Toddlers & Painting for Fine Motor Development

In between chasing your toddler around the house and trying to understand what he is saying, it's easy to forget that he needs to build other skills, too. Fine motor skills are those that involve the small muscle groups and are key for writing, typing, tying, cooking and many other skills your child will need some day. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health both mention that toddlers need to draw and paint to develop fine motor skills, but they don't describe how. While it may be pretty easy to hand a toddler some crayons for drawing, the idea of handing your toddler some paint can be overwhelming.

Finger Painting

Finger painting is often the first kind of painting that toddlers do, since it requires the least amount of fine motor skill. Taping a large piece of paper down to an easily cleaned tile floor and using washable paints can make clean-up a little bit easier. If your toddler often puts her fingers in her mouth, you can make edible finger paint. Chocolate pudding and jelly make the perfect "paints" for toddlers, as well as doubling as snacks. If you'd like to clearly separate paint from snacks but would still like edible paint just in case, use sweetened condensed milk and a few drops of food coloring. You can put a different colors in some small plastic bowls. That way, your child can paint with lots of colors and it won't be a big problem if she gets some in her mouth.


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As your kiddo fingerpaints, you might notice him actually using his whole hand. That's a great step toward being ready to stamp. Tape down the paper, either onto your tile floor or a table covered in newspaper, and put washable paint in a shallow tray. Let your child use his whole hand to stamp his hand print on the paper. Next you can offer sponges, blocks and magnetic fridge letters to dip into the paint and stamp onto the paper. If the weather's nice and you have outdoor space, you can let your child stamp his feet into a large tray of paint and then onto paper. Just make sure you've got lots of wet paper towels on hand to clean his feet before he walks inside and onto your favorite rug.

Painting With Objects

As your toddler's fine motor skills develop, he'll be ready to use objects to help him paint, such as a kid-sized easel, thick brushes and a few jars of washable paint. But they're not the only way. Open your kitchen drawers and look for some old pastry rollers and brushes, bottle cleaners and spatulas for more objects your toddler can use to paint. Cotton swabs, craft sticks, cotton balls, pipe cleaners and yarn are appropriate for older toddlers. When using brushes or other objects, you'll avoid the most mess by having a child-sized easel or table on top of a drop cloth or old table cloth.

Mess-Free Painting Options

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If you want your toddler to develop her fine motor skills but you don't have the time or the energy to protect every surface in the room, there are some other ways to paint. You can seal some tempera paint into a Ziploc bag, then tape it to your table. Get all of the air bubbles out before sealing and tape the bag all the way around. You can put in just one paint color or several so children can see how colors mix together. Toddlers can swirl the paint around and none of it will escape the bag. Another idea is to use water as a "paint." Choose construction paper as a background so that the water shows up more clearly. Then let your child dip her brush into water and paint onto the construction paper. The projects won't last, but they won't make a mess, either.