9 Tips For Finger Painting With Your Toddler

finger painting for toddlers Of all the questions I get one of the most common is “How do you deal with the mess?” This is often followed by “I just can’t do messy stuff with my kids.”  If messy things really honestly upsets you I am here to tell you that it’s not worth the upset. If you will spend the whole time cleaning up after them, telling them to not do this or that it’s not worth it as an activity at your house. That’s OK. We all have our limits and not allowing messy art in your house doesn’t make you a bad parent.

If you are just nervous but eager to try it than these tips are for you. Over the years these have been my go to ways to make messy art like finger painting a wonderfully creative experience for my kids without me budding in every two minutes with a wipe interrupting their play. When we break up their play with wipes and cleaning up under them what we are saying is ” What you are doing is wrong, let me fix that.” or ” This is annoying me, let me make it right.” Sure this won’t register with every kid but most pick up on it and by nature most children want to please us. If we are going to let them be creative we need to find ways to make it work for all of us so we aren’t stepping in constantly.

These tips will help! These are old pictures of my now four and a half year old daughter, she was just under two when we did this activity.

finger painting with toddlers

1. If possible strap them in. If you use a booster seat for meals use that same chair for the activity. When their hands are covered in paint you don’t want them free to roam. If this isn’t an option position yourself so that you are between them and the area you do not want them to reach until their hands are clean. For us that’s the family room ( specifically the new couch)  only a few feet away from the kitchen where we were creating.

2. Tape their paper to a cutting board, or right to the table if the table is easily washable. This prevents the picture covered in paint from hitting the floor and other things on the way down. toddler finger painting tips to avoid mess

3. Dress your child in old clothes/ Pajamas. Little toddlers and smocks don’t really make a great pair. Avoid the dramatics and just let them wear something that you don’t care if it’s stained.

4. Use an old table cloth to protect your table. If you need to protect your floors try a shower curtain under your child’s chair.  happy tips for toddler finger painting

5. Give them control and let them have small dishes of paint to explore with. Toddlers are on the verge of a lot of new independence and giving them some control during activities is a great way to support this development. You don’t need to direct this activity at all!

6. Have extra paper ( and anything else you are using) on hand so you don’t have to leave them unattended for a second. tips for finger painting

7. Have wipes or a wet wash cloth, and a towel ready. Also don’t unbuckle the booster until after they are all the way clean.

8. If they are super messy my favorite trick is to have a big old bath towel ready and wrap them up in it, and go directly to the bath. toddler finger painting

9. After the painting is dry display it with pride! This seems obvious but it’s really important. Children need to their their art to complete the process. They are artists and should be proud of their work!



Need a great finger paint recipe? Try this one that your child can help make with you in the kitchen! Click on the image to find out how to make it.




Raising A Creative Family – Tips from Jean Van’t Hul author of The Artful Year

jean van't hulThis post contains affiliate links.

Are you familiar with the incredibly inspiring and completely creative blog The Artful Parent? The mother, writer, and artist behind it all is Jean Van’t Hul.  I am lucky enough to call Jean my friend and am so pleased to share some of her thoughts on how to raise a creative family all year long.  In her new book The Artful Year: Celebrating the Seasons and Holidays with Crafts and Recipes–Over 175 Family- Friendly Activities Jean shares how you can celebrate the seasons and holidays as a family with creativity. The book is filled with all sorts of creative ideas for families from cooking to crafts with the common goal of connecting as a family and celebrating traditions. This is a wonderfully written and simply beautiful book that you can’t help but feel completely inspired as you turn it’s pages.

I received a free copy of the book for review but no matter what I only share things I think my readers can benefit from.


Tips for Raising A Creative Family

An Interview with Author Jean Van’t Hul


How do you balance old family traditions and new ones with your family? What should parents do if their children reject family traditions they feel deeply attached to?

