Homemade fingerpaints with the toddler art group

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Ah, fingerpaints! The kiddos in the toddler art group painted with homemade fingerpaints last week.


I used the recipe for warm cornstarch fingerpaint from MaryAnn Kohl's First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos. It was easy to make, but pretty thick and goopy (maybe I cooked it too long). I'll probably mix up one of her other recipes next time — perhaps the liquid starch fingerpaint. Or just try commercial fingerpaints — I just got some Colorations finger paints from Discount School Supply and am looking forward to trying them soon.


As with the playdough, these one year olds were not so sure about the fingerpaints. Most of them didn't even want to touch it, let alone paint with it. Here the parents are touching the fingerpaint and using their most encouraging voices. Pretty funny, actually. :)


Considering that my child will happily fingerpaint with applesauce, yogurt, and other foods, and doesn't seem to have any hesitation in getting messy normally, I'm not sure why she was so hesitant to touch the fingerpaints. The color? Texture? The studio setting as opposed to the kitchen table?


Whatever it is, she was not alone in being wary.


In an effort to make the first fingerpainting experience just about the fingerpaint (especially after all the comments regarding the playdough introduction), I made sure not to put anything else on the table, and even removed all the paintbrushes and other tools from the vicinity.


But, when parents added more fingerpaints to the table using spoons (tools!) the two boys latched on to them. Joe, who wouldn't touch the fingerpaints before, now happily interacted with the paint using his newfound tool.


And, since Julie Liddle talked about letting kids with sensory issues experience playdough by squishing it through a ziploc bag first, I thought I'd try that with the kids who wouldn't touch the fingerpaints. It didn't quite work as I thought it would though. While we demonstrated touching and squishing the paint through the bag, Daphne and Iver just carried the bags around.

I have to remember that most of these toddlers are still really young at 14 to 16 months (Joe is the oldest at 22 months) and that even a month or two (and continued exposure) will make a big difference in their confidence with these art materials.


And that personality plays a role as well. Juniper (16 months) and Flynn (20 months?) didn't seem to have any hesitation at all in painting with their hands. They really got into it!


As will the playdough, we will try this again (and again).

And just so you don't think we're struggling to engage the kids each week, I'm happy to say that we had a wonderful experience with the toddler art group this week painting with liquid watercolors and (gasp!) brushes. They all loved it! I'll try to get photos up soon…

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  1. Jenny says

    it must just be something about finger paint. i never tried the homemade stuff – my little guy was given a bucket of commercial finger paints for his first birthday. I had to practically bribe him to get him to use his hands. It took until this past Christmas (at 3.5 years) for him to really get into it & he went crazy & finger painted sheets and sheets of homemade wrapping paper for me!
    Keep trying, eventually they’ll come around to it… hopefully it doesn’t take 2.5 years like it did on my end =)

  2. says

    I have tried finger paints with my grandkids when they were about that age and the same reaction, they didnt want to get their fingers dirty, LOL It is cute to watch them though.

  3. says

    A few things….first, colorations finger paints are great (nice smooth pudding-like consistency and vibrant colors). As for hesitant toddlers with the gooey messy materials…you touched on all the potential reasons: a biggie is temperament/personality-they all have different thresholds/sensitivities to different kinds of sensory input, and for those who are hesitant, repeated exposure in a non-threatening/inviting (just like you are doing) environment is key. I have found what I believe to be the single most important factor in ultimately engaging those more hesitant kids, is exposure to other kids who are eagerly engaging in the activity. I have noticed time and again, that the hesitant kids feed off of each other, as do the more enthusiastic ones and if you have a group that coincidentally tends to be more reserved, then not much is going to happen, but two or more kids at the table slathering their hands, arms, and everything in sight with the paint, creates the opposite dynamic within the group. I have offered back to back classes, or even had one class with two different table groupings, where I have seen this play out again and again.

  4. sondra says

    I know this is super messy – but we usually spread paper on the floor and let my 18 month old finger paint on the floor – in his diaper – and he seems to be able to get into it better than when we put it on the table. Also, I noticed that he is more hesitant to participate when other kids are around. Alone, he is a mad man with the paints and art supplies. But, he gets shy around other people. Hmmm….Have you tried homemade face/body paints with the older kids? They love it!

  5. Julie L. says

    Finger paints haven’t been a hit with our toddler art group either. Funny enough though, my girls will use tempera paint all over their bodies. I agree the age makes a big difference but I don’t think older always means more willing to try. My younger daughter is the youngest in the group and a lot of times the most willing to get messy. Of course some of that is probably personality too. I’m excited to see your post about watercolors. I’ve tried ours a couple of times, just with my own girls, and been pretty disappointed. I’m wondering if I’m not put enough paint with the water. But the colors always look so dark in the containers if I don’t mix in a lot of water. Of course with lots of water the colors are really washed out on the paper.

