Toddlerhood is exploration and curiosity, culminating together in an explosion of creativity. Early toddlerhood (ages 1-2) is an especially exciting time, full of fun activities to try.
One of the most exciting, easy, and open-ended art activities you can facilitate for your one year old is finger painting! It sounds self-explanatory, and in some ways it is very simple, but there are actually many fun finger painting ideas for one year olds, outside of simply putting little paint-covered fingers to paper.
This blog will detail the developmental significance behind finger painting for young children, and provide finger painting ideas for babies and young toddlers, one and two years old. It is our hope that you feel these resources equip you, the parent, as you facilitate finger painting activities for your little one.
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How does finger painting support and assist the development of one and two year olds?
Finger painting is a multidimensional activity when it comes to infant/toddler development. It works on so many aspects of child development at the same time, which makes it not only fun, but very productive as well! Through finger painting, a child’s sensory expression and desires are satisfied.
Sensory play is vital to children, as it is a catalyst for exploration of their senses, new concepts, and the world around them. Sensory play is a major component of play-based learning, which is the most effective way for children to learn.
Process art vs. product-based art
With any art activity, the results of the project are beautiful and exciting to look at, but the creation process of the art is just as (or even more) important for young children as the results.
- Process-based art places the utmost significance on the experience of creating the artwork, over simply the results of the artwork.
- Creating an art project mostly for the outcome and not placing as much value on the experience of the creation is called product-based art.
Process-based art is more open-ended, while product-based art has more specificities.
Both types of art are important to both children and parents. Process art empowers children to lean into their newfound independence and curiosity; product art creates a keepsake-style result that will be treasured for years to come. Both process and product-based art can be achieved via finger painting, even during the same project.
Other benefits of finger painting
Finger painting (and most art activities) assist in developing a child’s emotional regulation skills. As they create their masterpiece, they have to stay patient in order to achieve their desired result.
They also learn how to self-regulate and problem-solve, if they feel frustrated while potentially making mistakes as they create. Throughout this process, they begin to establish and build confidence.
A child’s fine-motor skills and gross motor skills are also being extensively worked on through the art of finger painting. The muscles in their fingers, arms, back, shoulders and neck are used constantly as they paint with their fingers.
Finger painting also further develops a child’s hand-eye coordination, and strengthens their ability to visualize, inquire, and plan.
What age can a baby begin finger painting?
A baby can experiment with finger painting at virtually any age. Finger painting is an excellent tummy time activity for younger infants, especially a no-mess finger painting option.
However, it’s best to start at six months old or later. By this point, baby will be able to hold their head up, and potentially be sitting up fully or partially. This will help support their body during the activity.
They will also have a longer attention span and increased curiosity by six months, and this continues to grow as they age. By age one and into toddlerhood, their curiosity is booming! Finger painting is the perfect outlet to channel this newfound thirst for knowledge and discovery.
What paint is safe to use on babies and toddlers hands?
You will want to use non-toxic paint when facilitating a finger painting activity for your one year old.
How do you make edible finger paint for babies?
Food based paint is one of the safest finger paints for babies because, when they inevitably put their paint-covered fingers in their mouth, you don’t have to worry for their safety. Making food-based paint is easier than you think!
You can create homemade, edible finger paint using yogurt and a few drops of food coloring. The Salty Mamas edible yogurt paint recipe is a great resource for making your own yogurt paint.
Pudding cup finger paint
This is made similarly to yogurt paint: get light colored pudding cups and put drops of food dye in each cup (one color per pudding cup.) Now, you have easy edible finger paint!
Fruit & veg compote paint
You can also make a homemade fruit/vegetable compote or purée to utilize as finger paint using raspberries, blueberries, beets, or any fruit that doesn’t turn brown quickly as ingredients.
- Briefly heat the fruit on the stovetop, and add a little bit of honey for the consistency (and for some sweetness for taste when they inevitably put their fingers in their mouth.)
- Once the fruit has simmered long enough to create a decent amount of liquid, take it off the stove top to cool.
- Once it cools, you can use it as finger paint! Entertain Your Toddler has a great post on making and using fruit purées as finger paint.
Homemade cornstarch finger paint recipe
Another option is to make homemade non-toxic finger paint. It’s not designed to be edible like the ones above, but it won’t matter if your baby or young toddler gets a few fingerfuls in their mouth.
In a saucepan mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with the same quantity of cold water, then add a cup of boiling water and stir until thick. You may need to place over a medium heat to help with the thickening. Once thickened, add your food coloring of choice.
Here are some detailed recommendations for baby safe finger paints.
Do you need special paper for finger painting?
You can make any type of paper work for finger painting, depending on what final result you’re looking to achieve. That being said, heavier papers, like freezer paper, cardstock, or durable construction paper, are less likely to tear from wet paint. You can also use watercolor paper, which is also sturdier than normal printer paper.
Also, there are paper pads specifically designed for finger painting such as:
For larger finger painting projects, try kraft paper that comes in big rolls:
They’re thinner than cardstock and freezer paper, but the larger size is great for finger painting.
