Beyond Finger Painting!
5 Methods of Extending the Painting Experience in the Toddler Classroom

By Zaina Cahill of Children’s Village

Toddler classrooms are known for basic finger painting experiences, as they are often decorated with handprints (as well as footprints in classes led by braver early childhood teachers) and messy mixes of paint on paper. However, many classrooms do not move beyond this basic version of this art form.

Here are 5 “out-of-the-box” ways to extend the painting experience for toddlers:

1. Ice Painting

Ice painting can take on a variety of forms. Regardless of the method that you use, children will be able to enhance their painting experience in a new and exciting way, and they will be able to explore the changing quality of the ice as it melts from solid to liquid, adding another cognitive domain to the activity.

  • Teachers can provide children with ice cubes to dip in simple, washable, non-toxic paint. As the ice cubes melt, the paint begins to form a more watery consistency.
  • Teachers can freeze a paint and water mixture, as well as washable, non-toxic liquid water color paint in ice cube trays, and have children paint only with the ice cube, as it begins to melt.

Note that ice painting does not need to be limited to paper. Teachers can take their preferred method of ice painting outside of the classroom as well. With all versions of the activity being washable, children can paint on sidewalks, on the playground or at the park!

2. Mud Painting

Mud painting, like ice painting, is another interesting way for children to explore the changing properties of matter through art. Mud painting can be done indoors, but is typically more enjoyable for everyone outside. Teachers simply help children mix dirt and water to create mud for painting. For an added level to the activity, the class can experiment with the ratio of dirt to water, creating darker, lighter, and various textures of mud paint.

Mud paint can be mixed and utilized with children’s hands, or, for children that prefer avoiding messy art, with toddler-friendly easy to grip paint brushes. The mud can then be painted on paper, cardboard, or sidewalks, which can be rinsed easily with a hose or from rain. 

Mud paint can also be used in a large sensory table, or on a long piece of butcher paper on the floor or attached to a table.

3. Water Painting

Water painting is simple, inexpensive, and virtually mess free. Water painting is recommended for outdoors. Toddlers can use easy to grip paint brushes, like those listed above, dipped in water to “paint” playground structures, benches, sidewalks, trees, etc. While the color of the item being “painted” will temporarily change color, the water will not damage these outdoor materials. Children will be able to engage in dramatic play as community helpers, artists, and any other creative roles that they come up with, in a new and interesting way.

4. Ball Painting

Ball painting allows children to work individually or collaboratively to create painted pieces of art, not with their hand or with paint brushes, but with a rolling ball. A piece of paper is simply laid inside of a box top. Non-toxic, washable paint, like that listed above, can either be poured onto the ball or onto the paper. Then, the box is shifted around as much as the child likes, allowing the ball to roll a design onto the paper with the paint. Tactile balls add different patterns to the design for added fun!

5. Texture Painting

Texture painting allows children to create paintings of various textures, using simple tools and materials from around the classroom, offering new alternatives to the age-old methods of finger painting or painting with brushes. Non-toxic, washable paint, like that listed above, can be painted onto, or traced through, on paper with spoons, forks, socks on hands, sponges (either simple sponges or sponges of various sizes and shapes for added exposure in other cognitive domains), felt pieces, sticks, tissue paper, etc. Toddlers may even like to try out various tools to compare textures in their artwork, making the process both creative and tactile. Furthermore, it creates interesting, “out-of-the-box” final products!

Expanding on the timeless activity of finger painting in the toddler classroom will help expand young children’s creative thought processes and will revitalize toddler teacher’s repertoire of art activities. Furthermore, as required by ITERS, through these activities, toddlers will have access to varied fine motor and art activities and learn about nature and science in interesting and developmentally appropriate ways. So get ready to go beyond finger painting!

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Zaina Cahill is the Early Childhood Director at Children’s Village, a large culturally and linguistically diverse childcare center in Center City, Philadelphia. A graduate of New York University (B.S. in ECE and Special Education) and Walden University (M.S.Ed. in Elementary Reading and Literacy), Zaina has been in the field for nearly 12 years, working in a variety of capacities from substitute to lead teacher and on into administration. Zaina holds a Level 2 teaching certification in the state of Pennsylvania and is a member of NAEYC’s Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC) and Membership Engagement Committee, DVAEYC’s Membership Advisory Council, and Becker’s Advisory Council. In addition to her contributions to the Becker’s Blog, she has also contributed to the NAEYC blog and its print publication, Teaching Young Children.

The opinions, representations, and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and not of Becker’s School Supplies as a whole. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. The company accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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