Staying Sane while Painting with the Insane


There are so many adorable toddler art project posts out there on instagram and pinterest. This is not one of them. This is the post on how you give your toddler some art supplies and keep them interested for a length of time while maintaining your sanity … and your carpets. In my future dream home, I will have an amazing art room with concrete floors, kid size sinks, and all the supplies one can order off amazon. For now, I work with what we got and most days that is all the kids need/want and a lot of times goes off without a major incident, which I consider a success. So here I am to share how we do ‘art projects’  for relatively cheap and easy and only moderately messy.

Figure out your space. Obviously in the summer, outside is perfect. Who cares if there is paint on the grass or playdoh in the driveway. (Note: Shaving cream stains stone – so don’t use shaving cream on your parents new stone patio. Sorry, Mom.) That being said, we tend to do a lot of our projects in the winter when we are stuck inside. I find a kid size table works best and if you are getting super messy throw a painters tarp, old shower curtain/sheet underneath. Makes for easy cleanup and minimal stress.


Figure out what the kids will do. This is where the Dollar Store is my best friend. I do stock up on Crayola finger and Tempera paints when a good sale happens ( and ToysRUs often have great Crayola sales). However, I love a good Dollar Tree run for a number of reasons. They tend have a good variety of cheap supplies and when working with my 3 and nearly 2 year old – cheap is great. It makes me not stress out when they waste an entire glitter paint pen or dump an entire bottle of glue onto some googly eyes. They also have character painting sets for $1 that includes 2 pictures, a paintbrush and the paint. They keep my kids entertained for at least 20 minutes (often more),  I don’t feel bad if they mix the colors together and who cares if the brush gets tossed. My favorite activity is to grab the 10 pack of glitter paint pens, a stack of foam characters for the current holiday and call it day. The kids tend to use all 10 pens up in one sitting (I say 1 pack=2 kids max).

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Figure out how to keep kids’ clothes relatively clean. Nude is good, but then you sort of need to bathe your kids if the get it all over. Smocks work well. I throw old t-shirts on the kids. They cover everything and when the kids are done I often take it off them and rub the table and/or their hands down before throwing in the wash.


Figure out how to clean up ahead of time. This is important to think of ahead of time. For me, when the kids are done it is abrupt. They will go from painting away nicely for 30+ minutes only half destroying my house to running towards my white sofa with wet paint smocks and sticky hands in a matter of seconds. I usually quickly remove the “messy pieces” and put them up high before ushering the kids to a sink to wash their hands. I keep an empty dish tub on hand and can throw it ALL in there and move it all to a high place in a matter of seconds. I can work on cleaning the brushes, putting caps back on and the such later. As Flynn has gotten older, we have been working on keeping our supplies “fresh”. This means putting caps back on, rinsing brushes, etc. That being said some days he is still 3 or Nola is being crazy and I will need to tend to it later. (Dollar Tree supplies = perfection because they tend to get used up in one sitting aka cleanup equals tossing in the trash). Once the mess is out of their reach, I work with the kids on washing hands and moving to a new activity and hopefully sneaking off to fully clean up the art mess.


A few other random pieces of advice that work well for us:

  • Let each kid have their own set of whatever it is. If we are using paints – make each kid their own “plate” of colors. We have tons of leftover Chipotle bowls from a catering event and those work great. Other times I just use thicker paper plates or a large sheet of paper with areas for each kid. My kids will share, but I find individual paint keeps them focused longer…and prevents the blob of brown paint from happening later 🙂
  • Keep the supplies simple , especially the messy ones. I rarely mix paint and glue. It is one or the other. We are either painting or we are gluing things on something. The two together just gets messy. Speaking of gluing things on something – I keep the supplies for that simple as well. A bowl of pom poms or sequins or heck a bowl of cut up paper keeps my kids’ attention.
  • Vary up the “paper”. Flynn would paint everyday, but sometimes he is bored of my “craft ideas”. Whenever we can throwing a new twist on it increases the attention span and the ultimate goal – the creativity. So when decorating, painting, gluing, etc change up what you use. Old egg crates, pumpkins, apples, foam sheets, pictures, plain paper, paint with cars or paint the cars. Mix it up.
  • Start simple. One color of paint, one object. One glue stick, one bowl of cut up paper. As you get more comfortable and figure out a setup/cleanup schedule that works for your sanity level, you can introduce more and new ideas.


So there you have it. Nothing fancy. Nothing pinterest worthy, but it keeps my kids creative and enjoying “art”.

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