Painting with children at home is going to look very different to the Playcentre, kindy or school experience.
But I think it's such an important activity that we need to talk about HOW to do it.
The picture above is how my daughter painted with her youngest brother one day when she was minding him for me. She squirted acrylic paint directly onto his paper, and he mixed the colours and moved it around as he wanted it.
When my oldest was young he wasn't too keen on painting, his little brother however was the sensory-seeking “paint all over myself” type of child. So painting was an outside activity. The hardest thing about it was the cleanup afterwards. My mum taught me to have a bucket of soapy water and towel ready at the painting sight for clean-up. This extended the painting activity for my sensory boy - and the bubbles in the bucket became painty and the water went everywhere!
I would have to judge how long to leave painty, bubbly boy happily playing, and take him away to clean him up before disaster struck, or he got over-tired/bored with that activity! So then I'd shower him and quickly clean up and put away the paints before he got into them again, or before he created havoc inside the house while I was outside. Then of course, the bath needed de-painting.
All these years later I have more children and little less tolerance for mess on that scale, so I've settled on three forms of painting that my children enjoy:
1. Watercolour pans and one brush per painter. A large non-spill pot of water per painter ensures the brushes are kept clean.
2. Watercolour pans that have been removed from their housing, and soaked overnight in little glass jars of hot water. The paint dissolves in the water, and gives a great easy-to-use watercolour effect. Shake each jar before use. We ATTEMPT to get Mr 4 to clean the brush when he changes colour. At the moment, he's happy just using a few colours.
3. Squirting acrylic paint into egg containers. Then we either use one brush per colour, or if the painters are responsible, they clean the brush between colours.
I always like to give the painters a few different sizes of brushes to use, and good quality wet-strength cartridge paper.
But I really wanted to know how other home educating mums tackled the often over-whelming activity of “Painting at home, with children”!
My heartfelt thanks to these real-life, experienced and enthusiastic mums who took the time to share their hints, tips, opinions and warnings (some of the side-conversations were so hilarious that I included them here!).
From the voices of wisdom:
“Acrylic, one jar of water each, wash between colours (as they will mix the paints on the paper anyway), pour a bit of paint out. Save newspapers to put down on the table or floor. Have a bucket or bowl for prewashing hands (saves paint all over the sink). We've also always had a plate ready for mixing colours too. Have lots of different materials for painting handy too.... sponges, feathers, marbles.... “
"I have to be honest and say we do a combo. Usually dependent on my mood! But I think it is great for my kids to experience all these methods and they enjoy doing it all."
"In general for mine, who've all loved painting, acrylics in pots with lids, with a brush in each (actually I still do this now with 11,10,and almost 5yrs old), several brushes in each if more than one child. Watercolour, the dried round ones (don't know what they're called). I've always liked paper attached to an easel at standing height for mine. Or a big plastic tablecloth on the ground works well too (I use these for playdough, clay, anything that might get messy!). Paint quality, I've always bought kindy/school quality paints for mine, I find the cheaper ones a bit disappointing, especially watercolours. I also have some plastic artist pallets for mixing, or if they've wanted to use fingers, sponges, etc to paint with.
I'll just add, I've never had just one child at a time painting, so that coloured my choices. Some things are done solely for the purpose of harmony in the house!"
"When mine were little we stuck with 1 colour and 1 brush and a BIG piece of paper. if we added multiple colours at once, the paint got all mixed up and the kids were upset their painting was all brown. We got them used to painting with 1 colour and then added different colours as they got older and more proficient. Oh and we always used water based paints - and I love the tempura/disc paints as there is minimal wastage."
"I have young kids, 2 and 4. We do acrylic but I'm thinking of giving them my water colour pans when i upgrade. I give a range of different tools for them to use, I don't put them in the paint they do. And water to wash tools if they want." "I put down a messy mat or newspaper or just do it outside."
"We use paint pallets with the colours on with space in between to mix. If I'm not going to be really on board with painting that day they have access to water colours (some are more satisfying than others) as these are the less messy option of unsupervised. But acrylic paint in bottles if it's an actual painting session. I kept these locked away with little ones in the house ;) I supply water to wash brushes, but supply several brushes, sponges and whatever the child fancies. Pottles haven't worked for us as the colours just become brown. Now they are older they have access to watercolour pencils as well as reeves acrylic tubes whenever it takes their fancy.... which is often. :) We used a mixture of easel and table top, but I have found that my children spent more time at table top art whilst the easel was a quick grab the brush and do some strokes from the pottles.... may be a personality thing."
