Tips For Painting With Young Kids

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Tips For Painting With Kids

(Especially The Little Ones!)

You’re well aware of the benefits of doing art with your own kids! Stocking up on crayons, coloring books, drawing paper…the works…is so enriching to teaching your child at home. But are you nervous to bring out the paints?

I have three boys six and under and painting with all three of them can be a chore. It’s messy, it’s chaotic and  there’s water involved. It gets on their hands and toes and eyes and clothes. There’s no 100% fool proof way of preventing the mess but there are things you can do to help alleviate some of the stress.

Doing some basic prep-work and following a few guidelines can actually get your kids to create some fantastic paintings! 

When I paint with my own kids at home, usually I let them “free paint” to explore the medium. Other times I actually do use my tutorials and teach my child in a more structured painting lesson. My oldest is four (he’s six now) and we did this dinosaur lesson using the steps presented on the tutorial.

Without getting too deep into the educational aspect, I will say that…. Through step by step instruction we can teach our children about the elements of art (shape, lines, colors, etc.) and input some other areas like science! We did a brief study on types of Dinosaurs!

Painting helps with fine motor, gross motor and cognitive skills! It also builds confidence in your child when they realize what they can create! 

Have I inspired you yet!?

painting with kids the benefits and rewards

Any how…I hope that my tips for painting with kids will help you to do these step by step paintings with your own kids, even the real little ones!

Wait! You have kid’s painting tutorials? Sure do! They are actually for ALL AGES but can easily be adapted for kids. See the full list here!


This post does contain affiliate links. 

“Use Smaller Surfaces To Paint On”

8 x 10 Stretched Canvases

Use a small 8 x 10 or 11 x 14 canvas! Little hands tire easily. They’ll be able to see over the easel. Also, there will be less frustration from needing to paint such a large surface.

Canson Watercolor Paper Pad

If you aren’t using canvas, look for heavy duty water color paper. I love using this Canson watercolor paper pad for painting because I know it will hold a lot of water. <—Ahem. Kids love their water! I also suggest taping the canvas paper down on the table so it doesn’t move around too much.

“Prepare And Protect The Painting Area”

Cover your art table with a drop cloth. At the time I wrote this post, we had limited space in our old home. Our kitchen dining table was our work space, homework center and basically anything that required a table.  

So painting projects have to be set up and taken down each time. I bought a large cotton drop cloth and I drape it over our table like a table cloth. 

Since we moved, I still use this drop cloth to cover the table for all our art projects! 

Cotton Canvas Drop Cloth

The drop cloths are nice because they are heavy duty and will immediately absorb any spills. And if your child is like my four year old that likes to switch colors every five seconds, the cloth will easily absorb all those water drippings.

“Keep the work space clutter free and offer limited supplies”

Minimalist set up: paint, canvas, water, brush and rag.

Think minimalism! The only items that should be on the table prior to starting the painting instruction are: paint, brushes, water container, a rag, an easel if you’re using an easel and the paper or canvas. I like to use old Gerber burp cloth rags for brush wiping with my kids. 

Kids get easily overwhelmed if too many art supplies and other “stuff” are on the table.

“Use An Easel”

I do recommend having your child paint on an easel. We tested it out both ways in this demonstration and found that my four year old worked best with the painting propped up!

When your child paints upright not only does it help with posture and the ability to see better but it allows your child to use “gross motor skills” and “fine motor skills”. In other words he or she is able to move the full arm which allows for better movement and control of the brush.

I get our easels at Hobby Lobby for only $8.00 but sometimes they are on sale for as little as $3! I love these so much that I recommend them to anyone looking for great paint party easels! 

“Use larger, thicker brushes or brushes with grips”

Royal & Langnickel Soft Grip Handles

A lot of kids, especially the younger ones, have a hard time with the thin handle brushes. I’m a fan of Royal Langnickel brushes. They offer a line of brushes that have thicker handles.

When you’re painting with your child, especially if they are still learning how to write, you will need to help adjust the way they are holding the brush. My son tends to gravitate towards the middle or the far end of the handle. Adjust your child’s brush grip the same way you help him or her write. The grasp should be closer to the bristles. 

I also recommend limiting the amount of brushes you are using. We only used one flat and one round for our dinosaur painting. If you have an older child, you can experiment with different sizes and shapes but if you’re working with a very young child, too may brushes can be overwhelming.

“Practice basic painting skills together”

Demonstrate paintbrush techniques like rinsing the brush properly.

Show your child how to properly rinse the brush, pat it dry and add paint to it. Show your child how to move the hand back and forth to paint. To teach my kids, I actually do a practice “hand over hand movement”. Gently hold your child’s hand and show them the movement of how the brush is supposed to go when you’re painting.

