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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002


  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Making Art Together

Fingerpainting with Toddlers: Debunking My Own Myths

My first order of finger paint arrived from Discount School Supply in time for Materials Play, one of our drop-in art exploration times especially for toddlers.  To get the kids started I put dollops of warm colors in a tempera cake palettes (you could use muffin tins) and invited them to paint on the windows. As they needed more paint I offered a few more colors.  A couple of children preferred painting in large white trays placed on our low table.

Finger Painting with Toddlers - The Eric Carle Museum

Finger painting paper was available for making prints from the paint if desired.

Finger Painting with Toddlers - The Eric Carle Museum

Everyone enjoyed their experience! To those who are thinking "no big deal, people have been finger painting since forever,"  here is my confession: For YEARS (a decade) I have been avoiding finger paint.  However, since having my own young chilren, I see what I've been missing!

Finger Painting with Toddlers - The Eric Carle Museum

My previous rationale for avoiding finger paint stemmed from my view of children, my approach as an artist/educator, and maybe even a few hidden memories of low-quality fingerpaints from my childhood. I believe that, from the start, children are learners, capable of making sophisticated meaning of their experiences and the world. My goal as an artist educator is to craft approachable, creative experiences that help people: discover how the visual world works; observe like artists; solve problems like artists; and explore ideas through materials. My thought was that if young people think like artists and are capable of discovering that red mixed with blue equals violet, why would I not give them materials that operated like 'artists' materials? Somehow, painting with fingers seemed beneath my students. Beneath me. I perceived finger paint as cheap, producing dull colors, and too basic. In other words, not a "real" artist's material. I have successfully offered painting experiences for older toddlers with brushes and either liquid tempera, tempera cakes, or watercolor paint in a limited palette of colors.  Creating the right physical setup was important in those experiences too. While they weren't wrong, those experiences weren't designed for a young toddler who's sensory interests don't always mesh with brushes and a palette of paint.

Finger Painting with Toddlers - The Eric Carle Museum

A few times I've tried making homemade finger paint. The recipes I tried were inexpensive and offered a nice sensory experience, but proved not ideal for discovering how color works. The color was faint, texture chunky if cooked too much, separated in the refrigerator, and stained skin. I was not impressed. Then, one day, I saw pictures by my daughter and her classmates in the toddler room at daycare. The colors were vivid with areas of lovely translucence and areas with intense, saturated color. There were areas where colors mixed, and areas where they weren't. Surprise, surprise! They were made with  finger paint! Sure, other non-toxic water-based paints could be and have been used as finger paint, but as we know, toddlers can really get messy! This is something I of course knew and experienced,  but didn't actually KNOW until I started painting with one in my OWN HOUSE. With white walls. Many of the teachers I've worked with know that I'm the last educator to choose paint for its washability. Often the pigment in washable paints becomes pale when it dries. I'm generally a process over product person, but I do want colors to be satisfying, so I've usually chosen non-washable paints for my classes. As a parent, however, I've come to realize that washability in some of our home supplies allows me to relax and be in the moment with my kids.  Good quality finger paint grants many of my wishes!

  Finger Painting with Toddlers - The Eric Carle Museum

So far, I like Discount School Supply's Colorations Finger Paint but I would like to try Crayola's because I really like their tempera paint. I'm also willing to give this homemade recipe a whirl.  I'm not excited about how finger paintings look when dry on finger paint paper, so I've been testing different kinds of paper. Are there other brands of finger paint or types of paper you'd recommend? Any recipes you're happy with? Happy finger-painting!



We enjoy exploring materials and ideas in the Art Studio, and we’re excited to share our process with you! Please consider the following factors when adapting these posts for your learning environment: 

We facilitate a variety of programs within the Art Studio for a wide range of age groups. Please carefully consider the age appropriateness of each individual activity in your own learning environment.

Our projects are always done with adult supervision and proper safety precautions. Be sure all of your projects are overseen by adults who likewise follow proper safety precautions. The adults overseeing your project must also be responsible for handling or assisting with any potentially harmful equipment or materials. 

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not responsible for any damages, injuries or liabilities that result from any activities contained within this website, and we expressly disclaim any responsibility or liability therefor. From time to time, we reference materials that we have found to be particularly important in our projects. We do not receive any monetary compensation for recommending materials. 




Friday, November 11, 2012 - 3:32 pm
Aluminum foil and the shiny side of freezer paper are both very satisfying surfaces on which to finger paint. It's very process over product, since it won't really dry well, but you can try to take prints off them.
Friday, November 11, 2012 - 7:08 pm
I like fingerpainting with Biocolor (also from Discount School Supply), which I also use for brush painting. Avoid the magenta and purple if you're going for washability, though!
Saturday, December 12, 2012 - 1:56 pm
Thanks for the tip, Lise! Its true that some "washable" colors don't wash out of or off of all surfaces and fabrics completely.
Friday, June 6, 2015 - 1:03 am
Beware of Melissa and Doug finger paint - especially the green - if you want washability. It's super-staining. And the paint was an odd texture (though it may have been old, because we purchased it at a small, local art store). We're going to try Crayola tomorrow!
Saturday, December 12, 2015 - 2:50 pm
Hi Kristin! I haven't tried Melissa and Doug, but I've also heard good things about Crayola finger paint.

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