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Introducing Watercolor Painting

At 16-months-old Teddy is starting to show some interest in art exploration. He sees Gus and Nora working on art all of the time and I think that has really spurred an interest in him. One thing he is super interested in is the watercolor paint. This makes sense to me because Teddy loves all things water. He loves getting wet, being wet, dumping water. You name it, if it has water, he is into it. 

For the bigger kids, we are past the point of needing anything really special for them to use watercolor paints. They have access to the easel/paper and watercolor paper sheets. They know how to gather water and the paint they need. It all sits waiting on the shelves in our art area. 

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Teddy, though, is a bit different. He isn't ready for free access to a ton of colors and he can't gather all the supplies he needs. And providing too many paints or too many colors is a recipe for a huge amount of mess, stress, and not a lot of actual painting. 


To make the easel accessible we cut the legs down so that they are only a couple of inches long. It makes it a perfect height for a toddler to stand and paint. The big kids can sit at at stool and work nicely too. We also replaced the cheaper cardboard tray with a plastic one. The tray is an old one from IKEA, but I bet they still have something similar. The plastic tray makes cleanup easy and we don't have to worry about how much water spills. 

Additionally, we make sure to tape the bottom of the paper down with some painters tape to help Teddy remain on the paper and not just paint all over the easel. 

Paint and Brushes

Instead of using a large tray of watercolors, like this one the older kids use, I only use large watercolor cakes. I think these make it easier for Teddy to get one color on his brush and start to understand that placing the brush on the paint is what makes the color show on the paper. Then, all of his art doesn't end up grey from mixing all the colors together, which is a nice bonus. We store the small bowl with the paint in an accessible location so that Teddy can show when he wants to use it. 

Paint Brushes are from IKEA. I love these because they are a great size, last a long time and are nice and sturdy. All of my kids use these. 

Water Pitcher and Bowl

We store both of these out of Teddy's reach for now because he (more than some of my other kids) is still throwing glass. So he needs an adult a little closer when he has access to them. But, if he brings us the paint, we will get the pitcher and fill it for him. He is learning to pour a bit in the bowl and start to paint. 
I make sure never to put more water in the pitcher than I am willing to clean up, so very little at this point. Thankfully, the paint doesn't require too much water to still work pretty well. 


Most importantly, I need to keep my expectations in check! Teddy is going to make a mess. He will try to drink the water, he may try to put the paint in his mouth. He will probably test out what other surfaces he can paint on. He's still learning. I can't expect it to be perfect, or clean. And, honestly  my own expectations (in being the prepared adult) is the biggest way that I can prepare my home for painting success. 

4 Montessori tips for introducing watercolor painting to 1-year-olds. These tips on how to prepare your space can make the process smoother for you.

Does your toddler like to watercolor? How do you make it accessible? 



Kate said…
I have never commented on a post before but I wanted to thank you for providing the details of how you do this and the reminder of personal expectations. I know it but I forget it in the moment. :) Even when I am prepared, the mess of introducing a 20 month old to paint can be overwhelming (largely due to my tendency towards certain expectations, rather than observation). Thanks again!
Unknown said…
This is so helpful for me. My 15 month old daughter is completely different than her big brother was at this age. She has to put everything in her mouth and loves spilling and playing in water. We have tried crayons and she just takes bites out of them. Do you have any techniques for working with children like this? I want so badly to do art projects with her, but it never lasts very long because she just ends up trying to eat everything lol.
Unknown said…
This is directed to Unknown, my 18 month old by has also been very mouthy. It is better now, but far from perfect. I paid the extra for the beeswax crayons with the natural dyes (I just bought the small set). I try to discourage him from eating the crayons, but if he does, it won't do him any harm and will pass right through. We also do indoor and outdoor (when it isn't too cold) work with sidewalk chalk on dark and light surfaces. Again, I discourage him from eating the chalk, but chalk doesn't do any lasting harm either. We've also just started using an etch a sketch (also close supervision because the pencil attachment has a long string) - he loves using the shapes to draw on the board and make marks. There are online recipes for watercolour paints and bathtub paints that are non-toxic for very young children. We've had mixed success with those. I should try watercolours . . . this post was really handy for how to prepare for it (mentally and physically!).

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