How do you teach painting?

For young children, it's not necessary to teach technique. Painting at this stage is about unleashing your child's imagination.

You'll Need

  • Poster or powder paint
  • Liquid starch (for use with powder paint for finger painting)
  • Plastic sheet or large plastic garbage bag
  • Butcher paper


60 minutes

How do you teach a young child to paint? The emphatic answer is don't.

When young children paint, they express how they feel and do not necessarily depict particular objects. What is important is the act of painting, not the finished product. Provide children with plenty of materials and opportunities to paint.

When your child shows you her work and it looks like random splotches, refrain from asking, What is it? or What does it mean? Instead simply allow your child to talk about the piece using her own words. Allow your child’s imagination free rein and don't steer her. 

To get started, here are a few practical tips:

  • Cover your child's work area with a large sheet of plastic.
  • Supply poster or powder paint in small amounts. (Powder paint is cheaper. Mix it with water until the paint is the consistency of heavy cream. For finger paints, mix the powder paint with liquid starch instead of water.)
  • Use large size brushes that encourage free, broad brushstrokes.
  • Make sure that your child realizes that there is no one right way to paint, and that she can use her fingers and hands as well as her brushes.


Reading Resource

The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola (Putnam Juvenile, 1997)