Finger painting is a fun, open-ended activity appropriate for children at any stage of motor development. There is no right or wrong way to finger paint. Every child is a successful finger painter!
All that is needed is space, time, paint, a comfortable place to sit, and no one to tell you how to do it. Avoid giving advice. Let children discover for themselves what they can create with finger paint at their own pace.
Finger painting can’t start too early.
Have you noticed how infants love smearing food all over their highchairs? Children love the feeling and freedom of being messy and uninhibited.
Supporting Finger Painting
Introduce children to finger painting early. By age two, many can manage finger paint well. Experience has taught them where the paint goes and where it does not go. They can even wash up pretty well afterward. Large cafeteria-style trays help control the area in which the paint can spread and work very well, especially for younger children. Large trays allow children to fully extend their arms. Limited space to paint can feel inhibiting.
Tabletops that are smooth and washable are ideal for finger painting. Occasionally wipe the edge facing the child where paint overflow can become a nuisance. A spatula will pick up most of the paint when the child is finished, and a soapy sponge will quickly get the rest. Cleaning the table is just as educational as finger painting and to children, it is not work at all. Allow plenty of time and provide plenty of sponges, warm water, and clean, dry towels. Adding color to basic finger paint (whatever your base) is best done with tempera paint. Although non-toxic, food coloring stains and it is hard to wash out.
Finger Painting Tips
Vary the type of paper used by adding the option of parchment paper. Wet the table, then put the paper down with a wet sponge. Finger painting on wet paper is fun. The paper isn’t ready until it’s smooth and wet. Hang on drying racks to dry. Take photos to show parents their children’s work.
Children of all ages can create prints by laying paper over their artwork, smoothing the surface lightly with dry hands, and pulling up the paper.
Adding background music to finger painting or any creative art activity adds another layer to a multi-sensory experience. Classical music provides an ideal accompaniment. The pure, clear tones of classical music can be particularly calming.
Any classical music can add enjoyment to learning with finger painting. Select works by composers such as Antonin Dvorak, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, W. A. Mozart, J. S. Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, or Vivaldi. Children are especially fond of flute, classical guitar, and harpsichord music. Notice how faster or slower music affects the way the children paint.
Homemade Finger Paint
“Combine 1 cup of water and ½ cup of flour in a pot over medium heat. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and you can pull it away from the sides of the pot. Take it off the heat, sprinkle a pinch of salt, and start adding cold water until it reaches the consistency you want. Divide it in small bowls and add a small amount of different food coloring to each bowl. Keep it in sealed containers until you are ready to use it.”
“Use 1 cup corn flour and ½ cup of tap water at room temperature and whisk together in a saucepan until there aren’t any lumps. Then place the saucepan over low heat and kept whisking until it thickens. Take it off the heat and add a little tap water until it reaches the right consistency. If you get it too thin, put it back on the heat for a bit. After it cools off, add food coloring. If you want to use natural food coloring, you can use blueberries, spinach, beetroot…”
“I use about 1½ cups of soap flakes and 1 cup of hot water, and I whipped the mixture with an eggbeater until it stiffens.”
Have fun! Share your finger painting ideas and recipes in the comments section.
Professional Development Training
Interested in learning more about creative art in early childhood? Take our courses Making Learning Fun, Play and Learning, or The Early Childhood Environment: Learning Centers!
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