I know a lot of mums (and dads) dread arts and craft time, especially painting. Second only to glueing and glittering, the mess is enough to deter. However, the benefits of letting your little one engage in messy play completely outweigh the negatives of having to do a little cleaning up. Painting is not only a visual stimulant and an outlet for creativity, for babies, it is more so a sensory experience where they have the opportunity to feel the texture, squidge it between their fingers and toes as well as enjoying the vibrant mixing of different colours.
I, for one, couldn’t wait until Sonnie was old enough to start exploring his creative side and begin experimenting with a variety of media. A whole 7 months passed before letting him try painting. Although I began planning it a while before and was reaaaallly tempted to try it earlier, I held off until I was confident he would be interested and engaged. That being said, he probably could have given it a go earlier and every baby is different so try whenever you want!
After doing a little research, I made the decision to use edible paints ( A really simple recipe of greek yoghurt and food colouring) as he was putting absolutely everything in his mouth. The bath was our choice of canvas- easy to clean off and I could clean Sonnie at the same time. Win, win.
I made the conscious decision to separate the paints into little tubs as I was intrigued to observe what he would do and which colours he would be drawn to first. Plus the mixing process is all part of the learning experience. All in all it was an extremely successful first attempt, Sonnie loved it so much he ended up rolling around in it and slipping all over the place!
Since then, we have painted regularly. I waited until Sonnie had turned one before using proper non toxic finger paints – bought from the Early Learning Centre. The colours were so much more inviting and, although completely not the point of the exercise, he created something that I got to keep. To be honest, he was pretty uninterested in the paper and that was okay. Although it is lovely to have something to keep, you are going to be bombarded with drawings, paintings and whatnot over the years so just focus on enjoying the experience with your little one. After all, it’s the process that is important, not the outcome.
If you are fortunate enough to have sunshine, or even dry weather where you live (i’ll take anything other than rain and snow, Scotland!), going outside to paint is great! Just strip your little one down to their nappy, set up the resources and let them go. You can also take full advantage of the natural environment, using the inviting treasures found around you to help in the process.
Each time we paint, I try to add a new element or focus to observe and determine how he will respond. For this session (the one where he painted himself blue) I put out the paints- cool colours only-only this time I added two brushes. I then added one Sonnie to the mix and let him go, no direction, no modelling. To my surprise he started off by picking up the brush and painting ‘properly’, dipping the brush in the paint and sweeping it across the paper. I genuinely don’t know where he got that from, because I definitely didn’t show him. This then progressed on to painting his hand which, in turn, progressed onto painting his foot. He was mixing the paints, pouring the tub on the paper and using different body parts to mix it all around, all the while smiling, laughing and saying “oooooh”. I sat back watching in absolute amazement- not once thinking of the fact that I had to clean it all up!
For a baby who usually changes activity every 5 minutes, he was genuinely engaged for around 45 minutes. Every choice was his own, there was no hidden agenda, no expected outcome. That is the absolute beauty of genuine learning through play.
So if you can, try to let go of control (it’s an extremely difficult thing for us adults to do), sit back and watch magic happen. I promise you, it will be worth the mess.