11 Tips for managing messy PAINT experiences with kids

Painting with young children can get messy, that’s just a fact! But before you choose another activity which requires less cleanup, trust me I hear you (there are some days I definitely choose crayons over paint). I want to remind you of two really important things.

Firstly, there ARE WAYS to manage and minimise the mess of painting experiences for toddlers and younger children. Accidents can and will happen, it comes with the territory. However, if you follow some of these simple tips you will reduce the mess and clean up time involved. You will get more enjoyment from the painting experience and fingers crossed will be more likely to bust out those paints more often!

Secondly, the benefits of painting for children outweigh the mess involved. Painting is nurturing for children on so many levels from their physical right through to their emotional development. It’s also known that children learn and retain information better when they are engaged in something that is multi-sensory and painting does just that. It engages children in a way that harnesses their senses which is vital for learning and exploring the world around them. And let’s not underestimate and forget about the fun involved.  I have a whole post dedicated to the 5 Benefits of Artmaking with Children you can check out.

So how do you minimise the mess, get all the benefits associated with painting and maximise the fun? Let’s break it down into some simple steps.

1. Storage

Have just the one place you store all painting related supplies, this includes everything you need to set your child to up to paint. Everything from the rags they will use to clean their hands to the newspaper or covering to protect the surface.

Having everything in one place will reduce your need to gather supplies from different places. When you’re looking for the supplies you’re eating into creative time. No one with small children has that kinda time! Setting this up beforehand will increase the likelyhood of using the art supplies you already have.

Make the place you store the art supplies easy to access. If you have to move stuff to get it out you won’t use it. I have put everything I need for most creative activities in a cart that I can wheel around. I love me a good cart on wheels, so functional.

2. Keep cleaning materials close at all times

Paint is messy, that’s part of the appeal, not so fun however for the adult cleaning up. Especially when the paint ends up on the cat (this has happened).

To minimise messy little hands place a damp towel or rag close by in a small container of water and have your child clean off their hands as and when needed.

If you have a sink close by even better, but most people don’t. To prevent a toddler walking around the lounge area wielding a dripping paintbrush while you run to get a cloth to wipe their hands prepare a wet cloth and leave it next to them ahead of time.

3. Stay with the child

Be sure to stay engaged and close by when young children are painting. If you set up the child to paint and then walk away, chances are that they will come to look for you with a dripping paintbrush. Painting together is a lovely way to connect and spend time with your child. Think of this activity as something you do together.

4. Allocate a designated drying area

Have a little area set up where the artwork can dry is important. Tell the child/ren ahead of time that this is the designated area for drying their paintings. Children rarely just paint one picture. Having a designated place set up ahead of time to allow the paintings to dry is very useful. I use the clothes drying rack.

5. Have paint in pre-prepared containers

Four containers holding red, blue, yellow and green with paint brushes inside each jar

Having the paints already pre-prepared in jars will save on set up time, will minimise paint waste and you won’t have to wash a palette.

I have a few colours I know work well together that have been pre-filled in containers with lids that I simply put a paintbrush in when it is time to paint. This idea was a game-changer for me, it cuts out so much clean up and set up time. If you only try one tip, give this one a go.

6. Use a paint holder

You can use a jar holder to prevent the jar or container of paint moving around. I use a plastic paint palette to achieve this. There are however paint jar holders that you can purchase.

7. One paintbrush per colour

One paintbrush per paint colour, this not only helps to reduce the muddy effect from mixing too many colours together but it also gets rid of the need for a water jar, which notoriously always gets knocked over. 

8. Washable Paint

child's hand holding paintbrush paining

Consider washable paint your new best friend, especially for toddlers and younger children. It makes the clean up on both skin, clothing and the work surface much easier. No one has time to scrub.

9. Wash those brushes

Wash paintbrushes and painting tools with soapy water before the paint dries, you can get your child to be involved in the process, toddlers love washing things up.

If you don’t have time to wash them straight away have a pre-prepared tub of water with a little dishwashing liquid in it and place the brushes there until you can wash them. This will prevent the paint from drying out.

10. Cover it up

Child painting seated at small table

Covering the painting surface is important. I have a plastic table covering that I drape over the work surface. If you have a standing easel use that. I have also taken to using an old baking tray or large lid from a plastic storage box that is bigger than the paper. This works a treat when working at a tabletop. The lip of the baking tray and lid helps to contain the paint. Simply place the tray in the sink to rinse off.

11. Enjoy it!

Don’t let a little bit of mess and clean up stop you from painting with your child. Painting is such a joyful experience, enjoy it!

Implementing just one or two of these tips is sure to help minimise the mess and make painting more enjoyable for your family.

Do you have any other tips our little community needs to know about? leave them in the comments.

Until next time.



About Emma - Founder of Art Play Heart and passionate advocate of getting as many children as possible to enjoy art making in their lives! There is nothing more magnificent than watching a child or anyone for that matter flourish and discover themselves and the world around them through being creative and making art in all its glorious forms.

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