Toddler painting is a wonderfully inclusive, fun and creative way to express emotions, desires and to learn new skills!
We all have fond memories of finger painting, potato stamping and chalk drawing as children, but there are SO MANY MORE painting ideas to now try with your own little one!
So, with such a wide variety of painting ideas to choose from, how can we pick the best one for our toddler's ability level? And what exactly can they learn from painting?
Well, whether your little one is learning to hold a brush, uncovering the magical way paints mix to create new colours or they are simply exploring new textures and techniques, painting is the gateway to it all! So, keep reading to discover my top 20 super creative painting ideas!
At what age can toddlers paint?
Although your toddler will be able to use finger painting from around 1 year old, they will probably be painting with a brush after they're 18 months old.
A great way to start exposing your toddler to paint is with no mess paint bags followed by finger and hand painting.
Young toddlers are still exploring the world through their hands and mouths so you should always use paint that is safe and non-toxic. There are many products out there that are suitable for this early stage of painting.
However, painting with their hands and fingers is by far the best way for them to explore how paint actually works and what it can do.
You can then move onto the more conventional painting with an easel and brushes but the opportunities for creative painting are endless.
Is painting good for toddlers?
YES! Painting is amazing for your toddler on so many levels!
Getting messy is good
Allowing your toddler to get messy is good for them as it is very freeing. This is one way that your toddler can make a legitimate mess especially if they are finger painting or you are hand and feet printing.
Improves fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
Toddler painting is a great way to improve fine motor skills, from isolated finger movements to developing a pencil grip painting. Using a paint brush is also a precursor to learning how to draw and later write on!
There is no right or wrong way to paint so your toddler can have free reign to create whatever they wish. Having this freedom to explore what colours do and what different effects they can create with paint either with their hands, paintbrushes or other items will do wonders for your toddler’s creative development.
Painting is also a very calming activity and is a great way to get your toddler to slow down. You may even notice that their breathing changes or they start singing and talking to themselves while they paint and are totally absorbed in that moment.
Can help communicate emotions
Painting is often used in therapy to find out what young children who are unable to vocalise their feelings are experiencing. Therefore, painting can be a great outlet for your toddler’s emotions.
If they are feeling angry or frustrated they can take it out on their painting in a safe and acceptable way and may even give you an insight into how your toddler is feeling that day.
Can build self-esteem
As I mentioned before there is no right or wrong way to paint and this gives you as the parent a great opportunity to praise your little one's creations.
Give them lots of encouragement and display their art in pride of place for all to see, and it will do wonders for their self-esteem.
What do toddlers learn by painting?
As well as the benefits of painting, toddlers also learn some very useful practical and developmental skills too.
1. Learning colours and shape recognition
On the practical side, painting can help your toddler learn their colours and once they move onto being able to fill in shapes, it can teach them shape recognition too.
They will also learn what colours are made when they mix different ones together.
2. Painting teaches how to fill spaces with colour
When your toddler is ready you can start teaching them to paint between the lines as they fill in shapes with colour. This improves concentration and of course, develops fine motor skills too.
3. Painting stimulates intellectual development
As your child paints, they are in control and can mix the paints as they see fit. As they experiment with hands, fingers and brushes, they learn what the paint is capable off which will develop their brains on an intellectual level.
8 Things to remember when painting with your toddler
The first thing to remember when introducing your toddler to the world of paint is that they have a short attention span....
So do not get discouraged if you have spent quite a while setting up the painting activity to have your toddler walk away or lose interest after 10 minutes... This is completely normal!
Toddlers live in the moment so you may have to be prepared to leave the painting kit out for a while so that they can return to it again later and have another go.
Toddler painting gets messy and you need to make sure that you can set the activity up in a place where you will not get stressed about the potential mess!
Here are some handy tips and guidelines to make your painting experiences go smoothly:
1. Set up in advance
I always found that setting up a painting activity was best done when your toddler was taking a nap (especially if they are quite young). Older toddlers can help you get the painting activity ready, but for younger toddlers having everything all prepped is easier for you both.
2. Pick the right spot
Make sure you pick the right spot in the house for painting. The kitchen or outside are perfect as surfaces are easily cleaned and you don’t have to worry so much about splashes on soft furnishings.
3. Use paints that are safe
Always use paints that are safe for toddlers to use. When you first start out your toddler is very likely to put paint in their mouth so paints need to be non-toxic.
4. Use paints that can be washed out easily
Make sure you use paints that do not stain and can be wiped off or washed out easily.
5. Have the right kit
Having the right toddler painting kit is also vital. Have non-spill paint pots, chunky brushes that are easy to hold and an easel is far easier for your toddler to paint on than a table. Put down adequate floor covering for easy clean up and make sure your toddler wears a painting apron.
6. Never leave your toddler alone
You should never leave your toddler alone when they are painting as it may get messy quite quickly! Stay on hand to encourage and even take part if they want you to.
Talk about what they are doing, what colours they are using and what shapes they are creating. Balance your input carefully with letting them explore independently.
7. Be creative
Come up with different ways for your toddler to paint. They can use their fingers, hands and feet as well as brushes. Give them sponges or items they can dip in paint and print with. The opportunities are endless so mix things up a bit.
