Are those toddler paints really safe? + 30 awesome toddler approved painting activities
What do you need to look out for when choosing toddler paints?
Painting can have many benefits for toddlers development and can actually be a really calming activity. However paint does inevitably get on your toddlers skin, and possibly mouth as well as on the floor or table.
So what are the important qualities of toddler paints that make it safe for our little ones? And which paints won’t leave your furniture stained craft hour?
The 3 types of toddler paints you need in your painting kit
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|Type of paint||Non-toxic||Washable||Water based|
|Tempera||Generally (check label)||yes||yes|
|Finger paints||Generally (check label)||yes||yes|
|Watercolors||Generally (check label)||yes||yes|
Also known as poster paint, tempera paint is a staple craft supply for kids. It has a thick and smooth texture. Colors are mixable and you can also water down these paints by adding water.
What I love about tempera paint is how versatile it is for toddler art projects. You can use it on paper, in a ziplock big, on cardboard and even on canvas.
Tempera is water- based which means it is washable. It is very important to only buy non-toxic tempera paint for toddlers.
There are also a wide variety of toddler safe tempera paints. Like:
10 great toddler painting activities using tempera paint
Painting in a ziplock bag
Put a piece of paper inside a ziplock bag and squirt in a bit of paint. Then tape it to the floor or table and let your toddler squish it around using their fingers. Mess free painting fun!
Tape blocked canvas painting
Tape patterns or your toddlers name onto a canvas using painters tape. Let them paint around it. After it has dried, pull off the tape and you have some pretty sophisticated looking wall art.
Painting inside an egg box
Squirt some colors inside of an old egg carton and let your toddler paint up the sides and swirl around the paint using their paintbrush. This is one of my favorite activities for developing wrist strength. Once it’s dried you can cut the egg box up and make flowers or just throw it out.
Pizza box as easel painting
Open the pizza box up and tape the sides so it stands like an easel. Then let your toddler paint whatever masterpiece they have in mind.
Potato stamp painting
I’m guessing you did this as a kid too. Cut a potato in half and either cut out a shape in the centre or push a cookie cutter into the centre. You should have a raised shape at the end. Dip it into paint and have fun stamping.
Painting toy cars
Place a toy car into a plastic bin with some paints and a brush. Let your toddler have fun painting their toy. As a bonus- washing the car in bubbly water afterwards becomes another fun toddler activity.
Using a balloon dipped in paint to stamp the hungry caterpillar
This is one of my favorite toddler painting activities using tempera paint. Because it’s great for teaching color mixing and working on using different grips for toddler fine motor development. Get a long piece of butchers paper, blow a balloon just a little and let your toddler dip the balloon in tempera paint. And then get stamping the caterpillars body with the balloon.
Painting cardboard boxes to make a fire engine or police car (or really any vehicle)
This requires a little more commitment on your part because you want to get the box properly painted. But once it’s done your toddler will have loads of pretend play fun with it.
A recycle wall
This is basically a bunch of recyclables stuck to a flattened box and then taped on the wall. It’s great to use all that waste in a productive way and is a great way to build your toddlers shoulder muscles.
Painting rocks to make strawberries
Honestly you can paint rocks to make anything but strawberries were a hit in my house. Go for a walk with your toddler and collect some rocks, paint them with red tempera paint and draw spots on once they have dried.
If these activity ideas have you inspired but also a little apprehensive-
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Finger paints are a great way to first introduce painting activities to your toddler. Through dipping and spreading the paint with their fingers, toddler gain valuable sensory play. As well as developing the small muscles of their hands by using their fingers as a painting tool.
Obviously it’s really important to get washable and non-toxic finger paints. Finger painting is generally more messy so you need to choose the paint carefully.
10 amazing painting activities using toddler safe finger paints
You can do so many things with a hand print once it has dried. Plus, they are really sweet keepsakes for capturing the smallness of your baby.
Lay out a long roll of butchers paper– let you toddler dip their feet in paint and walk along the path. This is a fantastic sensory activity and will be lots of fun for your toddler. Remember to keep a bucket of soapy water and a towel close by for an easy clean up. If you are doing this finger paint activity indoors try put an old shower curtain underneath the path.
Painting the walls of the bath
Just put a palette of finger paints in the tub and let your toddler paint while she baths. Bonus-super easy clean up
Filling in a picture with paint
This is just like coloring with their fingers but with their fingers. You can draw a simple shape like a circle or something more detailed like a princess.
This is another great way to develop small muscles in the hand used to move one finger at a time and develop coordination. You can get your toddler to make a picture with dots or draw little faces onto the dots once they have dried.
Tape resist art with finger paints
Tape patterns onto cardboard using painters tape. Let your toddler smoosh the finger paint all over. After it has dried, pull off the tape and voila! A work of art.
Painting inside a big box
This is a great summer activity. Strip your toddler down to their diaper or underwear and let them sit in the box with a palette of finger paints. They can be as artistic as they want. Once done- lift and take them straight for a bath.
