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11 Fun Ideas for Painting with Water (for Toddlers and Preschoolers)

Painting with water. Does that even classify as a creative activity when there’s nothing to show at the end?

Absolutely! Why?

Like all other process art activities, this is the kind of simple, sensory activity I recommend to parents and teachers because children are always learning while they’re engaged in the process of creating, regardless of what the end product looks like.

What is painting with water? It is simply following the same process as any other painting activity for kids, except the brushes/sponges are dipped into water and the painting disappears as it dries.

Here are a few of the benefits, followed by several ideas for painting with water with toddlers and preschoolers.

What Do Children Learn From Painting with Water?

Here are a few of the developmental benefits of this simple activity:

  • Holding painting tools helps strengthen the fingers and build fine motor skills.
  • Painting with brushes on large surfaces such as easels, walls or pavings develops gross motor skills.
  • As children stretch and bend across the imaginary halfway line of their body as they paint, they develop the ability to cross their midline – essential for learning to read and write.
  • There is no right or wrong way to paint with water – especially when the result disappears. This means children experience success with this activity and don’t feel pressure to produce anything.
  • Painting is relaxing and stress relieving, which can act as a calming activity for children. 
  • The motion of making strokes with a brush is a precursor to learning to make the strokes found in letters – curves, waves, zigzags, etc. Painting with water or paint is an excellent pre-writing activity.
  • If adults use the activity as an opportunity to talk about what the child is doing, it can lead to vocabulary enhancement. Comment on the strokes, the shapes being produced, the technique, the pressure of the brush, etc.

How Do You Paint with Water?

You simply need:

  • A painting tool – brush, sponge, finger, etc.
  • A surface to paint on – wall, cardstock, paving, easel, tissue paper, etc.
  • A holder for the water – cup, tray, spray bottle, etc.
Paint pots with water in them, paintbrushes and sponges

There are no rules – just use whatever you have on hand.

Simple Ideas for Painting with Water

Here are a few different ways you can get kids to paint with water.

1. Sponges

Use different sponges such as bath sponges, art sponges or kitchen sponges. You could also cut them into shapes.

Hold small sponges with a peg so you can paint or stamp them onto paper or any material.

Playing with sponges teaches children early science concepts such as how some materials soak up water and how water displacement happens.

2. Paint Brushes

Paint with art brushes of different sizes on paper or on a blackboard (or easel).

Child painting with water on an easel

3. Watercolour Brushes

Use small watercolour brushes to make finer pictures on paper.

4. Sidewalk Pictures

Paint pictures on the sidewalk or paving and watch them disappear as they dry.

Water painting on the sidewalk

5. Paint the Walls

Pretend to be professional house painters by painting water onto the walls outside with large roller brushes.

This is good for shoulder strength, midline crossing and gross motor movements.

Child painting the wall with water and a sponge roller

6. Small Paint Rollers

Small art sponge rollers are great for painting and can also be used for water painting:

7. Cotton Balls

Make a water painting with fluffy cotton balls. These can also be held with pegs or simply get kids to pinch the ball with their fingers as they dip it into a tray of water.

8. Cotton Buds

Cotton buds can also be used as a paintbrush on finer paper.

9. Finger Painting

A mess-free version of finger painting – try making dots with fingers on tissue paper or other soft paper. The water impressions won’t dry quickly.

Child finger painting with water on blue paper

10. Toothbrush Strokes

Toothbrushes will work well on a blackboard or on the paving. Watch the patterns that the brushes make with water.

11. Paint in the Bath

Paint the walls of the bath with whatever you can think of – rollers, sponges, paint brushes, etc.

Here are more fun water play activities to keep kids busy but learning.

Child painting with water at an easel. Text reads "Learn why painting with water is a great activity for kids".

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