3 Simple, Mess-Free Ways to Paint with Kids

My little ones LOVE to paint, but I hate to clean it up. I feel like a terrible mom every time I tell them, “no”, but I spend more time setting up and cleaning up than they spend actually painting. That is until I discovered these 3 easy, mess-free ways for my kids to paint.

Each of these styles of painting is geared for a specific age group, but all 5 of my girls, from ages 9 months to 8 years old, enjoy painting in each of these 3 simple ways. I love the quick and easy clean-up and I think you will, too.


Benefits of Painting for Little Ones

Painting, with or without mess, can provide many benefits to your child, as well as benefits to your relationship with your child if you join in.

Here are just a few positive outcomes that painting encourages:

  • Improves hand-eye coordination
  • Works fine motor skills
  • Builds vocabulary
  • Explores creativity
  • Allows emotional expression
  • Calming
  • Explores color
  • Builds confidence
  • Improves concentration
  • Utilizes Spatial Intelligence
  • Offers safe opportunities to make mistakes
  • FUN!

To learn more benefits of play in general, check out this article, How Children Can Learn Through Play.


Baby Mess-Free Painting

For the youngest artist, let me introduce you to No Mess Painting in a Bag or Smush Painting. All of the mess literally remains in the bag for the ENTIRE activity. You simply set it up and let your baby have fun for as long as they want.

This will give you time to get some dishes done, make lunch, or you can join in the paint play and bond with your baby.

No mess painting in a bag is a great sensory activity, too, which is super beneficial for your infant.

Supplies:

  • Paper or cardstock (I prefer cardstock as it holds up better to the moisture of the paint.)
  • Paint (2 or 3 colors)
  • Gallon sized Ziploc Bag
  • Packing Tape

Directions:

  1. Cut cardstock to fit inside the Ziploc bag.
  2. Squirt 2 or 3 colors of paint onto paper.
  3. Carefully insert the paper into the bag without getting the paint onto the bag.
  4. Seal the bag.
  5. Tape the bag onto the tray of baby’s highchair.
  6. Let baby play.
  7. Either take out the paper to dry and toss the bag, or toss it all. That’s it!

Toddler Mess-Free Painting

This is one of the best types of art for toddlers! It is so simple and keeps them engaged for quite a while. I even dry out and reuse the construction paper because my girls go through so much each time.

Supplies:

  • Construction Paper
  • Paintbrush
  • Cup of Water

Directions:

  1. Give toddler a paintbrush, cup with a small amount of water (to avoid spills), and a piece of construction paper.
  2. Toddler paints with water.
  3. Dry and reuse paper or recycle. Easy, peasy!

Easy Clean-up Painting for Preschoolers

Now this one does have a little more possibility of a mess. However, we used disposable “brushes,” palettes, and a plastic table cloth, so when we were done I removed the trays, then bundled everything in table cloth and tossed it right in the trash. A quick wash of hands and we were onto more play.

We didn’t really need the trays, but we use them to create a bit of personal space. When you have five littles, everyone needs some healthy boundaries.

Finally, a note on mixing paint. Honestly, it drives me crazy! I encouraged them not to mix paint and to keep their colors clean, but they chose to experiment. This is normal and great investigative skills. I had to let it go. I also purposefully gave them small enough amounts of paint that I felt comfortable throwing it away when the play was over.

Supplies:

  • Cotton swabs
  • Paper plate or disposable ramekins
  • Plastic table cloth (The one pictured above is from Dollar Tree.)
  • Tray (optional- Those pictured above are from IKEA.)
  • Paper, lots of paper!

Directions:

  1. Layout plastic table cloth.
  2. Using a disposable palette, give preschoolers a few color options.
  3. Demonstrate how to paint dots and lines with cotton swabs.
  4. Take a deep breath and let your little ones embrace their creativity and artistic side.
  5. When done, gather it all in the table cloth and dump.
  6. Wash hands and enjoy the rest of your day!

Process Art Vs. Product Art

Process art: open-ended art where kids have the ability to experiment with techniques, tools, and supplies in ways that allow exploration and creativity without there being a right or wrong way and there is no expected outcome.

Product-focused art: a craft or art project where there is an expected outcome for what the art should look like, often includes step-by-step instructions and lots of outside direction. Often each child’s will look similar to each other’s and to the original sample.


While I encourage you to demonstrate how to use new tools and art supplies, it is highly beneficial for your children to be able to freely paint with no expectations of a certain final product. If you are painting with you and your kiddos choose to imitate you that is ok. However, most children learn more, are happier, calmer, and more proud after a process art experience than after an art project which has an outwardly directed outcome.

An occasional craft is fine and will not squelch your child’s imagination, but it is so important to your child’s development and confidence that they have plenty of opportunities for self-directed, open-ended process art. Here is a great simple article on the differences and benefits of process art versus product art.


Now that I have these three mess-free painting styles in my mama toolbelt, I don’t have to say, “no” to painting when my littles ask. I can wholeheartedly enjoy a quick set-up and easy clean-up open-ended art project.

For other at-home activities, check out 21 Easy at Home Toddler Activities. Or, to add a little play and gratitude to your dinner table grab this free set of 15 fun blessings, including a unique Baby Shark Blessing written by me. 🦈

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