Painting is a great activity for young children. It’s a fantastic work-out for their imagination, and helps them practice their fine motor skills, as well as helping to develop their understanding of colour, shape, texture and viscosity (yes, wet paint WILL drip onto the floor/your clothes/the dog’s dinner…). We do a lot of painting in our house, and love finding different things to paint – after all, flat paper can be SO last earlier-this-morning. We try to bring natural materials into our play at every opportunity, and painting is the perfect thing for this as its easy to find natural objects to decorate. Stones, sticks, pinecones, shells… you name it, we’ve painted it. Leaf painting is an absolute favourite, though, and something that we do all the time – read on to find out why!
One of T-Birds favourite activities is painting. She loves doing it so much, I leave her easel and paints permanently out and have completely given up cleaning up the paint splatters (I actually really like the artist’s studio vibe they give me!) But she gets through paper at a fearsome rate, and we can only eat so much cereal and eggs to provide supplies for junk modelling… Using natural materials is a great way to provide variety to her painting, and there are lots of ways to extend the play to provide even more fun.
If we’re going to use nature as a resource, we usually make collecting our bits part of the activity – after all, nothing sets you up for a morning of painting like a nice walk around the park or a run around the garden! T-Bird loves finding bits like sticks, pebbles and leaves, and I usually give her a small paper bag to put them in. The square bottom bags with a handle are great for this, as they’re easy to hold and the collected bits are less likely to get squashed or damaged. As always when we’re foraging (even if it’s just for leaves and stones) we talk about how to do this responsibly – T-Bird loves showing off her expertise now, and is quick to tell me off if I accidentally squash a daisy.
When we’re collecting, I keep an eye out for things that will be a nice size to paint – we include small things as well as big, as they’re a good challenge for her little fingers. And things that don’t end up painted often end up as tools to paint or print with, so things with interesting textures or shapes also end up in her bag. If I leave it just to her, we might not get much of a variety (she loves finding multiples of the same thing!) so I tend to sneak other things in when she’s not looking, or take my own bag!
While it’s tempting to set out the paints for her so we can get started quickly, I usually let her have a free hand choosing her colours and pouring them into the pots or onto the palette. We might get a few spills and waste a bit of paint here and there, but even this part of the activity is helping develop skills. Pouring out paint requires strength in both her arms and in her fingers – some of our bottles are quite big, and older ones need to be squeezed hard to get the paint out.
It also requires control to get the paint into the right place and in the right quantity (so she needs to understand volume and the effect of the pressure she provides). And through doing this for herself, she’s also building her sense of independence and pride in her abilities, which is always wonderful to see! I can cope with moping up a bit of paint now and again for a payoff like that.
Leaf painting is as fancy or simple as she wants it – though she’s now quite an accomplished little artist, she often likes to stick to painting single colours on her leaves. Sometimes this is in a pattern, sometimes just a great big blob of colour. Whatever she wants is fine.
I often (if she’ll let me!) paint a leaf or two myself, just to demonstrate some other techniques or patterns she might want to try. Though mostly I’m ignored, and my leaves designated to the ‘not very good’ pile! Children are nothing if not honest…
I like to give T-Bird a variety of different sized paintbrushes for her leaf painting , ranging from my own very thin and delicate brushes, to her own bulky ‘kid’ paintbrushes. It’s fascinating to see what she makes of these and how she explores the different kind of marks that they make.
Of course leaf painting doesn’t have to be done with paintbrushes! Some of the other things we have brought home from our foraging are often utilised as painting instruments. Even delicate leaves and fronds of grass can make patterns, and different things have to be used in different ways. She might want to use a stick like a pencil or as a stamper, but flexible items like leaves and grass require a different technique.
At the moment, T-Bird is full into the classic positioning schema – she’ll arrange anything and everything into patterns which you MUST NOT TOUCH, MUMMY! Schemas are the unconscious urges towards certain types of play that kids repeat over and over as they explore different developmental stages. Kids who are going through the positioning schema love to sort and make patterns, and these painted leaves provide a great resource for this.
We set out a big sheet of paper or newspaper to dry our leaves on, and T-Bird will very carefully decide where each leaf should go as it is painted. She has clear rules and ideas about this, and, for her, the positioning of the leaves is as much a part of the activity as the actual leaf painting. The pattern might not look like anything to us, but to her it is a very deliberate arrangement that gives her great satisfaction to create.
Leaf painting is a lovely activity to do on the spur of the moment – there’s very little preparation needed, and while the finished leaves won’t keep, you can still use them for a whole heap of further crafts. A few of our favourites are:
Looking for more nature play ideas? Check out some of our other posts!