Tips for Stress-Free Painting with Kids

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Mixing paint and children can have a mom quaking in her boots. Life as MOM contributor, Janel, demystifies the fine art of letting your kids be artistic.

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“Mom, how in the world did a 3-year old create a masterpiece like that?”

That is what my daughter Ella said when she saw this postcard from her cousin FishChick3. I couldn’t help but giggle at her words. Then Ella defended her comment, “What? There are masterpieces that look like that!” Well, I couldn’t argue with Ella’s logic.

Seeing FishChick3’s masterpiece reminded me how much children love painting. As a mom, I know that I don’t allow my girls the opportunity frequently enough. The last time they painted was a couple of months ago when I picked up some simple wooden birdhouses from the dollar store. I was shocked at how much they enjoyed painting them. They spent well over an hour working on their creations.

An hour without bickering. An hour without whining. An hour of fun.

So, why exactly don’t I let them do this more often?!

Oh yeah…painting can be messy. But honestly, there are some simple ways to make a painting activity easier and less stressful – both to set up AND clean up.

Try out these tips for stress-free painting with kids.

Protect your work area.

When I worked as a childcare provider, we always used a cheap, plastic tablecloth to protect the work surface. It worked fabulously. Plastic tablecloths are:

  • Easy to set-up: Just put it out on the table, and you’re ready. Newspaper is more difficult and time-consuming to set up, plus it can get ink on your hands and project.
  • Better protection than newsprint: Since they provide a waterproof barrier, they can protect against paint smudges as well as water spills.
  • Reusable: When painting is done, wipe off the paint with a sponge, fold your tablecloth and store it until next time.

If your kids will be seated in upholstered chairs, simply toss a towel over them for protection.

Get ready for clean-up.

Kids + Paint = Mess. There is no way around that. So expect it, and don’t let it upset you when it happens. Have some baby wipes and paper towels on hand to deal with messy fingers or spills at a moment’s notice.

Assemble the supplies.

You can make things really simple by creating a painting supply box. Stock it with several different bottles of cheap acrylic paint, paintbrushes in different sizes, bowls for water, paper plates to use as palettes, and of course your plastic tablecloth. When your kids are ready to paint, you can have them set-up and ready to go within minutes.

Get the kids ready.

If your kids have art aprons, have them wear those while they create their masterpieces. However, one of your old t-shirts will work just as well too. Also, if your child has long hair, pull it back in a ponytail or bun so that it stays out of the way.

Let them create!

The possibilities are endless as to what your child can create. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Wooden crafts: Check the dollar store or craft store for inexpensive wooden items. You can usually find many options for just $1.
  • Marble Painting: Kids love marble painting too…although this might require some hands-on help from you. You’ll need a plastic container large enough to hold your paper (like a rectangular dishwashing bucket), some marbles and glitter. Sometimes marbles are hard to find – just use those rubber bouncy balls instead, but make sure that the bouncy balls don’t get away from you!
    1. Place the paper in the bottom of the bucket.
    2. Add drops of paint onto the paper and then roll the marbles on top to spread the paint. If you’ll be doing several paintings, it may be easier to keep your colors separate by adding paint to the marbles in separate disposable cups. Just scoop the paint-covered marbles out of the cup and onto the paper and let your child roll them around.
    3. Add glitter! Remove the marbles, and keep the paper in the box to contain the mess. Let your child shake glitter onto the still-wet creation.
  • Make A Masterpiece: Let your child use her imagination and just create on construction paper or cardstock. Show her how to mix primary colors to make new ones. When her masterpiece is dry, you can hang it up for display or do as FishChick3 did and transform it into postcards. Just use peel-and-stick postcard backing and cut the artwork to the appropriate size.

A girl in a pink shirt looking at the camera.Janel is a stay-at-home mom of two daughters and a “law school wife” in Virginia. Raised in a budget-conscious and DIY-minded family, she blogs about motherhood, crafts, and living on a law school budget at Life with Lucie and Ella.

How do you “do art” at your house?

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  1. My daughter has a large pad of paper, about the size of a 4 year old, and has the paints near the pad, and let’s her daughter create. I love it. My granddaughter would probably paint all day if you let her, she loves it.

  2. When the weather is appropriate I have my kids paint outside. You might still have a mess but it feels less messy outside and I don’t have to worry about interrupting their creativity if it’s time for lunch or dinner and need the table to be cleared. Plus, if it’s washable paint, the next rain shower will take care of most of it.

  3. I was a pre-k teacher for over 20 years. Here are a few things I found helpful.
    Number 1 add a few drops of dish soap to paint. It makes it much easier to clean up.
    2. lay an old shower curtain on the floor. Even if using the table, brushes drop, paintings fall, accidents happen.
    3. provide a dish pan with an inch or two of water and old towel for easy hand washing.
    4. spray bottles with water and a drop of soap provide easy clean up.
    5. provide a destination for wet paintings. be it a clothes rack, a news paper covered cabinet or just the other end of the table. Your child needs to know where to put them so they don’t wonder around with me
    and the most important tip of all is give them lots of practice. The more often they paint, the less messy they will be, t

  4. I love the idea of plastic table cloths! I’ve also never tried marble painting, but that sounds really fun. We’ll have to try it soon.

    Sometimes, I put an old shower curtain on the floor under where they’re painting since our dining room is carpeted.

  5. We love using the plastic table cloths too. I get them off clearance racks when I see them.

    My kids love washable water colors which for some reason feels less messy. We also use tempera paint and make textures with sponges, combs and splattering. I’ve never done the marble idea. I will give it a try!

  6. Great tips. I love painting with my son, but it gets so messy. I’ll keep these tips in mind the next time I break out the paints 🙂