10 Tips for Finger Painting with Your Baby or Young Toddler
1. Protect a large area!
Use an old table cloth to protect your table or, if you set everything up on the floor, a shower curtain can work really well.
2. Have a buffer zone
Create a protective space just outside of the painting space in case the mess doesn’t stay fully contained to just the painting space.
3. Use two or three colors that mix nicely together, or use primary colors (red, yellow, blue.)
Limiting the amount of colors is less overwhelming for a toddler, and may extend their attention span since they can focus better with fewer options.
Using a couple of colors or just primary colors will develop their understanding of color theory, which focuses on the process of color mixing, and creating secondary colors using the color wheel. An engaging book to include in this activity to expand your child’s understanding of color theory is Mix It Up by Herve Tullet.
4. Be firm yet gentle in setting boundaries
Children need structure and boundaries in order to feel secure and to better understand expectations. Make sure they know what boundaries they must follow, but in a gentle way that still makes them feel safe. It is definitely possible to be firm and kind simultaneously.
5. Secure the edges of the paper to the surface with tape to keep it from sliding around as they work
There’s nothing more frustrating than the paper moving around while you’re trying to create beautiful artwork! Masking or painters tape is great for this, because it comes off of paper smoother than regular tape, and is less likely to cause tears or small rips.
6. Encourage your one year old if they’re hesitant to explore a new texture
They may be apprehensive at first because of the way the paint feels (wet, cold, slimy.) Encourage them by demonstrating finger painting yourself. If they see you do it, they may be more keen on trying it. You could also help them apply the paint to their finger a little bit at a time by guiding their hand to the paint and onto the paper.
7. Remind your baby, “Out of your mouth”
One year olds and older toddlers love to explore the world via their mouth. This is why it’s so important to make sure the paint is non-toxic and safe. Despite your reminders, they may still put their paint-covered fingers in their mouth, but the more you say it and the more you “practice” it, they’ll eventually get the hang of it after several painting sessions.
8. Dress your baby or toddler appropriately
Put a painting smock, bib, or old shirt on your one year old before beginning the activity so they do not get paint on their clothes.
Depending on the setting and circumstances, you can even allow them to paint unclothed with just a diaper on. This allows them to move freely as they explore!
You could also put a swimsuit on them and paint outside on a nice day. This makes it easy to hose them off at the conclusion of the activity if they’re in a swimsuit or in just a diaper. (You could also put black or dark clothes on them because paint stains won’t show up as much.)
9. Try to keep everything contained to one area so all materials are easy to reach for/access
Keep wipes, towels, and/or cleaning materials close by for quick and easy clean up. My favorite is to have a bowl or bucket of warm soapy water at the ready – not too close in case it gets spilt! Utilize a tray of some kind to place the paper on, keeping the mess more contained. This way, you won’t have to worry as much about covering your table perfectly.
10. Be prepared for your baby or toddler to want to paint multiple pieces of artwork, not just one
Once their curiosity overtakes them, your one year old may want to continue exploring for longer than you thought! Allocating enough time and space for them to explore in an open-ended way will help them to not feel rushed through the activity.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to come up with fresh and new ideas to provide for your baby. Below, you will find a couple of lists offering a variety of finger painting ideas for one and two year olds.
Free-for-all Finger Painting Ideas For Painting On Paper
This “free-for-all” style will make the process more enjoyable for both of you, instead of attempting to micromanage the situation:
1. Large sheet of paper, scattered with blobs of paint
- Set out large sheets of paper on the floor
- Put your one year old on top
- Drop random blobs of finger paint all over the paper and let them explore
Alternatively, you can lay the paper out across a large table and sit your baby or young toddler in front of it and let them do their thing!
2. Sheet of paper entirely covered with one or two colors
Cover the entire sheet of paper with a color (or two different colors that mix well) and let your baby scribble in the paint with their finger. As stated above, using primary colors provides you an opportunity to introduce color theory to your one year old and experiment with color mixing!
3. Use paper plates as paint holders
Pour different color paints on paper plates, one color per plate, and set beside your finger painting paper.
Then, encourage your one year old to transfer paint to paper using their fingers and hands.
Other Process Art Based Finger Painting Ideas for One Year Olds
4. Finger paint in the bathtub
You can use regular finger paint and just wash it off at the conclusion of bath time, or you can purchase special bathtub finger paint soap.
5. Finger paint on wax paper or aluminum foil
Once the child is finished painting their masterpiece on the wax paper/foil, press the wax paper/foil, paint side down, on a piece of construction paper. Peel the wax paper/foil off of the construction paper for the final image to be revealed. Taming Little Monsters has an excellent post on foil painting for your reference.
6. Finger paint inside a resealable plastic bag
For a mess-free finger painting alternative paint inside a resealable plastic bag (otherwise known as a Ziploc bag.) This is a great option, especially for younger infants during tummy time, but also great for one year olds on a day where you want to provide them an art activity without spending the time and energy on cleaning up both the area and your child.
