanted wet messes. Fill them with only a centimetre or two of water — enough to wet the brush, but not enough to make a puddle. You can always refill these.
  • Use plates as a paint palette. Again, the Ikea kid plates are perfect. If you want the kids to be able to eat off of them later, you can wrap it in aluminium foil or plastic wrap first, and then load them up with paint. Alternatively, just stick the paint on and wipe them down when finish, if you’re not going to have the kids use them for eating purposes. By having these reusable plates in place of paper plates, you don’t risk running out, and you’re doing the environment a favour.
  • Limit the colour palette for younger kids. If you’re wanting them to avoid the diarrhea coloured brown, give them white, and two or three other colours that mix well together. (For example: blues and greens; reds/yellows/oranges; purples with blues OR reds, but not both because that’s the recipe for brown.) This kind of paint play will build an understanding of colour, and over time you will add in more colours. Making the brown isn’t a problem; it’s just nice to give them a chance to make something gorgeous when they don’t yet have the understanding of how colours work together.
  • Play music. This sets a tone and gives you a chance to make sure you’re not limiting the time too much. If one song passes, it hasn’t been long enough! If you’ve heard four or five songs, you will know that you are safe to cut it off if it’s getting too out of hand for your comfort level.
This canvas has a layer of sheet music glued to it.
  • Put the phone down. Snap some photos here and there, but don’t do anything else on it. Give your 15-30 minutes of attention to the kids. It will help you stay on top of what’s going on, too. When our attention is on something else, we become more easily frustrated, which is the opposite of the point of creative time with our kids.
  • Give them different opportunities. For example, instead of straight-up painting, cut up a potato or an apple to let them explore stamping. You probably did that in kindergarten, and it’s still a great activity! If you’re working with watercolour, try cutting the paper into fun shapes or into strips like bookmarks. Give them 2 or 3 mediums to explore at the same time, like crayons and watercolour, or toy cars and paint, or pencils and paints and potatoes. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it again. It’s all good. This is the creative process.
  • Baby wipes are actually your best friend. Keep these handy at all times, no matter the age of your kids. They are ideal for wiping excess paint off hands and brushes, for wiping up smaller messes, and for just about any clean up you can think of.

No one is asking your art activities to be perfect. There’s no such thing, but Pinterest and Instagram can really make us feel incapable of “doing it right,” whatever that means. Just get in there and give them opportunities to create freely. The more you do it, the easier it will get.

It also helps to have a tub nearby. I almost always throw the kids in there after a painting experience, and it is the perfect finish. They’re fascinated by the coloured water (from the excess paint all over their bodies, of course), it means I don’t need to give them a bath before bed, and it calms them if they’re excited while their paintings dry, so that I can move them somewhere else when we come back from bath time.

Some final tips:

  • Keep some aprons in the art bin.
  • Have a playlist ready to go.
  • Ask them to tell you about their art. Don’t apply your own biases and art scars to their experience. More on this later. 🙂

Art shouldn’t be an event; it should simply be.

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