I absolutely LOATHE painting with young children. Everything about it drives me nuts: it takes so much time to set up, there is a mess everywhere, L never wants to be finished, and cleaning up might be more of a mess than actually painting is. L, of course, LOVES painting. So I try to force myself to let her paint at least once a month — I know I should do it more, but, hey, I’m not a saint.
Things I try to keep in mind when I would rather do anything other than let L paint:
1. Painting is a great sensorial experience! Young infants can paint independently from the time they are able to sit up in a high chair — finger painting, of course. Squishing cold, slimy paint between your fingers is highly satisfying when you’re too young to worry about the mess, and it’s not something you get to feel everyday. Colors mix together to form new colors — often brown, if you put too many colors on the paper.
2. Painting allows children to work on their gross motor skills. Sweeping your hands in large circles or lines as you finger paint teaches control of your body.
3. Painting allows children to work on their fine motor skills and prepares the child for writing. When L was about 13 months old, I began offering a paintbrush for use while painting. A paintbrush requires more controlled movement of the hand, and the child begins to see how to use an instrument to create.
4. Painting is fun and allows the child to express creativity. Your child is proud of what she has created. We hang a few pieces of L’s up at a time on our staircase. About once a week she walks by, stops, and points at one of her paintings.
Most recently, L finished her Father’s Day salt dough hand print by painting it. She chose green paint. She didn’t paint all the way to the edges, and it didn’t look like it was professionally done, but that was the point: L made that salt dough hand print for her daddy by herself from start to finish.
Although L has been painting since she was very young, there have been surprisingly few times when she’s tried to eat paint. Always make sure you are using washable paint that is safe for children to use. There are all kinds of recipes for do-it-yourself paint on Pinterest, but many of them include food coloring, which seems like it would be pretty permanent on the skin (at least for a few days). I use non-toxic paint from the craft store. We paint naked in our house because of my mess issues — it’s much easier to clean L up that way.