When introducing new activities, keep an open mind and stay flexible. How does the new activity affect the family and how does it affect your favorite established traditions? If it passes the trial period with flying colors, you can consider adding it to your flight of traditions. We don’t get that formal about it in our family, though, and often don’t even think about an activity in terms of tradition until we realize we’ve done it many times and feel attached to it. I don’t have much experience with children rejecting family traditions but my best advice would be to talk with your kids about why you value your traditions and the role they play in your family. And to really listen to their viewpoint as well. You can also talk about how they may choose their own traditions as they get older but that this family tradition is important to you and that you’d like them to respect it, just as they want you to respect certain things about them.


What role has being creative with your daughters played in connecting with them? How do you hope to continue this as they enter adolescence?

Many of my creative activities with my daughters have been focused on helping them to think outside of the proverbial box as much as connecting with them through a shared activity. For us, that activity has often been art. Open-ended art activities, including art games and drawing challenges, are some of the ways we explore the world and ourselves in a way that inspires creativity. For other parents, that touch point of interest, connection, and creativity might be something else. Every parent connects with their kids around the things they love, right?, whether it’s sports, gardening, camping, cooking, playing games, science, music, or whatever. I think the key is to keep an open mind as you invite your children to join you in the activity and to ask open-ended questions of yourself, your kids, and the activity. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent is the importance of remaining flexible. I hope to continue this approach with my girls in some way as they enter adolescence but know that I’ll have to remain open to change as I engage creatively with my children in whatever way seems to be work for all of us at the time.


What role can cooking play in raising a creative family? What tips do you have for parents who want to cook with their children but have little time?

I think most activities can play a role in raising a creative family if you approach them with an attitude of open-ended exploration. Cooking can be very creative. But the real reason I cook with my kids is that cooking is fun for both me (I especially enjoy baking) and for them. Cooking is also one of the best and most natural ways to give kids the sensory experiences they crave and need (besides playing outside in nature). Think of the five senses—seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing. Cooking has it all. And even if you don’t take an especially experimental approach, cooking is part of living period. Everyone needs to eat. Cooking is a skill that I want to pass on to my children and food plays such a big role in family and cultural traditions. I think it’s important to invite your children to help you in the kitchen at least some of the time. Most kids I know like to chop, mix, dump, knead, whisk, crack eggs, wash potatoes, peel carrots, etc…If you have time for this only on the weekends, or once a week, that’s okay. If you don’t know your way around a kitchen, get a kids’ cookbook and learn together (we especially like Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks such as Pretend Soup). Whatever you do, even if it’s simply boiling spaghetti and heating up pasta sauce, make it a special side-by-side experience with your children. It’s as much (or more) about connection—sharing life skills and doing things together—as it is about the creative aspect. You can do this with any aspect of life. If I were into taking apart motors and fixing cars, I would find ways to do that with my children. But I like to cook and see tremendous benefits in including kids.


Pick up Jean’s new book at your local bookstore or here –>  The Artful Year: Celebrating the Seasons and Holidays with Crafts and Recipes–Over 175 Family- Friendly Activities . Thank you Jean for sharing these insights and your wonderful book .  You can follow Jean’s daily dose of creativity on her blog The Artful Parent.




If you have 30 extra minutes to work on literacy what would you spend it doing? Simple ways parents can help their kids read.

help your child read

If you had 30 extra minutes to work on reading what would you spend it doing? I get asked this question a lot. 

After reading with them, to them, and listening to them read or tell you stories? Well that depends on the child but I will try to answer this question in a very general way to give all of you some ideas of what you can do to make a big impact with only a little time. These are my go to skills that are easy for parents to help children with and that make a big difference when kids get a little extra practice with them. Here are just a few ways parents can help their kids read.


Toddlers & Early Preschoolsensory alphabet activities


Play with letters. Incorporate them into your play with magnetic letters, letter stickers, and alphabet blocks. Make special note of letters that are meaningful like the first letter of their first name. As you play , abel the letters but leave drilling or quizzing to the teachers in their future, there is no room for drills or quizzes in play.


