Resources for Creatives

5 Tips To Make Painting With Children More Enjoyable

child artist

 As an ampersand mother, I am always trying to balance family and work time. Because my art room is in the house, it can be very tempting to want to go paint while the kids are busy playing, and it can be equally distracting to get in my creative flow when I hear Olsen screaming my name after a nap. I have found that mixing painting and family time together can be a really enjoyable experience. 

My children have always known what painting is. At young ages, both Nora and Olsen started exploring the messiness of art. From the time Olsen could sit in a Bumbo, he has been observing his sister paint. My daughter loves to come into the art room and watch me paint, and I love to show her all my tricks and techniques. She has really begun to show an interest in art and often we play the "color mixing" game. Basically, she asks a question like, "What color do you get when you mix red, white, and blue?" We then break down each step: red and white make pink, pink and blue make a light purple, etc. She can do this all day! I also try my best to give her time to paint. This can look like two things. The first way is to lay out supplies and let her do whatever she wants, complete exploration and experimentation. The second way we paint together is a little more structured  - it is probably from the teacher in me! We have a goal that we are trying to accomplish and I carefully guide her to reach it.

Below, I have listed 5 tips that are foundational when it comes to painting with children, especially young ones! Some of these tips are pretty simple but I have found that the simple ones are the easiest to forget when moments get crazy. I hope this helps you and your little ones when you begin your next painting project!

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1. MAKE IT A "THING"!

I am all about handing my kids a coloring book and crayons and saying, "Go for it." I think it is important for them to have creative time that isn't really structured. We also do this with paints on occasion. But for the most part, I try to make painting a "thing", an event to be excited about. This also helps me be excited about it as well. I pick a day, usually once a week, and let the kids know that we are going to be painting. I hype it up all week and remind them of our big paint day. I will say things like, "Don't forget, after school is our big paint day! I can't wait to create with you!" This is also a great thing to do with a friend. Setting up a play date for your child to paint with others makes it extra special. Prepare the space in a special way. I moved the table out of the dinning area to the living room to mix it up. I also turned on some music I knew they would enjoy (Elizabeth Mitchell pandora station when we choose kid's music). I create an atmosphere that will help foster creativity. I take the time make it nice and that helps my kids see that it matters to me as well. They also stay engaged longer.

2. PREPARE FOR A MESS!

This seems like a simple tip, but it can change the whole painting experience! When you know that your children are going to be messy, and you prepare for it, you will be less stressed when it happens (and it will). When we get ready for painting, I make sure that my kids are in clothes that can get a little messy, or we paint in diapers and underwear. Whatever works best for you! If it is a warm day, I plan a water activity outside to clean them off. If it is in the middle of winter, I get a bath ready, and the second painting time is over, the kids head straight to the bathtub. The great thing about watercolors is they don't stain clothes like acrylic paint would.

This tip truly has changed my perspective on the whole activity. I used to stress when paint would end up on their faces or all over the table and floor. The second it got messy, I would stop everyone from painting and call it quits. Now, I keep a rag close by and a towel for any spill that might happen. Don't get me wrong, if Nora starts painting Olsen's hair (yes this has happened), I am quick to redirect her back to paper and talk through why that isn't a good idea. But for most other situations, I just let it go! I am happier and my children are getting a special time to explore the paints.

3. GUIDE INSTEAD OF DIRECT, ONE SKILL AT A TIME!

It is very easy to want to tell my children what they should and shouldn't be doing. I will catch Nora painting a messy circle over and over again in the same spot on her paper to the point that it almost rips through. I want to say, "Don't paint there anymore! Paint here where it is still white!" Instead, I am working on guiding her experience. I try to say things like, "Let's look at your paper and see what is happening. Can you see anywhere else that may need paint? Are there any other colors you haven't tried using? What would happen if you mixed these two colors together?" My goal is to guide her through the painting process instead of telling her what to do. This isn't easy, especially as in artist! However, the second I tell her what should happen next, she loses ownership and interest. This takes a lot of practice, but I truly believe it pays off in the end. Now, Nora will ask me things like, "Hmmm, what will happen if add a green square here?" She is now guiding her own curiosity.

Every time we paint, I also try to teach my kids ONE new skill. It can be anything from helping them understand painting better to taking responsibility for their messes. For example, I may show them how to clean their brush properly (swirl in the water, tap on the side of the cup, dry on a paper towel). This skill takes time so I always try to remind them saying, "Don't forget that your paintbrush needs a bath!" There are paint days where paint barely makes it to the paper and Nora and Olsen spend the whole time cleaning their brushes after dipping them in paint, and that is ok! I want them to gain the confidence to take care of their art supplies. A few other skills are cleaning your brush before grabbing a new paint color, pressing lightly on the paper with the brush so you don't ruin the hair, and don't over work an area because it may cause a hole. Nora is getting a hang of these now that she is almost 4, but it will take Olsen a little while longer. Right now, I am working on getting him to paint on paper and not his body! Baby steps. I repeat skills they have learned each time and now I hear Nora going over them with Olsen!

4. TRY NEW THINGS!

Painting can be so much more than just paint and paper. There are so many ways to make it a new experience every time. I like to ask Nora and Olsen questions like, "What would happen if we sprinkled sugar or salt on the paper?" or "What are some other objects we could paint with?" I let them come up with an answer and then we try it out. Nora has experimented using sticks, cars, and old toothbrushes as paintbrushes. She had a blast taking an activity she knew and then changing it up slightly. This also makes it fun for us adults! We get to try new things as well, and when our kids see us engaged and excited, they respond similarly. In the project below, I use different materials like crayons and salt to make the painting time a little more unique.

5. PAINT WITH THEM!

This is way easier said then done. Most of the time, I like to set up projects or activities for my kids to do to keep them busy so I can check tasks off my list. However, I notice that when I take the time to participate in whatever they are doing, I never regret that time. Our children learn by our example, so getting excited and curious will help cultivate that in them. Painting with them could look like doing your own paper next to them while sharing the things you are discovering or doing. It could also be just sitting next to them and giving them your undivided attention. Either way, sit at the table with your little one. Have a cup of coffee, or whatever special drink you enjoy, and take the time to engage. I find that I have some of the best conversations with Nora when we are sitting and creating without outside distractions.


And there you have it! These tips are simple but foundational for paint days. When I implement all 5 tips, I am pleasantly surprised by how much more my children and I enjoy the painting process. If you are ready to jump into painting and don't know where to start, be on the lookout for my next blog post! It is a watercolor project that you can do with any child at any age. It lists off all supplies needed, breaks down each step with pictures, and provides all reference materials. 

I hope you found this helpful and enjoy getting creative with your family!

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