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Just let kids paint! Free Painting!

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Here is my favorite creative activity that we continue to go back to again and again at our house. Free painting. Free painting allows kids to get lost in the process of art making, it is the ultimate in process based art.

The beauty of painting with young children is that they don't need a prompt, they live and breath in the world of imagination. Give them paint and they will figure out what to do with it. Dip, brush, mix, splash, repeat. As they get older they will begin to show more restraint, eventually possibly even too much restraint.

Free painting is like free play. When they tell you that pink dot is an elephant, go with it, "Wow, what a beautiful shade of pink!" Free play is when children are at their most creative: making connections, processing emotions, replaying scenarios, and experimenting with new ideas. Kids were built to explore, discover and grow during free play, it only makes sense to carry this on through painting.

Free painting is a great activity that you can have ready for your kids when they get home from school. When kids come home from school they need time to transition into the world of home. Home is the place where they can be themselves, happy, sad, or scared, and still be loved and accepted. They've spent all day away from you, had a lot of fun, but also had to follow rules and stay on task while navigating stressful moments alone. They tried to be a "good student" all day. After free painting you may find that your kids are more willing to talk about their day and open up to you. Once they've had time to reconnect with their authentic selves, then they can reconnect with those around them.

Free painting is super easy to set up. We always paint outside, this allows me to not worry when my kids get a little crazy with the paint. When my kids were younger I had a small picnic table on my back patio, this was where they typically did painting. I would cover it with a sheet of white paper, then tape 2 or 3 small pieces of paper on it and set out watercolors. If you have an easel you could tape a blank sheet of paper on each side. Having more than one piece of paper to paint allows kids to try different things and will lengthen the activity. White paper on one side and colored paper on the other can be fun.

Now that my kids are older I find myself using homemade lawn easels and tempera paint more often. I put the paint in old egg cartons to make clean up easy. I set out a few brushes, a paper towel, a water cup and the paints in the egg carton. I like to tape a piece of paper on each side of the lawn easel, this will allow them to complete two paintings. If your kids are a little older or not used to free painting and don't know where to start, you can just suggest that they paint something they see in the environment. Oftentimes these paintings will morph into something completely original.

Free painting enables children complete freedom with their imaginations. Toddlers will tell you that a line is a car, or a dot is a bird. As they get older their drawings will start to resemble something. As adults it is really hard for us to look at something and not name it. We need to fight this urge with children, because we almost always get it wrong. Instead of telling them what we see, we can ask them to, "Tell me about your painting."

We have a cork board wall in our dining room where I put their work up on display and it's super easy to change things out. My favorite works of art on this are typically the ones where my kids free painted or drew from their imaginations. Putting up your child's work tells them that you love their imagination!

Have you ever noticed how happy your kids are when they are lost in the world of free play? This is exactly how they will feel when you allow them to free paint. Try it today and let me know what you think!

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