Here are some letter play ideas :

Stamp & Match
Salt Tray Letters
Alphabet Cookies
Shell Letters
Alphabet Sensory Tub
Alphabet Playdough
Touch & Feel Alphabet


Preschool & PreK

letter sounds

 Letter Sounds

This is the next step to playing with letters. Now your child knows almost all the letter names and hopefully many of the sounds as well. These games work on both these skills.

Here are some games and activities for letter sounds and recognition :

Flip Top Phonics
Letter Sound Pound
Unlock The Letter Sound
Princess Phonics
Letter Sound Match


PreK & Early School Agethe one thing you should do to help your kids learn to read

Starting to Read { simple words )

Play with rhyming. Rhyming is such an important phonics skill but what I love about it is that it’s packed with play. No parent or child wants to spend the small bit of time they have together fighting about learning. Rhyming games can fill that need for fun and for learning.


Here are some great rhyming games:

Rhyming Dominoes ( adjust the words to your child’s level)
Rhyming Tag
Rhyming Jars
Rhyming Peg Board
Find & Rhyme



sight word activities

Learning to Read { reads a little but not fluently yet }

Sight Words

Make sight words fun. When I say sight words I am not just talking about true sight words that can’t be decoded by sounding out but also the high frequency words that your child will encounter over and over while reading. When they can read them quickly without decoding them it makes reading easier. They can spend the time sounding out the bigger harder words instead.

Here are some great sight word activities that are FUN and worthwhile. Instead of the words used in these activities substitute with the list of  sight words from your child’s teacher. If you don’t have one ask for the one they are using :

3D Word Search
Sight Word Dominoes
Outdoor Sight Word Game
Sight Word Jump & Grab ( Hands On As We Grow)
Sight Word Target Practice ( Toddler Approved)

School Age


Reading Independently { and fluently}

 Vocabulary. When children are learning to read much of the focus is on the mechanics of reading, the sounds the letters make and how they work together. Once they start to read we shift a lot of the focus to the meaning of the words and text they are reading. We focus on comprehension and one way that parents can really help with that is to work on boosting vocabulary ( another is simply asking your children “ What did you just read?” while reading together).  When we expose our children to a big buffet of words it makes reading easier because they recognize the words and can decode it more quickly as well as understand it’s meaning ( and thus the text) with more ease.


Here are some fun ways to work on vocabulary with your kids :

Tips for working on vocabulary with your kids
Word Window
Muffin Tim Word Game ( Growing Book by Book)
Word A Day Cards ( Teachmama.com )


These are just appetizers for literacy intended for those 30 extra minutes you may have. As parents I see our role as scaffolds to support our children at whatever level they are at. For more about literacy check out Raise A Reader on Scholastic Parents. Amy Mascott and I share tons of ideas to work on literacy with your children.


How To Set Up A Playroom Your Kids Will Use

how to set up a playroom your kids will use

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One of my most popular posts ever is my Play ( and learn) Room post where I walk readers through all the elements I think are essential for a playroom. The playroom in that post is designed for a young toddler and preschooler, the post explains what toys we had in our playroom and why they are important for learning. Here’s the thing my playroom looks very different now that my toddler is a preschooler and my preschooler is in 2nd grade. I am not ready to give up on this room though, it’s a happy room and with a few changes and a good clean my kids are completely in love again. This post is about how to set up a playroom your kids will use once they have outgrown your existing one. I knew I had to share the changes with you.

In this post a lot of the toys my children use and love are listed with affiliate links.

In the original post  ( read it here) I listed these elements as the must have for a good playroom for very young kids :

  • Blocks
  • Books
  • Table and chairs to create on.
  • Dress up
  • Practical life
  • Puzzles
  • Musical instruments
  • A comfy place to look at books
  • Art on the walls.

