Under-threes play ideas - paints, pastes and powders

Creative activities to span all areas of learning

In a swirl

  • Provide the children with a variety of coloured liquids and pastes that they can use to make marks. For example, offer them undiluted juices, water with food colouring and thick pastes made from powders such as hot chocolate, milkshake and coffee.
  • Let them explore and experiment. Suggest they push the paint, squish it once it is on the paper and flick it using some string.

Mark makers

  • Provide a range of everyday items for mark-making, for example, hairbrushes, small paint rollers, scrubbing brushes, toothbrushes, car window de-icer tools with patterned edges and massage rollers.
  • Invite the children to dip the mark-makers into shallow trays of paint before making marks on large sheets of paper.
  • You could also provide small-world vehicles to dip in paint and run over large sheets of  paper.

Outdoor art

  • Provide the children with a range of brushes and water applicators, such as scrubbing brushes, paint rollers and squeezy bottles, for children to use to ‘paint’ walls and paving stones
  • Alternatively, hang a piece of lining paper on a fence or wall and add poster paint to the water.

Hand prints

  • With the children, mix up four pastes using water and hot chocolate, strawberry milkshake powder, vanilla milkshake powder and coffee.
  • Let each child use a sponge or their hands to smear the paste over their palm, fingers, and fist, covering them completely.
  • Demonstrate printing your whole hand - back, palm and side, fingers and fingertips - on sheets of coloured paper and let the children do the same.
  • If they want do to another set, use a different shade of paste, and cut out the end results to play with and reassemble.

Red and blue

Red paint, blue paint, painting hands,
Green paint, pink paint, in the sand.
Yellow and orange paint, purple or brown,
Paint a smile or paint a frown.

  • Place the range of colours in the poem on paper plates.
  • Say the rhyme while pointing to each colour.
  • Paint small marks with your finger on paper or on a table top - whichever the children are happier to use.
  • Encourage them to join in while you repeat the rhyme and to make lots of little marks.
  • Children could also paint their fingers, toes or legs as well as making marks on paper.

On the scent

  • Mix food flavouring with powdered paints or icing sugar for making smelly pictures. For example, mix lemon flavouring with yellow powder paint, peppermint flavouring with green paint and strawberry flavouring with red paint.
  • Place each colour on a different paper plate.
  • Let the children feel, smell and use the paint – but make sure they don’t try to taste the paints.
  • Encourage the children to apply the paints to paper or card with their fingers or toothbrushes.

Paint with toothpaste

  • Provide three tubes of toothpaste with different colours and flavours, three saucers, and paper in various colours.
  • Draw attention to the colour, shape and size of the tubes.
  • Invite each child to manipulate the tubes. Ask them to explain what they are doing with what part of their hands.
  • Ask what they think the toothpaste will look like.
  • Encourage them to squeeze a little of each paste on to the saucers (provide help as necessary).
  • Suggest that they create a little smelly toothpaste picture and invite them to talk about their 'drawings'.

Magnet painting

  • Gather together a range of metallic objects - for example, teaspoons, nuts and bolts, and jar lids.
  • Encourage the children to dip the metallic objects in shallow trays of poster paint.
  • Let the children place the dipped items on to a piece of lining paper.
  • The children can then use a large magnet to move the metal object around while creating interesting pictures.
  • Let them explore with different colours of paint and different sized metallic items.

Artist's canvas

  • Buy an artist's canvas from an art store or catalogue.
  • Fill salt cellars with different colours of powdered paint, fine coffee granules, spices, herbs and so on.
  • Let the children brush the canvas with water and encourage them to make their own masterpiece by shaking on the different contents of the salt cellars.
  • Hang the masterpiece at the children's height and allow them to smell their creations.

In print

  • Pour a small amount of paint and water into a balloon and partially blow it up but do not knot it.
  • Hand the balloon gently to a child for them to drop it on a large sheet of paper and enjoy the splat!
  • Alternatively, knot the end of the balloon and encourage the children to dip it in paint, then drop it on a large sheet of paper.  
  • You could also try print-making with used teabags, either dipped in water or paint.
  • Dip some bouncy balls in paint and drop them a height on to sheets of paper.
  • Or print with sponges of potatoes.

When using these suggestions, make sure that your resources are clean and safe for young children and that the activity is age appropriate - the ideas outlined cover the birth to three age range 

Based on ideas by Alice Sharp, managing director of training and resources company, Experiential Play, http://www.experientialplay.com

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