Check out my top 20 Creative Toddler Painting Ideas to discover my favourites!
8. Have fun
Most importantly, have fun! If you have all the above in place you should not need to worry about the mess.
Do not tell your toddler to be careful or not make a mess as they will become anxious and you will remove a lot of the positives you can gain from this freeing activity.
If you really struggle with the mess from painting at home then save it for the summer when you can get outside and set up a painting activity there instead or check out some of my mess-free options below.
20 Super creative toddler painting ideas
There is so much that you can do with paint with your toddler from the conventional easel and paper and brushes to the more whacky so let your imagination run riot!
Here are 20 of my favourite ideas of what you can do with paint:
1. No-Mess Paint Bags
How? Cut some card or thick paper to the size of a ziplock bag. Next squirt some swirls of paint in different colours onto the card and slip the card into the bag and close it. Then give the bag to your little one let them squidge away at moving the paint around inside the bag.
Why do I like it? This is a great mess free way to introduce young toddlers to paint for the first time. They will love the feel of the paint inside the bag and watching the colours mix together. This is also a great activity for toddlers who don’t like to get their hands dirty which can make some of the other painting activities difficult for them.
2. Finger Painting
How? Put 3 or 4 different coloured finger paints into pots. Tape a piece of paper onto a board to keep it stable. Ensure your little one is wearing a painting apron or old clothes as finger painting can get messy. Let your toddler paint away using their fingers.
Why do I like it? I know finger painting can be messy which is why it is important to get the prep right for this activity, but letting your toddler feel the paint and use their fingers and hands to create is a great sensory activity and ideal for young toddlers who can not handle a paintbrush yet.
3. Foot Painting
How? Take a roll of paper outside and lay a length of it out on the ground. Next, put a few coloured paints into flat containers that your toddler can fit their foot into. Make sure your toddler is wearing shorts or a dress to make this less messy. Get your toddler to put their feet into one of the paints and then ask them to walk along the paper. Voila! A foot painting!
Why do I like it? This is a great activity that children will find funny and exciting. Being allowed to stand in paint and walk it over the paper certainly grab your toddlers interest.
4. Bubble Painting
How? Take 3 bowls and fill them with water and some washing up liquid. Then squirt some paint into the bowls and mix it up. Take a straw and gently blow into the paint until it froths up above the lip of the bowl. Take a piece of white or coloured paper and place it on top of the bubbles to create a round bubble pattern. Later you can cut out the circles to make a bubble painting caterpillar collage.
Why do I like it? This is great fun and an easy way to create interesting patterns that can be used alone or to create a bigger art creation. I also love the fact that it is quick and easy to do at home and your toddler gets an impressive result. They will love being allowed to blow bubbles in the painty water (as always be sure to use non toxic paint as you will definitely get a few mistaken sucks rather than blows!)
5. Vegetable And Fruit Stamping
How? Take a variety of fruit and veg such as potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, lemons or apples. For the root veg you can cut them into shapes suchs as squares or triangles while the mushrooms and lemons or apples can be cut in half. Put some paint into flat trays and then get your toddler to press the fruit and veg into the paint and then onto some paper.
Why do I like it? Printing with paint is an easy way for toddlers to get great results. You will also have lots to talk about while you are doing this activity. Naming the fruit and veg and commenting on the patterns that they make. Again this is an easy activity to do at home without having to invest in lots of special kit.
6. Sponge Painting
How? Put some paint in a few shallow containers, take a variety of sponges. You can use old dried bath sponges and cut them into a variety of shapes or natural sponges with lots of holes. A mixture of both is best. Then show your toddler how to dip them into the paint and then onto plain or coloured paper.
Why do I like it? This is a wonderful sensory paint activity. Kids will love the feel of the sponge and the way it soaks up the paint. As they have to be quite gentle with the sponge and apply only a little bit of pressure it will also help improve their fine motor skills.
7. Leaf Painting
How? Go for a lovely late summer early Autumn walk and encourage your toddler to collect some leaves (I mention this activity in my post Outdoor Activities For Toddlers, so be sure to give that a read too!). Take them home and paint the leaves then press them onto paper to make beautiful leaf patterns.
Why do I like it? This painting activity has the double benefit of getting your children interested in nature and working towards a final goal at the same time. Finding the leaves is fun and then having a plan for what to do with them when you get home is a great way of keeping your toddler engaged.
8. Painting With Trucks
How? Take some chunky little trucks and cars and dip the wheels in some paint. Then get your toddler to roll the cars and trucks over the paper to create wild patterns.
Why do I like it? Another easy painting activity that will get even your most reluctant painter to have a go! It's great for improving fine motor skills as they push the vehicles over the paper again and again.
9. Butterfly Painting
How? Take some paper and fold it in half to make a crease down the middle. Next get your toddler to put some paint splodges on one half only! Next fold the paper in half to create a symmetrical pattern that will resemble a butterfly.
Why do I like it? This is a more advanced painting activity for the older toddler that will teach them about symmetry and pattern making. Great for developing hand eye coordination, fine motor skills and creativity.
