A Less-Messy Way to Paint With Young Children

posted by Andrea | 03/22/2016
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less messy paint

While I usually try to stick with relatively mess-free crafts and activities for my young children, there is just something about painting that is SO exciting for them — and they ask to paint ALLLLLLLLL the time.

Sometimes, I can convince them to color with crayons or markers instead, but usually they insist on painting… and yes, it’s messy (even with a brush!) 

meessy paint

Nora is old enough that she is relatively careful when she paints. I told her I don’t care if it gets on the table or her smock, but I don’t want it dripping on the floor, and she needs to wash her hands before getting down from the table (I give her a wet rag).

However, Simon is a different story! He has been very into painting recently — and he is basically a tasmanian devil with a paintbrush. Paint ends up in the craziest places when he gets ahold of a paintbrush!

I’ve been putting a tablecloth under his chair and some paper bags under his painting paper, but he flings his brush around and ends up splattering paint all over the place.

I was almost to the point of only letting Nora paint when Simon was napping… until I came up with a less-messy idea for painting after watching what Simon did with one of his speech therapists.

I really don’t know what they were doing, but she had him use clothespins to pick up colored puff balls and then dip the puff balls in a small bowl of water. Almost instantly, I thought “maybe that would work with paint too!”

And wouldn’t you know… it does! 

I’m not sure what it is about the clothespins versus the paintbrushes, but Simon has had several relatively mess-free painting sessions since we’ve started using the puff balls — and of course, Nora thinks it’s pretty fun too!

Maybe it’s the fact that they aren’t quite strong enough to open the clothespin, or that the paint doesn’t splatter with the puff balls like it does with the brushes. Also, I think the smaller, fatter clothespins are easier for small hands to hold onto and maneuver.

Whatever the case, we will most definitely continue using this method with Simon until he’s a little older and can handle a paintbrush!

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One of our recent painting sessions turned into an Easter craft as Nora wanted to “paint Easter Eggs”. I didn’t think she would go for my simple idea, but apparently drawing a giant egg shape on a piece of white cardstock was good enough for her!

Not too bad for 10 seconds of effort on my part!

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One thing I should mention is that I DID try this with cotton balls, but it doesn’t work well at all. The cotton balls absorb too much of the paint, get all stretched out and soggy, and they leave strings of cotton in the paint. Puff balls are far superior!

So it looks like we can still enjoy fun painting crafts (even with Simon) without tons of extra clean-up 🙂

Oh, and I still have no idea why the speech therapist had Simon using the clothespins and puff balls — but I’m sure glad I saw it!

Do you have any other simple less-messy crafting ideas for kids?

Here are a few of our favorite relatively mess-free crafts and activities for young children.

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13 comments

  1. JoDi

    03/22/2016

    What a great idea! As kids, we liked paint with water books, and my son loved them too. It’s the kind of book where the paint is on the page, and you just use a wet paintbrush to release the color and paint the picture. Totally non-messy fun!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, Nora USED to like the water books, until we painted with real paint. Now the water books aren’t good enough for her anymore. Boo!

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  2. Alicia

    03/22/2016

    What a great idea! I’ll have to try this with my boys!

    [Reply]

  3. Teri

    03/22/2016

    I came across a website recently called Hands On As We Grow, and it’s been wonderful! Her ideas for toddler/kid activities don’t require a lot of prep at all, and my 2.5 year old son has had a blast doing several of the activities. http://handsonaswegrow.com/

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for the blog link Teri! It looks amazing! I already did one of the activities with the kids this afternoon and I signed up for her weekly emails to get more ideas!

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  4. JJ

    03/22/2016

    We have done cotton balls with the clothespins, until my son took the clothespins apart. I like sponge painters(what I call them, but I have no clue what they’re officially called). They have a scrunched up sponge on the end, and the handle is big enough for a good grip. I had gotten them at Target in the dollar section a long time ago. I think they normally bring them back in the summer. You can also use q-tips. And we have done a fork painting. Using a fork. I think when you keep changing it up, it helps. My son is a flinger–haha! I sometimes don’t even notice it, because it will be in a random place. Then my husband will come home and ask how paint got over there. Oh, and my son’s shirt that says, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” would sum up why he does it. :p

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I LOVE the shirt saying 🙂 I should get one of those for Nora and Simon 🙂

    Thanks for the tips and additional ideas!

    [Reply]

  5. Kristen

    03/22/2016

    Fun! I got something similar from Oriental Trading – I think they’re called “dip and dot” paint dotters. Basically a little sponge on the end of a wooden stick. I like them because they’re reusable, but your way is even cheaper and easier!

    [Reply]

  6. Pamela

    03/22/2016

    So no need to dip the puffballs in water? Just go directly to the paint?!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    no water — just paint 🙂

    [Reply]

  7. Jessica

    03/22/2016

    I love to paint in the tub! We have a shower/tub with the acrylic walls (I think that is what they are). I just strip my daughter down and let her go to town. She loves painting all over the walls and I don’t mind if she drips paint or gets it on herself because it very easily wipes off the walls and I can give her a quick bath..

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    for some reason, I’m always afraid that painting in the tub will discolor the grout — and I HATE cleaning grout. Have you done it in a shower with grout?

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    Jessica Reply:

    I think your’e right about grout. I haven’t painted in our shower with grout, but I did have some drip on the grout in my kitchen and it was tough to clean up.

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