Here is how I have changed the room as my kids have aged. The main elements haven’t been deleted just adapted.

stem toys for the playroom

Our block area no longer has Little People Builders , wooden, or Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks instead our toys have turned from these wonderful basics to the next step with Gears
, Automoblox , HEXBUG , and Color Clix . All of these toys allow my kids to build at their own level which is important when you have a 4 year old and an almost 8 year old. They also let them build and play together. Having them all out and ready lets them use the toys however they want. This weekend my daughter made a gear machine to spin her Magiclip Princesses
and see which could stay on and which would fall off. No prompting just access to the right toys. One toy that has been a favorite from day one and is still is  LEGO
and DUPLO ( yes they both still play with it). The Duplo is in the playroom but Lego is in their bedrooms where they can protect their creations from demolition.

what every playroom needs

Our book nook is pretty much the same although most of the board books are gone ( a few favorites remain) and more non-fiction and chapter books have made their way on to the shelves. how to set up a book nook in yor playroom


One notable difference is our craft table. how to make a playroom your kids will useThe table is the same but now it’s filled with art supplies within reach. The only thing that I don’t have out and available are liquid tempra and sharpies.  Once my daughter is past her finger paint to whole body paint stage I will have it within reach. how to set up a playroom for your homeThe sharpies… I’m just not ready yet.  I have art daubers, markers, colored pencils, crayons, glue, googly eyes, buttons, gems, scissors, paper and more all out ready to be used.

Our kitchen area is filled with a lot more food, tea sets, and crocheted sushi. But we play grocery store with the cash register and shopping cart ,using the kitchen as the produce section and working on everything from manners, building confidence and math while we play.

The instruments have been moved to my toddler classroom where they are enthusiastically used! If your kids don’t use toys get rid of them no matter how awesome you think they are. You can pass them on to a friend or just put them away for a while and see if absence makes the heart grow fonder.

writing center in playroom

Some of the things we have added is the easel and a writing center on the top of the drawers that hold our Duplo, puzzles, and more. The writing center is a place to play with letters with pencils, markers, and even stamps. Our travel chalkboard and small Magna Doodle are more tools for writing.how to set up a playroom for kids The easel gets used for drawing, writing, and even as a place to hang paintings to dry. You might recognize our cutting station which is used often and a great way to use scrap paper and broken beaded necklaces. It’s also a fun challenge. cutting station in a playroom

The space hasn’t changed dramatically but what’s in it has evolved slowly.

Do you have a playroom? How has it changed as your children have grown? Tell me about it in comments.

Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

He’s 5 . How is my little guy 5 years old? People keep telling me that soon he will be taller than me and I will be looking up as I discipline. I am 5’4 I know my days are numbered. He was born on Thanksgiving 2006 and today on the eve of the holiday this year I am devoting my post to the little guy who made me a mom, took me away from teaching in a class and sparked so many things I never expected to be part of my life including this blog.


Below are links to his favorite crafts and activities , I hope one ( or more ) of them bring you as much joy to share them with your kids as it brought us.angry-birds

Nothing beats this Angry Birds Waterballoon Game. He loved this. We played a handful of times before we moved and the weather turned. We will be playing again once warmer weather comes back.

Knight’s Shield. After we moved this summer this never left his side. He slept with it on his night stand, he had it next to him at meals. Although I doubt it was conscious this was his security blanket until he was comfortable in our new digs. It’s now happily lumped in with his sister’s Dora toys,  and the others in the family room toy basket.

Puffy Paint Moon. This has been up in his room since the moment it dried. A big puffy moon to gaze at as we chat about our day at bedtime even if we can’t see the real one every night in the grey Pacific North West sky.

This Scrap Paper Rainbow is more one of MY favorites but it’s also his very first craft. Although I don’t think it was posted as our first, it was the first he helped me do for the blog. I wish I’d kept it!

This roadway and the 2nd version using an up cycled kitchen mat are used daily at our house still. Not bad for a craft!

And are you shocked that this Ice Cream Taste Test made the cut?

Happy Birthday Big Boy – I love you even especially with playdough on your head.