Elsie’s Guide to Painting with Kiddos

Elsie’s Guide to Painting with Kiddos

I receive a lot of questions about painting with Nova. I hear so many moms say they “feel bad” for not doing more art with their kids or that they want to learn how to do it with zero mess. I’m here today to share my tips, but also some tough love about that zero mess part!

Tip 1: Let it be messy

You wouldn’t tell your kiddos they can’t play soccer or go in a swimming pool just because they’ll need a bath after each time, right? Don’t let the mess of painting keep you from doing it! Painting is messy, but do it anyway. 

We’ve had days where Nova makes barely any mess and all we need is a quick wipe down with a wet cloth, but we’ve also had days where I carry her straight to the bathtub, and you know what? I regret zero of these “extra” baths. It’s more than worth it!

As the parent, it’s your job to constantly decide what’s worth it and not worth it. Going out to eat at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night …  maybe not worth it. Dealing with six straight weeks of crying before ballet class … maybe worth it. But art? Art is always worth it. Tattoo those words in your brain. The difference between your child having an extra artistic childhood, or not, is in your hands.

When I get messages about how to paint with a toddler without the mess, I laugh. Honestly. Do you think I have some magic secret that you don’t have? Toddlers are really messy and so is paint. But the experience, the outcome and the memories make it so worth your investment of time and energy!

Tip 2: Just use what you have

I let Nova paint with my own craft paints 90% of the time. I’ve gotten some shaming comments for it, but I stand by my choices. Here’s why! Acrylic paint is prettier than kids “washable” paint, but the ingredients are not that different. And washable paint doesn’t always wash out either. For this reason, we just use painting clothes so we don’t have to worry about getting paint on the clothes.

All paint is at least somewhat toxic and should not be eaten. It also should not be left on the skin. So as long as you are fully supervising your child and cleaning them up when you are done, I don’t see an issue with letting them use “adult” paint.

I love the lifestyle of sharing what’s mine with Nova. We do this in so many areas of our lives. We share our food with her at every meal, which I believe has expanded her palate. I let her play with all my things within reason. Jeremy lets her play with his instruments in his studio (supervised, of course). Overall, I guess I am one of those parents who believes kids don’t need a kid “version” of every single thing in your home. A lot of the time they can just use the same things as adults.

I grew up using my mom’s paints. Besides watercolors, I don’t remember her having separate stuff for us. I remember the feeling well. It felt so cool to me that she would let me use her grown up things. I want my children to have that same experience.

If you’re an avid crafter like me, sharing your “stash” will cut down on things you need to buy and at times save waste because you can use leftover supplies for kids crafts. You really don’t need to go out and buy a bunch of stuff just to paint with your kids!

I do let Nova paint on my old canvases. I do sometimes let her paint the same one over and over. We also paint on scrap paper (things like old notebooks I find in my office.) Kids aren’t picky, they just want to paint. ?

Tip 3: Customize your routine to your child.

Our routine was completely different when Nova had a shorter attention span than it is now. Now the most important thing to her is the quantity. She wants to paint and paint and paint. So I prep a bunch of papers of canvases or greeting cards for her to paint.

As she gets older, we’ll change up our routine countless times, I’m sure!

When I first start with Marigold, we’ll probably just do handprints and things like Play-Doh. Then work our way up from there!

I’ve learned that at every age it’s important to keep retrying things. Just because your child didn’t like art six months ago does NOT mean they don’t now. Kids change so fast. So if you have a discouraging art experience, just throw your supplies in a box in a closet and try again in six months. Don’t give up! 

I hope these tips have been helpful. My mom was an incredible inspiration to me. As we were growing up, she had endless art projects for us to try. I truly believe I owe the creative part of my brain to my mom and that’s the number one motivator for me as I attempt to give my own kids a creative childhood.

Don’t overthink it. This isn’t supposed to be complicated. I know that cleaning up paint isn’t “fun,” but neither is cleaning up poop and we all do that every day, right? ? You can do this! xx. Elsie

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.

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