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Easel Painting with Young Children

by Karen Taylor

There aren’t many traditional school activities I recommend replicating at home, but easel painting is one of them! Since some schools are now eliminating painting to make room for academics, it’s more important than ever to offer this activity at home when you can.

Young children will joyfully create painting after painting. Sometimes they’ll get serious and paint something you can recognize, other times they’ll splash some random colors on the paper and then perhaps smear it around. Sometimes they’ll paint one small stroke and declare it’s done, while other times they’ll paint every square inch of the paper. It’s all good!

While we don’t need an academic reason to encourage painting, there are some. Handling a brush helps a child coordinate his hand movement and that’s an early pre-writing step. Painting encourages exploration and creativity.  I could go on about other benefits, but I’m just going to say that from a child’s perspective, it’s a richly rewarding experience, and sometimes that’s enough!

Here’s what you need, along with a few tips:

EASEL. An easel, purchased or built at home (search the internet for ideas) is really nice to have.  While a child could paint at the table or on the floor, an easel is going to make it a lot more enjoyable.  Make sure it’s the right height for a child and that it has a tray to hold paint containers.

PAINT. Look for tempera paint, either premixed or powdered.  You can find these paints at school supply and craft stores locally or online.

BRUSHES. You’ll want 3-6 long fat brushes, or one for each paint container.   School supply and craft stores have them.  Don’t get anything too expensive, because children’s exploration can be hard on brushes.

PAINT CONTAINERS. If you use a small jar or plastic container with lid, you can put the lid on until the next time your little artist wants to paint!   Mix up small batches rather than a lot at one time, since kids will often dip from one container to the next and may end up with lots of brownish paint in each jar.   Mixing is how they learn, so plan ahead and don’t give them too much paint at one time, and then you can admire the new colors they make.

PAPER. Your kids and their friends are going to want to paint a lot, so buy a roll of newsprint, and you’ll have an endless supply of paper.  I’ve had my roll for 15 years, and I still haven’t run out of paper!  It was a really good investment, and was used for many art projects besides painting.

PLACE TO DRY PAPER. Kids will often want to do one painting after another, or their friends will be waiting for their turn.  If you have a flat surface or the floor, you can dry them there.  When the weather cooperates, you can hang them on clotheslines using dedicated painting clothespins (be sure to wipe the line down before hanging clothes or you may get paint on your laundry!) or on twine in the garage.

PAINT SHIRT. You can buy child sized smocks, or go with the time honored discarded man’s shirt, worn with the buttons up the back. If they don’t wear a shirt, you may end up doing a lot of extra laundry and also replacing stained clothes!  You might consider some floor covering like an old drape from a thrift store or newspaper if paint is going to hurt your floor – you pretty much have to expect drips and spills.

MUSIC. Art and music go together, so play music sometimes and see what happens!

Often the process of having painted is as important to a child as saving the artwork, but sometimes they like to have a few of their pictures on display.   Refrigerators are often used with magnets to hold the art in place.  I also had success in nailing long stretches of twine on my kitchen wall, and then hanging paintings with clothespins. Pulling out your camera and taking a picture is also a great way to preserve the art.

Easel painting is so much fun, and I found that having a few basic expectations really helped keep it enjoyable for all of us.  In my house, the easel was readily available whenever kids wanted to paint as long as they wore a paint shirt, painted on the paper only, and painted when I was in the same room.  They also knew they needed to go wash the paint off their hands before running off to play.   You may want different rules in your home.  When you’re dealing with something potentially messy like paint it’s ok to have a few guidelines, depending on what is important to you!

Karen Taylor provides regular homeschooling information and mentoring on Facebook and she is the director of Cedar Life Academy, a Private School Satellite Program (PSP) for homeschoolers in California.


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