In the art teacher world, we have a teaching visual called “swish, wipe, blot”. Basically, it teaches our children how to properly rinse the brush, wipe the excess water on the side of the water pan and how to blot it on the towel.



“Use a limited or selective color palette.”

If you’re following a painting tutorial, don’t put all the colors on the palette at once! When working through the steps, only give your child 1-2 of the colors depending on what step you are on.

When I do “free painting” (painting without any instruction) I try limiting the paints that I put on my child’s palette. Kids love mixing colors! Paintings will almost always result in a big brown “mud pie” if you offer all the colors at once. Also your child may get too overwhelmed with the color choices.

Try putting analogous colors on your child’s palette. Pick 3-4 colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. You can also add white because it is a safe color that only lightens the pigment to a different tint. 

We used analogous colors in the sky of our dinosaur painting!



“Let your child lead but provide gentle guidance”

When you’re teaching your child to paint, guide your child through the steps as they are presented. However, if your child is wanting to “drift off” and not follow the instructions, don’t discourage this! Let them take the lead but don’t let them drift too far off. Guide them gently!

They also have shorter attention spans so they will work much faster than us adults do at our paintings. And that is okay! 

I suggest painting side by side with your child. I call it “I Do. You Do.” Break down each step clearly by demonstrating it on your canvas and then encourage your child to do it on their own. If they don’t understand or quickly get frustrated, you can gently do a “hand over hand” to let them get the feel for the movement of the stroke. Then have them do the same stroke again on their own. 

Let your child lead the painting process but provide gentle guidance along the way.

“Simplify The Composition and adapt accordingly”

For the dinosaur painting, I simplified the design by taking out the trees and I limited the color palette with “analogous” colors.
Dinosaur Silhouette Original Design

Too many steps can be overwhelming for a child. If you’ve selected a painting tutorial, look at the steps and the overall design of the painting to see what you can simplify or completely eliminate.

I briefed a little bit about how I limited the color choices with analogous colors. For the composition, I simply took out the extras without loosing the “gist” of the painting. We didn’t do trees or facial features like in the original painting.

Also, I adapted! I traced the initial circle of the moon and drew the dinosaur in by outlining it with a thin line of black paint for my child. I set him up for success and that is okay in my opinion! If you have an older child, they may need very little adaptations.



“It’s Okay to Use Tempera or Craft Paints”

Kids love loading their brush with a lot of paint. I don’t necessarily discourage this but we do end up burning through a lot of paint in one session. That is why I bring out the tempera or craft paints when working with my kids.

Crayola tempera paints are my favorite brand to use with my own kids. When I taught Elementary art for years it was the only brand I used for K-8th Grade.

I also love using the Apple Barrels or the Craftsmart Brand! 

They are super vibrant, mix well, creamy, and most are very washable.

“Protect clothing even if the paint says washable!”

If you are brand new at this painting thing, I recommend full coverage or at least a paint apron.

Also, just because the paint bottle says “washable” doesn’t mean it’s 100% washable. The darker, deeper colors, especially black and red, will stain.

If you do get paint on something that you don’t want to stain, clean it immediately with a stain remover pen. 

“Use a very large water container and a heavy duty old rag to dry the brushes after changing colors.”

Shallow large container for water and a rag for catching drippings.

Kids love rinsing their brushes in water! It’s a sensory water play experience to them.

However, it can get messy with all that water and paint dripping everywhere. I recommend that you find the largest shallow water container you can find. You don’t want something that can spill over but you want something large enough so the paint can be rinsed off easily.

I actually use a marinator container for our water! It is shallow, large and it has that “texture” on the bottom that helps rinse the brush off. You can pick one up easily at a thrift store!

Also, teach your child how to rinse the brush and pat it dry – especially the metal part of the brush where water gets stuck under! Explain to them that the paint will start running on their canvas if they don’t do this.

“Display your child’s painting with love and praise!”

Designate one area of the house to display all your child’s artwork! Our spot is a wall in our hallway and as our kids started bringing home school art projects they hang them around their bedrooms. 

Teach your child how to care for his or her art. You can do this by demonstrating how to hold the painting appropriately and not to play with it like a toy. Have your child carefully help you hang the painting up and treat it like a delicate masterpiece.

Celebrate your child’s art and provide praise! I always praise my kid’s work no matter how it turns out because  I want their art experiences to be positive and not critical.  I also use that opportunity to get my kids to talk to me about their art. Ask simple questions.

Questions to ask your child about their art: 

  • What was your favorite part?
  • I like that you put all those stars there. Tell me how you did that?
  • What did you do first?
  • What colors did you use?

Now Give It A Try! 

I think with painting, especially with kids, it’s important to let go of any inhibitions we may have about our kids getting messy or the painting not turning out “perfect”.  Not everything will go as planned and that’s okay! There will be spills, mess ups and maybe even little tantrums along the way. But the process
and experience is worth it!

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