The Best (and most adaptable) Painting Activities for Toddlers

Taylor Keating

Truck Track Painting

  • Paint (ideally two different colors)
  • Paper
  • Various vehicles with different wheel treads

If you have a boy around the age of 2, I’m sure trucks or vehicles of any kind are their favorite thing ever. Vehicles and wheels are such great learning experiences. This is the base activity and you can always edit it, add to it, and improve upon it as your child ages. Although I will say that I first did this back when my son was 18 months and he’s still pretty obsessed now that he’s 2.5 years old.

I love this activity because it is easy and will keep them busy for many many many pages. To prep the activity, I gathered two different colors of paint. For younger children I recommend using primary colors and for older children I like to ask them which they’d like to use or have them mix primaries to make secondary colors. There are so many different methods. Also, brown paint is great for pretending that it’s mud!

I put about a spoonful of washable paint on a large, flat plate. Before beginning, I asked my son to get two different kinds of vehicles. My intention with this is to get different types of wheels to create different kinds of marks on the piece of paper. Luckily, he grabbed a monster truck with huge, rubber wheels and a wooden magnetic car. Perfect!

I sat him down at the table and let him drive the vehicles into the paint and then transfer and drive them on the white piece of paper to see what kind of tire marks might be made. For some children, this will be enough and you can gather up the paper and hang it to dry. For others, you may want to extend their learning with open ended questioning.

Here are some examples of the questions that I asked him for this activity: what do red and yellow make as you mix them together? What other things are orange in the world? Look at the truck and the car, do they look different? How are they different or the same? Which tracks are bigger or smaller? Can you make a quick track? What’s the longest track on the page? What does it look like when the truck stops fast? Why is that track so thick?

On all of my activities, I do a takeaway part. For this painting activity, below are the top five takeaways from a developmental perspective.

  1. Creative expression without worrying about the finished product.
  2. Becoming familiar with simple math terminology.
  3. Language development and the give and take of conversations.
  4. Fine motor skill.
  5. Color identification and familiarization.

Animal Footprints Painting

  • Paper
  • Paint (Ideally brown, but it honestly doesn't make a difference)
  • Different animals with different feet

This is a great base activity for a child who loves animals. Animals are a great tool, especially for young toddlers to build their language skills and act like various animals they like. Noises are much easier to copy and express than more complex words. Use animals that they like to engage them further!

When I first started this activity with Lincoln he was just learning to imitate all of the farm animals sounds and we had been frequenting the local farm. This is such an emergent topic! I started with brown paint on a tray, pretending that it was mud and grass at the farm.

Before letting him start, I told him to go to his animal bin and pick a few animals. As he took them out, we counted. One is pig, two is sheep, three is giraffe, four is duck, five is cow. All done! This is a great time to add in that art is completely an expressive so I let him pick whatever animals he wants and rarely will say no to any sort of request (paint color, paper style, different objects, etc.

I put some "puddles" of paint on the paper and then he got to stomp his animals through the paint and across the page and observe how each footprint is different. One way to deepen learning is to ask prompts along the way. Here are some great ideas to get your toddler thinking...Where is your animal going? Who makes a bigger/smaller footprint? What happens if you stomp the animal really fast/slow or loud/soft?1, 2, 3 steps! Can you count while your animal marches? What does this animal say when they march? For older children: where is the animal going/coming from?

My top five takeaways from this one are:

  1. Creative expression without worrying about the finished product.
  2. Exploring role-playing and imagination through pretend play.
  3. Language development through open-ended questions and making animal sounds.
  4. Fine motor skills.
  5. Color identification and familiarization.

Paint in a Bag Activity

  • Two different paint colors
  • Plastic Ziploc bag
  • White piece of paper

Okay, if you are not into painting at home because of the inevitable mess that it creates then I urge you to try this out. Literally no mess at all! Children love this one because it provides a fun sensory experience without their hands feeling cold or yucky or messy.

The more paint you add, the squishier the bag becomes. The less paint you add, the better print you get. I like to do two primary colors to mix because you get a better result and you can go into color identification and how properties can change when put together. I like to prompt him by saying "you have red and yellow, what does it make? Orange!" The more I say it and he sees it, the more likely he is to recognize it on his own next time and know that A plus B equals C.

To create a bigger experience, once they have the paint all mixed around, you can push through the paint and make intentional marks. Sometimes with older toddlers, you can make shapes or letters or have them paint in the paint they just mixed. Total mind games! To mix it up, you can add confetti or cut the paper into shapes or just let them go crazy. Shaving cream and colored ink is a great sub in too!

Top five takeaways are:

  1. Color identification and mixing.
  2. Unique sensory experience via hands.
  3. Fine motor skills.
  4. The give and take of conversation.
  5. Asking open-ended questions.

Comments / 0

Published by

An early childhood educator at heart, now raising two toddlers with big feelings and writing about mom life through a real lens.

Ridgefield, CT

More from Taylor Keating

Comments / 0