10. Painting Foods
How? Get a variety of fruits and vegetables and let your toddler paint them any colour they wish. Encourage your toddler to get creative and make all sorts of patterns on what they are panting.
Why do I like it? This is a very simple activity for toddlers and can also be done on shells, fruit, pasta peices or even pieces of wood. It's excellent for refining fine motor skills as they will often have to hold what they are painting as well as painting on it.
11. Cornflour Painting
How? Mix some cornflour with some water in a bowl making sure it is quite runny but still has a little resistance. Add some paint or food colouring. Then pour onto the table top and let your little one play with the cornflour. As they apply pressure and move it around it will solidify and then become liquid again but they will also be able to make some patterns in it. Place some paper on top of the cornflour mixture to make a print of the pattern they have created.
Why do I like it? Toddlers love the strange feel and experience of the cornflour changing as they squeeze it and then let go. If you dilute this mixture, it makes a great chalk paint that you can use to paint on paving stones and then wash off later too.
12. Ice Cube Painting
How? Fill ice cube trays with water and food colouring and then add a popsicle stick to each cube and freeze. Once frozen, take the frozen cubes out of the trays and let your toddlers paint away as the ice cubes melt. You can also just pop out the ice cubes without a stick and let your little one move them around the paper as they melt.
Why do I like it? This is another great sensory toddler painting activity. Your little one will find it fascinating to feel the melting ice and paint. It also gives your toddler the opportunity to explore colour mixing, patterns and they will love the feel and the texture of the slippery, cold, wet paint.
13. Bubble Wrap Painting
How? Quite simply get some bubble wrap and let you toddler loose on painting the surface.
Why do I like it? Painting on a different texture is a great way to keep the painting activity more interesting. Toddler's will also love to pop the bubble wrap too!
14. Painting In The Rain
How? Download my free painting printables below and set them up at an easel or table and set your toddler painting!
Why do I like it? This is another easy way to entertain your toddler with paint and a great way to improve their fine motor skills once they are ready to learn how to paint within the lines and learn different shapes.
15. Window Painting
How? Pour some paint into a zip lock bag and tape it to the window. Let your little one squidge and squeeze the bag. Seeing the light come through the window and paint will fascinate your toddler.
Why do I like it? This is a great activity for younger toddlers. It will help with hand eye coordination and because your toddler is in an upright position it will help strengthen their shoulders, hand and arms.
16. Bathtub Painting
How? You can do bathtub painting either with water in the bath or not. Put some washable paint into some ice cube trays, take a couple of paintbrushes and simply put your toddler in the bath. They can paint the bath itself or you can tape some paper to the tiles around the bath and let them paint away.
Why do I like it? If you are worried about the mess of toddler painting and you can’t paint outside this is a great stress free way to let your toddler loose when painting. It is easy to clean as once they are done you simply turn on the tap to clean the bath and your toddler!
17. Puffy Paint
How? Take 1/2 cup shaving cream, 1/2 cup of white glue and some food colouring or paint and mix together. You can either paint with brushes or decant into squeezy bottles for older toddlers.
Why do I like it? This is a wonderful toddler painting activity for older kids as they will love to help you make up the paint. They will also especially like the strange consistency and novel effect that they puffy paint has when it dries.
18. Ball Painting
How? Take an empty box with low sides (or cut them down) and put some paper in the bottom. Dip a couple of different sized balls into some paint, put them in the box and let your little one explore the patterns they can make as the balls roll across the paper.
Why do I like it? This is a lovely sensory activity for toddlers and improves their motor skills as they maneuver the balls over the paint. This is also a perfect outside toddler painting activity where you can use a long piece of rolled out paper instead of a box.
19. Textured Painting
How? Take a rolling pin and cover it in either bubble wrap or lots of rubber bands in a haphazard fashion. Put some paint on paper plates and let your toddler dip the rolling pin into the paint and then roll onto paper to create wacky patterns. You can use textured sponge rollers too.
Why do I like it? Another great painting activity for developing fine motor skills and strengthening the upper body, arms and hands. This can be quite messy but your toddler will absolutely love it!
20. Painting With Different Brushes
How? Take a selection of different types of paint brushes and encourage your toddler to see what they can create. You can have thin and thick brushes and ones with sponges on the end to mix things up too.
Why do I like it? This activity encourages your toddler to use the more conventional paint brush and is a great way to get them standing at an easel and painting. Learning to hold the brush and paint is perfect for refining fine motor skills too.
9 Toddler Painting Must-Haves
As I briefly mentioned earlier, there are some vital bits of kit that will make toddler painting fun and relaxing for both your little one and you!
So I highly recommend investing in the following:
- Painting apron
- Non-spill painting pots
- Jumbo paint brushes
- Large pieces or rolls of paper
- Easel and clips to hold paper
- Non-toxic and washable paints
- Finger paints
- Floor covering
7 Handy Toddler painting printables
To get you started on your toddler painting journey, here are 7 simple handy printouts to help your little one learn how to paint within the lines, learn shapes and have fun all at once!
Alternatively, just let your little one run wild with their imagination on a blank page!
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Until next time, with love and support, get messy, have fun and Happy Parenting!