Practicing pre writing shapes with finger paints
Let your toddler practice drawing lines and circles with finger paint. It’s a great multi-sensory way to develop pre writing shapes.
Painting a rainbow
This is a fun one to use those big arm movements and crossing the midline. It also will be fun for your toddler to play around with all the colors of the rainbow.
Using finger paints to paint onto bubble wrap
Using their fingers, your toddler can lather finger paints onto bubble wrap. You can also stamp this onto another pages afterwards
I like using watercolors because they generally leave very little mess and are virtually no prep.
The colors from watercolors may be a little less bright than tempura but they are great for teaching color mixing.
You can either wet the paint palette first, use a cup of water and paint brush or use a special water paint brush that your toddler can squeeze to release water while painting.
10 toddler painting activities using watercolor paint
Sprinkle salt over picture already painted
Fun STEAM activity for practicing fine motor skills and learning about how properties of the paint and salt interact. The salt will make the watercolors look like bubbles
Yarn art collage with watercolors in between Paste squiggly patterns of yarn onto some stock card and once dried let your toddler watercolor in the spaces in between the yarn.
Watercolor resist painting with white crayons or pastels
White crayons and white pastels will both be invisible on normal white paper. Once your toddler paints with watercolors over the crayon they will be able to see it. It’s a cute surprise for your toddler and you can play a game of guessing what’s drawn.
Dot art with watercolors and droppers
Mix some watercolor paint with water and let your toddler collect it in these droppers. Then squirt it out onto cardstock and watch the different colors mix
Blowing watercolors with straw
You can do this on plain paper as fireworks or around a pre drawn face (the paint will become the hair). Use the straw to place small drops of watercolor paint onto the paper. Then let your toddler blow the paint. This is fantastic for developing oral motor skills. I have a video on some other fun toddler friendly oral motor activities for you to check out.
Glue resist watercolors
You can use elmers glue or hot glue on canvas or on cardstock. Once it has dried let your toddler paint with watercolors all around it and it will make a beautiful picture.
Watercolors on dish towels
This simple non prep activity will get your toddler interested in watching the colors spread and mix.
Leaf or flower prints in watercolor
Fill a page with watercolors (it does need to be a bit wet). Then press down some leaves or flowers and let it dry. When you lift the leaves they make a beautiful pattern in the paint.
Bubble snakes using watercolors
I love bubble snakes! Another fun activity I learnt from a speech therapy colleague. Cut a hole in the bottom of a disposable cup. Cover the top of the cup with a wet wipe. You can hold the wet wipe in place with an elastic band. Dip into soapy water mixed with watercolor paint. Blow at the end (where you cut the hole) and a long bubble snake will form. You can let the snake sit on paper and it will make a really fun multicolor , bubbly work of art.
Raised salt watercolor painting
Using elmers glue draw a picture or pattern onto some cardstock. Then cover with salt and dust off any excess salt. Once the glue has dried let your toddler paint over it using watercolor paint. The salt absorbs the paint leaving some interesting art.
What should you avoid when it comes to paints for your toddler?
Research shows that children are more exposed than adults to titanium dioxide from artificial colorants found in paint and candies. This as well as lead found in paints can cause brain damage in children (source). These chemicals can also flare up allergies and asthma.
When it comes to toddler paints this is even more important because it is so likely that the paint will get on their skin or that they will taste it.
Therefore, we always want to prioritise paints being non-toxic. Two signs to know if a paint really is non-toxic are:
- If they contain low to none VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), have minimal or no odor, or are natural paint.
- It has been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials and has a “ASTM D-4236” code on the packaging.
Some other accessories that are wonderful for toddler painting
You want to look out for paint brushes like these, that have a short, rounded handle. Because your toddlers’ fine motor skills are still developing the round handle best support grip development.
Alternative types of paint brushes
Mixing up the type of paint brushes you use will refresh your toddlers (and your) interest in painting activities. It also adds an extra dimension to the sensory and fine motor development that happens for toddlers when painting.
Some of my favorite to try out are:
Toddler Painting Easel
An easel is a great way to have a no prep play invitation to painting. Painting while standing is also a fantastic way to strengthen your toddler’s core and shoulder muscles.
Painters smock or apron
Check out this cute smock to save your toddler’s clothes from getting covered in paint. Another option is to use an old t-shirt as a painting short.
Paint pots come in really handy with toddlers because it means they don’t have to clean the paint brush off when changing colors. It also stops the paint from spilling out if the paint pot gets tipped over.
A big plastic container to paint cars or other toys inside of is a life saver. It teaches toddlers the boundaries of where the paint needs to stay and makes clean up a piece of cake.
These are just so cute! You can also use an old egg carton to hold the paint or the paint pots but I do like the pallet. Especially for finger paints.
Old shower curtain
An old shower curtain or mat can be very handy. You just put it under the painting surface or easel and don’t have to worry about paint on the floor.
I hope this summary of what types of paints you need for toddler painting activities has inspired you to get painting.
You might also like to read:
Toddler Painting: when, how and why to get started