I want to tell you about fingerpainting.

Before I was a mommy, in a previous life, I taught nursery school. More than that, I worked with kids from about a few weeks to six years old, professionally, mostly with 3-5, but a lot with toddlers, and with a couple of summer stints as a sleepaway summer camp head counselor for “disadvantaged” kids up to 12. All of that was awesome. Some was less awesome than others, and when it was less so, it was about the quality of the school and the professionalism of the administration, not the kids. I’ve always loved teaching. And I’ve brought a lot of skills away from that to parenting, not half in terms of how I react to Owen emotionally and intellectually.

But also, I’ve brought away the understanding that fingerpainting can be fabulous, and can both satisfy the needs of the kid to smear and smear and smear, and create take-home art for parents that want it, and for parents like me to give away to doting relatives and to save in scrap books and use for other things. I’ve also brought home extra from schools to wrap gifts in, and over the past week or two we’ve done a lot of it, some of which I cut out for Owen to assemble with glue-sticks for [embargoed until certain people receive presents in the mail].

Here’s how you do it:

Get a smooth surface. I’m using some sort of sticker-over-laminate ikea table here, nice and smooth. I’ve also used plastic serving trays with smooth bottoms. At the only school I’ve taught in where we did this, we used huge industrial cookie sheets, because kids really do need to move while painting like this, it can become a huge upper body activity. But an ikea table works fine, too. Don’t use a table you’re emotionally invested in. It’ll probably be fine, but you know.

You can put (limited quantities at a time of) finger paints in a bowl with a long-handled spoon in each bowl so the kid can ladle it out, or use Crayola finger paints in squeezable tubes, but then the adult really does need to do the squeezing. My favorite paint to use for finger paints is Biocolor from Discount School Supply*. It’s good for so many things. It’s a little stainier than Crayola finger paints, but its colors and texture-once-dry are a little better. But Crayola finger paints are also great and are at Target and Amazon.

Just squirt some colors of the kid’s choice out on your surface, and let them smear. When they’re new to it they might just poke a little, smear a little. Whatever. For kids who don’t have major sensory issues, it gets easier. Even for them, they can sometimes really get into it.

I usually start with either one color, or a couple of colors that mix nicely together, like pink and blue, or yellow and green. Owen requested yellow, green, purple, and orange.

So:

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Owen usually does a lot of whole-hand and sometimes forearm painting, but lately he’s been getting into trying to write an O for Owen, and getting reasonably good at it. He’s been using sidewalk chalk on the driveway, and lately, paint:

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And though he doesn’t really need jump-starting with trucks, he still loves painting with them. Sometimes he’ll drive through paint with them and all over the place. I open up cardboard boxes for that, let him drive all over them, then just recycle them as I would anyhow. But after he’s been painting with his hands a bit, he’ll often request the trucks for a mellower, track-making experience. If they’ve been outside wash them off, get all the sand off. A little grit in fingerpaint can really make it a different and less lovely experience.

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“More green?” he asks, and back we go to making an O:

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Now here’s the thing about saving the artwork, if you want to do so:

During the kid’s process, when you can do it without interrupting much or messing up what they’re doing, use a piece of paper (colored card stock, construction paper, computer paper, whatever) and make a print. Just lay the paper down on someplace where it’s sort of pretty, pat it gently, lift it, hang it to dry. It won’t be drippy. It doesn’t work well where paint is laid on thick, but you can experiment until you find out where you’ll be able to pull good designs. You can then use them for wrapping presents, hanging on the wall, cutting and collaging, whatever. It’s a great way to document progress just for fun (like Owen’s O), and, well, grandparents often love it.

While Owen was making his own O’s and loops and lines, I filled a basin with warm soapy water, put his painty vehicles in the water, and when he seemed to be winding down, I suggested he stick his hands in there and wash them off. He did for a minute, then pulled the soapy trucks out and started painting again.

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That worked for me, as it made the table easier to clean, but I still wanted to get paint off the trucks before it dried, and get Owen, who was now pretty much done painting and slimy with paint-covered clothing, cleaned up before he decided to go run around and help fold the clean laundry inside. I said, “How about if you wash yourself off in that soapy water?”

Whoops.

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The weather’s been gorgeous, but it’s February, and not quite gorgeous enough to run around wet in, so off went the clothing, and straight into the laundry, and Owen went off to finish his water experience in a more practical place.

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Mind you, I forgot to run the prints we made yesterday through the scanner, but I will some day with another set. They’ll go in with posts like this one to help form our record of his childhood, so he can sit down and look at it one day.

*If you do anything with kids, check out DSS. I’ve been using them since I used their paper catalog and mailed in the orders on paper with a stamp and a check. Their supplies are good, they are awesome.

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