7. Finger paint with water on different colored construction paper
The water will disappear as it dries, but this is a fun option for children who like to continuously paint and don’t mind saving their work as much.
8. Utilize bubble wrap
Bubble wrap will add texture to their finger painting process, which heightens sensory exploration. Have them finger paint directly onto the bubble wrap, or honeycomb paper, which is also an exciting new texture for them to use.
9. Paint with shaving cream
If you don’t care to save this particular artwork and are doing it for the experience/fine motor skill development, simply spray shaving cream on the table or surface you’re using, and encourage the child to paint images in the shaving cream, swiping over it after so you can paint in the shaving cream over and over again.
Alternatively, you can add dye or food coloring to the shaving cream, let your baby complete their work, and then transfer the shaving cream painting to paper by placing the paper on top of the shaving cream and pressing down for the paint to transfer. Painting with shaving cream is such a fun sensory activity. This is also an exciting early-literacy activity, because it’s a great opportunity to expose your one year old to letters by writing in the shaving cream and “erasing” by wiping away.
10. Use frozen finger paint
You can freeze the finger paint in an ice tray for a new sensory activity. This one is fun to do when it’s really hot outside, to have fun and use their imagination while cooling off!
11. Use a stamp pad
In lieu of typical finger paint use a stamp pad for a fast-drying art activity.
12. Paint on a pumpkin or any object
Changing the foundation your one year old is painting on provides them an exciting new experience! You could adapt this activity from Fantabulosity to fit within any holiday or season by changing the item you choose to finger paint on.
13. Use watercolors as finger paint
Have your one year old dip their fingers in the water, then on the watercolor palette into the color of their choice, and then onto the paper.
14. Have your one year old finger paint outdoors
Try the side of the house, garage, window, etc. and hose down to start over so they can do it again and again. If they want to save their work they’ve made on the surface, simply press a large piece of paper over the paint on the surface so it will transfer to the paper.
15. Add different materials to the paint
To change up the texture and heighten the sensory experience. Add coarse salt into the paint so the paint is bumpy, add sugar to the paint so it is gritty, add extra water to the paint so it’s smoother and thinner. Exploring different textures is essential at this age!
16. Finger paint a cardboard box
If it’s big enough, you can sit your baby or toddler inside it, what better way to contain the mess?!
Finger Painting Ideas That’ll Make Great Keepsakes
17. Finger paint on a coffee filter
Once it dries, pinch the coffee filter in the middle, fasten a pipe cleaner around the middle, and leave a little extra pipe cleaner sticking up on top to create antennas. Now, you have made a butterfly! These look really pretty hung on a window, with the way the sunlight peaks through them and illuminates them. Honey and Lime has a tutorial for this with step-by-step photos.
18. Make handprint chicken art
This project is super cute and would be an adorable keepsake! It’s great for when you’re teaching your child about farm animals, and could really work for any time of year.
19. Try a resist art finger painting technique
Resist art is when you create a negative space (whether with crayon or paper cutouts) and then paint over it. The project outcome results in your design being white (or the color of the paper), while the paint acts as the base. Simply, the child can scribble white crayon or place cutouts on the paper first, and then finger paint over it. Fantabulosity has a cute “I Love You Daddy” paint resist art activity, just in time for Fathers Day!
20. Create a fingerprint heart and poem
Check the instructions and download the free template from Messy Little Monster – you’ll treasure it for years to come. The outcome of this activity makes for a great Mothers Day gift, Valentines gift, grandparent gift, or keepsake for any time.
21. Thumbprint popsicle stick flowers
This finger painting project from In the Playroom will make a fun keepsake. These special flowers would make for a thoughtful and special gift, and would also be fun to create together.
Are you ready to start finger painting with your 1 or 2 year old?
Finger painting provides so many enriching opportunities and experiences for babies and young toddlers. Your key role in these activities and finger painting art projects is being the facilitator. Simply provide them the tools, resources, and space to create, and let your little artist run with it!
It’s lots of fun to watch your child follow the lead of their own interests. It can help you understand them better, and watching their individuality blossom is always an exciting thing to witness. We hope this list of tips and finger painting ideas for one year olds is a helpful resource to equip and empower you. Lean into it, and have some fun together!
Looking for more ways to keep your baby or toddler busy and entertained? Try:
- 50+ Indoor gross motor activities for toddlers & preschoolers
- 39 simple & sanity-saving activities for toddlers & preschoolers to do at home
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- 100 Fun and Easy Toilet Paper Roll Crafts for Toddlers 2 & 3 Years Old
- 10+ Fun & simple dry messy play ideas for 1 and 2-year-olds
- 39 Fun & easy arts projects & crafts for 1 & 2 year olds
- 50 Best activities for 18 month old toddlers at home
Or how about some seasonal activities?
- Fall activities for toddlers – simple, low prep & educational (and for you, sanity-saving!)
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