Mess Free Finger Painting: I don't "Know it All"

Wed, 02/29/2012 - 4:39pm -- Jessica Baudin-...

I learned a valuable lesson this week. A lesson that reminded me not to assume I "know it all". Here's how it happened....

A client of mine (who is also an early childhood educator) posted this link on Mess Free Finger Painting from The Hippie Housewife on my Facebook wall. I had seen this activity all over Pinterest the last few weeks and will admit scoffed it off as silly.

Isn't the point of finger painting to get messy? Why would you want to take that sensory experience away from your child? This must be an activity for neat freak, OCD types.

Judgmental much? I am shaking my head at my own ignorance. I usually pride myself on being very open to others ideas. Especially when it come to creative ideas and processes. Obviously I was in an abnormal headspace (or riding on the "high horse"). 

Tuesday afternoon I was racking my brain for a simple art activity I could do with the girls. I needed to run a few errands before going into work later in the day so we didn't have time for a project that required a lot of prep or clean up time. I remembered the idea my client had sent me, sighed (see bad attitude already!), and started setting up the ziplock bags, tape and paint we would need for the project. My expectations were not high. 

I briefly explained to the girls what we were doing, encouraging them to first start by blending the two colors together. Bria and I have been working on teaching Malia how to make the secondary colors and Bria picked up on the color mixing potential of this activity right away. She sweetly said, "Malia do you know what color you will get when you mix blue and red?" *Malia shakes her head no* "Purple sweetie!". Have I mentioned how cute/funny it is when Bria tries really hard to use her "kind teacher" voice? 

The girls began squishing and mixing the two colors together and I knew right away I had been wrong about this activity. They were both instantly enthralled and engaged with the sensation of pushing the paint around under the plastic bags. Bria even happily declared, "This is awesome Mommy! I'm not going to have to wash my hands when we're done!" She's not big on hand washing right now (unfortunately). 

Soon the girls figured out if they pressed down hard enough with their fingers they could "draw" pictures in the paint. When they had proudly showed me each creation they could simply smooth their hands over the paint and create a fresh canvas and create again. This kept them entertained for at least 30 minutes!

The girls' enthusiasm was starting to rub off on me and I began to see the potential this activity had, not just as a sensory exploration activity, but as a novel way to work on writing and literacy development. Malia and I have been using the book 1 2 3 Count with Me from Tiger Tales to help develop her numeracy skills.

The book has large, grooved numbers with arrows that show which direction little ones should run their fingers to form the numbers as they explore the numbers. She adores the book and I love the hands-on approach as it supports her kinesthetic learning style. It is a great place to start learning number formation. I plan on picking up A is For Apple to work on letter formation.

Mess free finger painting was the perfect way to apply what we have been working on with the book in a novel situation (one that she was obviously engaged in). I would draw a number on one side of her bag and then ask her to make her own beside. I knew we had a winner when she yelled "Again! Again!" after she completed each number. Once we had done the numbers 1-9 twice we tried some letters as well. 

Bria wanted to be included in our fun but made it very clear, in full five-year-old sass, that she could already write all her numbers and letters. So I modified the activity to work on the "popcorn" words she has been practicing at school. Those of you who follow the blog will not be surprised by the word she wanted to write over and over ;)

I think this project has a lot of great outcomes: color mixing, drawing, numeracy and literacy skills, and fine motor development. For early childhood educators I could see this being a great centre in a preschool or kindergarten classroom where mess is definitely a consideration. I woud predict this would also be wonderful for children with sensory issues or little ones who just can't stand getting their hands dirty. 

There are a few aspects of this project I am still wary of. I don't like projects that waste materials. Although we did get an hour of exploration, all the paint we used and the plastic bags were tossed afterwards. I suppose I could have cut open the bags and let the girls finger paint with them and if I did it again I would plan for this (but on Tuesday we just ran out of time). The Hippie Housewife posted that she kept her bags for a week! So I would urge you to think about where you can store your paint bags or plan another activity that could use the materials (perhaps mix in glue and shaving cream after and try the Puffy Paint activity).

My only other concern would be doing this activity instead of actual finger painting. Children need to explore a variety of materials with their hands to support their sensory development. Moving Smart has a wonderful post, Respect the Mess, which explores the many benefits of messy play. I highly encourage you to check it out (especially if you are someone who shies away from messy play experiences.) 

But overall I will concede the hype is deserved. This is a great project with minimal set up and clean up but lots of active play time. So lesson learned, don't jump to conclusions and think you know better than everyone else. Something I'd like to think I usually practice but a reminder is always good for the ego. 

What about you? As a parent have you encountered an idea you quickly dismissed only to later come to realize it was wonderful?