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Finger Painting with a Baby - is it worth it?

Otto finger painting at How we Montessori at 11 months

Finger painting with a baby - is it worth it? It is too crazy, too messy? Or is it squishy, slimy, colourful fun? Unfortunately, finger painting is often overlooked for cleaner and easier types of activities. It's also not just about fun, there is a lot of learning going on there too!

When Caspar (now 10yr) was a toddler, even as a preschooler, he hated getting messy or dirty. If he was painting and got some paint, even a tiny bit, on his hands he had to wash them straight away. I now wonder if it is a part of who he is or is it because he wasn't exposed to any messy fun like this as a baby. I wish I enjoyed myself a little more as a first-time mother and I wish I had more messy fun with him!

Finger painting at 11 months at How we Montessori

So what are the practicalities of finger painting with a baby? For this activity we:

  • Worked outside, I put a tarpaulin down as the grass is a little uneven and Otto would be in bare feet. We used our height adjustable children's table (on the lowest setting), it easily wiped clean afterwards. 
  • Used an art smock. I thought about using an apron or just going shirtless but a waterproof smock like Otto is wearing works well. It washed well and didn't stain at all. 
  • Used baby finger paint. I sometimes make our own finger paint using cornflour, water and food colouring, mixed together on low heat. Otto really loves yoghurt so coloured yoghurt isn't an option for us, I don't want him to be confused if it is paint or food.
  • Made sure everything washable, including Otto who went in the bath as soon as we finished. Everything came clean, nothing was stained.
  • Taped paper down to the table. Loose paper moves around a lot and can be frustrating to the baby. We used thick watercolour type paper.
  • Observed Otto carefully. He is only 11 months old, I recommend carefully observing any infant in these types of activities, if they are concentrating and participating it is a good thing but look for signs of discomfort or if they crawl away you might want to pack it up. 
  • Finished the activity as soon as Otto lost interest, there is no need to drag these things out for little ones.  
  • Allowed Otto to make as much mess as he wanted. He got paint on himself, the table and on his brothers, we knew it was going to be messy so we didn't set any limits (other than perhaps that would be dangerous like paint in the mouth or eyes). 
  • Let go of expectations. I expected to have to cut the activity short the activity because he would just try to eat it all. Otto is big at exploring with his mouth. With finger painting I think he gets really distracted and into the activity and is exploring with his hands, he forgets to explore with his mouth. I would never have imagined he would get into it as much as he does.
  • Used hands only. I have tried using sponges and small paint brushes with Otto (even paint dabbers) but he will put these in his mouth. So at this early baby/infant stage, we will be using fingers only, it's working for us! 

Finger painting at 11 months at How we Montessori

It was so much fun and the mess was manageable!

Finger painting at 11 months at How we Montessori

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