"I have a VERY messy painter of the more is more school of thought (5yo). I use tempera discs and buy in bulk otherwise she'd use all the paint in one session no matter how much she had and I'd go bankrupt. Other than that I'm hands off although I do insist that she keep paint off the carpet and walls and curtains. She has never painted in her life without painting herself too. Not one single time. Squashing this urge would surely stop her painting altogether and as it's one of her great passions that would be such a shame. She likes to custom mix her colours sometimes and keep them clean but mostly it's a glorious mess. She's not painting for me though she's painting for herself as a process not for a product. As she becomes more interested in producing a specific result I will probably buy more expensive paints with clear limits on their use ie not using 4 whole bottles as body paint like she would do at Playcentre. I generally think creativity should be allowed to be as free and unregulated as I can tolerate though. Sometimes I make the cornflour hot water fingerpaint and let them go nuts in the bath and chuck in some rags and buckets of water so they can clean up after to indulge that messy paint urge."
"lol... Curious George inspired hand prints all around my house and kitchen. Glad it was wipeable."
"We owned our own house then went into a rental property with brand new carpet and walls. There was a very painful and sudden change in rules around painting!"
"My daughter was known at Playcentre as the child who always ate the paint! She would always come home covered in paint and invariably her number 2s would be a similar colour to the paint on offer then next day!"
"My son was an eater...sand, glitter, paint...you can imagine the other end result."
"Oh yeah - sand filled nappies was a memory!"
"My son painted himself purple once. Head to toe, hair included. He was very proud of himself."
"And I remember warning new Playcentre parents that their child's nappy could be interesting the next day. Our best one was bright blue (paint or playdough, can't remember which one he ate lol)"
"We did SPACE and they offered the babies trays of paint. My daughter was 9mo and sat in the tray and painted her arms and legs and stomach transfixed by the transformation as if she was wearing a beautiful gown. She still does this 5 years later with paint, mud, wet sand etc. There's no fighting it when your child has strong schemas/urges. I'd be driven mad if I tried!"
"In the Waldorf Kindergarten they tell a story about a gnome washing his feet. The gnome is the paintbrush and he washes his feet (the brush) between colours. I love the wet on wet method as it is a beautiful process. We often paint outside on wood using acrylic, making signs etc."
"I obviously don't have the type of children that are even capable of the Pinterest ready kids paint ideas but I highly doubt their are many that are at all. Escaping from the narrow school definition of what makes an artist is one of my biggest reasons for homeschooling. The 25 identically coloured and papered cats on the wall at the parents info night I went to gave me the heebies!"
"We paint outside (weather permitting!) which helps with the messiness and is less stressful (particularly in a rental!)."
"When my kids were under 6 we usually used liquid tempera paints (bought from the Play Centre shop in 500mL bottles). Reasonably good quality and price. We usually had 3 – 4 colours at each painting session, in pots with lids. I'd put a generous dollop in each pot and refill as needed. Separate brushes for each colour. I did teach them about cleaning the brushes before changing colours though. Sometimes we'd use a pallet so they could practice mixing colours." "Occasionally we'd use watercolours (they usually preferred tempera though). We still have the Reeves watercolours I bought several years ago." "We'd paint at the kitchen table with lots of newspaper."
"I would go to a $2 shop type place and buy the biggest/cheapest liquid paint they have. Under 6 use huge amounts of paints and thet are aren't painting master peices, they are learning to control the brush, mix colours and how it looks on paper. If the weather is bad and you want to paint inside the same shops have plastic table cloths for parties that can be used as a drop cloth to cover floors. When mine were little I found an easel was better than on a table, they can see their work better. And nice big brushes with the ends cut off if they are too long for little hands"
"A 1yo and a 6yo here. We picked up some trays and I just squirt a tiny bit of paint in each compartment and top up as needed. Multiple brushes. Outside. Under a gazebo if not ideal weather. Still working out what paint ideal. Just pre made stuff atm similar to what play centre used.
Oh and my ideal would be low toxicity, pre made squirt stuff with clear colour choices. But I haven't worked that out yet!"
"We are Playcentre ‘trained’ (Pennie Brownlee 'Magic Places' is helpful). Acrylic in 2L bottles, dollop in paint pottles with lid and 1 brush each. Gets messy but fun. Easel useful. Big bits of paper. I bought 8 main colours and they are still going a year later. Don’t always put out every colour but sometimes I do. Miss 2-3 has gone through phases of lots of painting, then not much so has lasted well. Thanks to Emma wiggle the only colour running out is yellow!
I also bought wooden handled thick brushes but the paint flakes off the handle and the brush bit comes apart after a short while (with soaking especially). Sadly the plastic handled ones have lasted really well. Would like better quality wood ones ideally though."
"Playcentre trained here too lol. I still always put out primary colours, black, white, and then sometimes a few others. We have the big 2lt bottles as well, my husband wasn't so thrilled when they turned up at his work and he had to carry the box of 14lts of paint (and 2 lts of glue, plus all the other bits). It was our first allowance pay out, I went a little crazy, but still using it all several year later."
"Exactly the same!!! We are rural delivery so I had it sent to his work and i ordered glue too! Funny!"
"Former Playcentre family here too and I set things up in a similar way to you."