  6. says

    I have First Art on the way and am so excited to see what it has to offer! The first time I tried finger paints with our little guy, we *were* sitting at the kitchen table. He was pretty sure he was supposed to spread the paints around *and* eat them! Ha! ;)
    We tried the play dough last week. After reading your post, I decided to present it to him without tools. At first, he was totally unimpressed. Now, just a few days later, it’s his favorite activity! :)
    Thank you for sharing your toddler art experiences. I so look forward to reading about them!

  7. says

    I love doing fingerpaints with little kids because I think it really showcases their personalities. Some kids never get past that hesitation, and others dive gleefully in. My favorite are the kids that seem quiet and shy but really get in to fingerpainting. In those cases, I think fingerpaints gives them an opportunity to let their inner creativity shine.

  8. Natalie O. says

    Thank you for sharing this. I lead a Toddler Art Group at a nature center and I really love seeing your experience with the youngest artists. Love it!

  9. Lisa says

    We really like the Colorations Finger Paint you linked to but I think the important thing is to use the finger paint paper. The finger paint paper is very smooth and let’s your fingers glide very easily on the paper. I think the sensory aspect would be different if you used regular paper.
    My little one initially didn’t want to dive in with her hands and we started with q-tips. Now we have tons of handmade wrapping paper from the finger painting.

  10. Lisa says

    Also, wanted to mention that we painted with real (i.e., not yogurt) paint with my younger one (15 months) for the first time. She puts everything in her mouth still (nothing like her older sister) and I found it was great to use paint brushes and double dip paint cups (like these: http://www.discountschoolsupply.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?product=7528&keyword=paint%20cups&scategoryid=0&CategorySearch=&Brand=&Price=).
    She loved just putting the paint brush in the holes and I think it was a good barrier/distraction from putting paint in her mouth. She even put some paint on the paper.

  11. says

    For finger painting I’ve tried the no tool approach also with my toddler art classes, but here’s what I have found to be the most engaging: I first offer no tools, and see if anyone dives in. For those who don’t, I bring out one tool (not a brush, but a popsicle stick or something) and let them check out the paint for a bit. Then I bring them tools that will eventually get their hands messy, like mardi-gras beads. At this point they move the beads around in the paint and end up getting paint on their hands- most realize that they like it! For anyone who still doesn’t like it, I offer them a wet towel to keep with them in case they need to wipe the paint off (which seems to be reassuring).
    Thanks for the great conversation topics!

  12. says

    Megan,love the mardi-gras beads idea. I usually follow a very similar path with my groups…first no tools, then a few implements (maybe plastic spoons or forks, or they make some textured plastic scrapers at discount school supply that make cook tracks through the paint which the kids seem to love), then I give them pieces of bubble wrap cut…very enticing to touch (some really get into it to the point of becoming almost trance-like as they slide the paint around on the surface of the bubble wrap, squeezing it in their hands til it practically lathers!), and it makes interesting patterns in the paint too. I’m going to give the beads a try though!

  13. says

    My little man has always loved all things sensory. It’s funny, he’s not particularly interested in painting with brushes and things but just adores getting completely covered in paint. I use to want him to paint ‘properly’ with tools and things but now I just lay out some plastic sheeting and let him go for it. Any art activity which ends up with him covered in paint is always a winner.

  14. says

    I use commercial tempera mixed with dish soap, and then I have CJ mix it himself. We just did that the other day, actually, and he had a blast. He’s a little older than Daphne, but has been at it for quite a while now.

  15. says

    We’ve done plenty of body painting with the older kids (some on purpose, but most not) although with just tempera paint. We haven’t made homemade body paints, but maybe soon!
    Daphne is the same way — more hesitant about doing art in the art group (so far) than alone or just with Maia. Maia was the same way at this age. She wouldn’t do much in the group but would do plenty after the group left!

  16. says

    We have those paint cups too, although I haven’t tried them with Daphne much yet. She doesn’t put paint in her mouth, although crayons, markers, and chalk all get tasted…

  17. says

    you are a very brave woman. i’ve been meaning to introduce some finger painting to my toddler but the thought of the mess intimidates me!

  18. [email protected] says

    when you make the fingerpaint… can you tint it with tempra, or does it have to be food coloring to get that “gel” look?

  19. says

    I think tempera would probably work just fine. It wouldn’t be as concentrated, so you might want to use more, but i think that would actally be good since it would thin it out a bit. If you try it, let me know how it works!

  20. robin says

    thanks! I’ll let you know how it turns out! thank you so much for writing this blog! i totally love it and get tons of inspiration from it!

  21. Ellen Flach says

    hi!i I just stumbled upon your blog and was hoping I could get some of your advice! I just started a mommy and me art class at are local Youth Center. I’m a licensed in art education but ive never tought this age group.I had my first class yesterday and it felt pretty hectic. classes are 45 minutes long and for ages 0 to 5 years. If you have any advice it wouldn’t be much appreciated!! how long are your classes 30 minutes 45 minutes an hour?
    I love your blog!