Let Them Paint! How To Enjoy Messy Fun With Your Kids!

By Becca Goldblat

As a preschool teacher, every day I encourage children to fingerpaint with abandon, mush and squish colored shaving cream in the sensory bin and blow watercolors across the table with a straw. I love process art because it’s an unbeatable sensory experience and inspires children to experiment and create without limits or expectations. I also love it because I have a co-teacher who helps me scrub the table and clean the paintbrushes, a floater teacher I can call in as a back-up hand-washer if we have a particularly messy project, and a full-time janitorial staff who deep cleans the classroom every day after school. But, as a parent, I shudder and glance anxiously at my sparkling kitchen countertops that I just wiped down after dinner when I hear the word “fingerpaint." Admit it, you do too.  I’m here to tell you, though, that you too can experience the joy of process art with your child at home.  But you have to do it right now, while it’s still summer. (Unless you live in a climate that’s warm year-round. Or if a spin-art machine has ever malfunctioned in your kitchen and you didn’t freak out. Then, you can just bookmark this and get back to it at your leisure. Everyone else, read on.)

Below, I outline three art experiences that I’ve found highly successful with children of varying developmental levels and learning styles. I do them all the time in my classroom. But you will follow these guidelines for your own sanity:

*You will do them outdoors (unless you’re Spin Art Mom). And you’ll keep a hose (or rags and a bucket of water if your child cannot tolerate being sprayed) nearby for easy clean-up. 

*Your child will wear an old bathing suit, machine-washable tees and shorts that were already on their way to the rag bin, or no clothing at all.

*You will choose a project based on your child’s personality and sensory style.  I offer suggestions for both sensory-seekers and children who are averse to sensory stimulation.    

1.  Paint With Your Feet: On a driveway or sidewalk, roll out a sheet of butcher paper to a 15-foot length. Weigh down the paper on the corners with heavy objects such as large rocks or cans. Dot several colors of Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paint all over your canvas.  Then, get to work stomping, gliding, and dancing your way across the paper.  If your child does not comprehend the meaning of “slow down”, you can use an old bed-sheet as a backdrop and do this project on the softer grass, as the paint can be quite slick. Children who don’t care for the feeling of paint on their feet can wear soft shoes or thick socks with grippers (skidders makes some great options of each for toddlers and children).

2.  Spray Away: Hang a large paper tablecloth with a plastic backing from a garage wall, clothesline, playscape, or other outdoor surface you don’t mind getting temporarily colorful.  Fill several small spray bottles with Sax Concentrate Washable Liquid Watercolor Paints (mix the concentrate with water according to package directions), then, spray away! First, try spraying the paper side of the tablecloth for more saturated color that stays where you spray it. Then, to mix things up, turn the tablecloth around and spray the plastic side to see the colors repel and drip. Spray bottles are a fantastic fine-motor activity. 

3.  Have a Ball: Line the bottom of a large, shallow cardboard box with paper.  Drizzle several colors of washable tempera paint on the paper (Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paint  works well for this).  Then, add a smooth rubber bouncy ball or a large marble to the box.  Have your child tilt the box from one end while you tilt it from the other to make the ball move back and forth and all around. Try adding a second ball or marble for variety.  If your child is fascinated by cars and trucks, they can zoom a small toy vehicle with rolling wheels across the paper instead of using a ball. This is a great activity for more hesitant or sensory-averse artists, since they do not have to touch the paint. More bold and enthusiastic artists will likely bounce the ball out of the box a few times so keep the cleaning supplies handy just in case!    

A few final tips:  

* Your child may need you to demonstrate and get the party started, so be prepared to get messy with them. They may use the materials in ways other than I outline, and that’s great too. Don’t worry if your paper rips, the colors get muddied, or your child turns on the hose before you’re done—the finished product is irrelevant, process art is all about experimentation. Have one last summer hurrah and embrace the messy fun! 

If you like our ideas, you will love our friend Meri Cherry's blog.

Carissa Tozzi