"It depends on the children's mood (mine are 4 and 2) plus i have extra children each day. Yesterday it was paint jars and I put the pot of brushes in the middle of the table. Sometimes we use easels other times on the table top. Paint is the super tempura washable paint that I get from the company I work through (in home educator). On days I cant handle the mess the watercolour blocks are perfect. I use jars with a bit of sponge in the bottom to soak up some of the water so when it is inevitably knocked over water doesn't go for miles!"
"One of my go to's are egg cartons. One divet per colour, leave gaps so the don't mix by accident and throw the entire thing in the bin when done. They are also awesome for keeping glue in check."
"We used water colours and the poster paint pots for the under 6’s. Had proper paint trays that were passed on to us (like used at primary schools when we were at school. I divvied out paint. Selected colours - sometimes I chose, sometimes we talked about it. We have only ever had primary colours and they have had to mix to get their other colours. One or two brushes each (different thicknesses if 2). Easels outside on grass or I would get them to sit on lino in winter in hallway with newspaper underneath. Never did too much painting until they were old enough to be reasonably tidy."
"Little pots with lids or a water colour palette set, a few extra lids/containers/newspaper layers for palettes for mixing new colours, play table for surface, water in an old vegemite jar for rinsing, selection of paintbrushes to use. Miss 9 loved painting from an early age and it didn't take much effort to teach her not to double-dip a single paintbrush into more than one colour."
"All I can say is whatever activity you choose to do with them, my early childhood training has influenced me in these areas : 1) provide as much good quality as you can with materials, if I as an adult find the difference between a cheap brush and a good brush can affect my work, then children will find that too (in saying that I own some cheaper brushes that work well, just test them) 2) take children seriously as little artists, little Picasso's. (I.e. real artists wouldn't paint with those big goudy child brushes, children work best when they have many different sized fine brushes) 3) get them to work and explore with a variety of mediums (that you feel comfortable with) that adults create with."
"I recommend this book on the subject very highly “Magic Places – Pennie Brownlie”"
"I have a 3 and 6 year old painters and what I have learnt - acyrlic stains! Because of this we switched to poster paint - it's way cheaper too - admittedly acrylic has nicer/bolder colour but little kids probably don't care. We have massive 5lt bottles of all primary colours and small refillable squirty bottles of each so kids can get their own paint (they cant tip from the big bottles and the small squirty bottles don't flow too fast so they can control how much they get out) They use mini muffin trays or $2 shop mini pallets for their paint. They have an array of brushes to choose from mostly use 1 or 2 at a time and sometimes choose water to wash their brushes in between. We have a glass table and poster paint easily comes off, and sometimes they paint other stuff outside like shells, the sandpit, boxes etc."
"When my kids were younger we used washable paints outside. I put paint on a palate or icecream lid. Rolled their sleeves up and let them go for it. I found acrylic hard to get off their skin so washable paints worked better. Would give them a old shirt of mine or pit them in old clothes :-) Being messy is part of the fun. And if outside much easier to clean."
"I love to pop paint into egg cartons to throw away afterwards, or onto the flat lid from Chinese Takeaways or the deli which can easily be rinsed afterwards.
"On the flat lids if you just use primary colours, white and maybe black kids can experiment with mixing their own colours. Also squirting paint into a zip lock bag and sealing with cello tape can give an easy messy free alternative."
"I have a lot of plastic pots. Liquid poster paints. Lots of different sizes brush. This is a great idea for enthusiastic painters..."
"Because I have a passion for art and wanted to show my girl how she might explore mediums. We have used all sort from water paint (discs) , acrylics and poster paints. Usually medium cost, or my left over art supplies.
"We have used brushes of varied sizes, sponges, roller, eventually finger painting (which was huge for my anxiety kiddo.) We have a old billboard canvas, I put out on the deck with paints and paper and let her explore. We hang pictures on the wash rack to dry. Wash or hose down any mess when done.
"Paints put on a piece of cardboard or old plate. Wasn’t until she was older she wanted to use a paint tray. I have a pretty tidy kiddo, so no paint disasters even from a young age."
"Another idea for small painters... I traced around her body and then let her paint it... Note the walls and floor are covered. Probably should have covered the ceiling too.
"One more... Stapled a drop cloth to the fence, roll of paper and away she goes... She only wanted to paint her feet."
"I use dye, water colours and we experiment with painting on top of pastels and crayon. Cotton buds are a great way to encourage "small" painting."
"I used paints, tarp and paper.....put them in togs and let them go!"
Here are some links to products I sell - everything is highly recommended by us, so you don't have to buy inferior products and waste your time and money:
Use the watercolours directly from the pans or take the pans out and dissolve in a glass jar with some hot water, lave overnight to dissolve well, then use as liquid watercolour. Shake the jar before each use.
Also available in a 48 pack!
Water Brush (This is a Medium brush, but we also have Fine and Broad)