Those who have braved painting at home with a toddler know it often results in ten minutes of engagement and concentration followed by lots of mess, cleaning up and high blood pressure for the supervising adult. In the end you it can seem hardly worth the effort to have got the paints out in the first place. Here are our top tips for maximising the experience and minimising the mess!
1. Do it Outside
An obvious starting point for minimising mess is to take the activity outside. However, if this isn’t possible then visit your local hardware store and purchase a painter’s dropsheet to place on the floor. Simply fold it up and put it away for next time the paints are out.
2. Dress for Mess
Invest in a smock for your child or better still, if it’s warm enough, strip them off altogether so paint on clothes doesn’t become an issue. We also suggest buying yourself an apron to wear when you paint with your child as it’s a great way for you to feel more relaxed and comfortable with all the brushes and grubby fingers being waved about.
3. Choose Your Paints Carefully
Non-toxic, washable paints are a must! From experience, we suggest avoiding purple and red if your toddler is particularly messy, as these colours tend to stain the most vigorously. We like to choose a selection of colours that will mix nicely together, as we all know that if we’re not careful, everything will turn to brown! Dispense only a small amount of paint at a time into containers which are dishwashable for an easy clean up at the end.
4. Use Canvas Boards
Sheets of paper tend to wave about in the breeze, slip around on the table top or lift up when they stick to the brush, not to mention the waste. It can also be problematic finding places to hang endless sheets of paper for drying. Therefore, you may like to consider buying a large canvas board from a local art or dollar shop and reuse this same board each painting session. Your toddler simply paints straight over the top of the last artwork. It can be a nice way to create layers of memories from your painting experiences and it results in a unique and colourful artwork at the end of each year.
5. Vary the Tools
A great way to extend your toddler’s attention span when painting, in order to make the effort of the clean up more worthwhile, is to have a selection of tools ready to roll out during the session. You might like to start off with chunky brushes, then once you sense the interest waning, offer the next exciting tool – thinner brushes, roller brushes, plastic animals for footprints, toy cars for wheel tracks, corn cobs for rolling, garden flowers or foliage for printing etc etc. Keep a bucket of soapy water handy to place each discarded item into as you go.
If you’d prefer to keep it simple and contained with absolutely minimal clean up, then give Q-tip painting a go. Spoon a small amount of paint onto a palette (reused jar lids or bottle tops make great mini palettes) and use the Q-tip as the paint brush. It’s excellent fine motor practise for the little ones, plus it encourages smaller, more controlled movements and requires only small quantities of paint – resulting in less mess for you! Pointillism or dotting technique is also fun to try using this method. Buying an eco brand of Q-tips is best as then you can pack up by simply throwing out the ‘brushes’ with less guilt.
7. Vary the Painting Surface
If a quickly diminishing attention span is a problem, then try gathering a selection of interesting materials or surfaces to paint. Looking to nature for inspiration first often results in the easiest clean up (ie throw it back in the garden), for example logs, leaves, pine cones or sticks can make very engaging objects to paint. Otherwise, large plastic toys, such as dinosaurs or sea animals can be great fun to temporarily transform with paint. Which can then lead on to our next tip…
8. Sensory Water Play for Clean Up
By far the best way to clean up afterwards is to get your toddler to do it for you! Simply dump the items you’ve used into a tub of soapy water and extend the playtime and sensory experience by allowing them to do the scrubbing. Provide scrubbing brushes, squeezy soap and towels for drying. Anything that isn’t cleaned to your standard can then be quickly dealt with in the laundry sink by you, or thrown into the dishwasher.
9. Use Water Colours
Sometimes the easiest solution to painting with a toddler can simply be to be kind to yourself and buy a set of watercolour paints. In terms of mess they are extremely manageable (the worst that can happen is that water can get spilt) and the pack up is as easy as shutting the lid on the colour palette and rinsing our the brush and water container.