Finger Painting with the Preschoolers

Early one morning the children came into their classroom and saw that the art table was filled with different colors of paint. They sat in a group around the table, looked at each other, and one child finally said, “Why is this yellow wand look blue on the table?” Suddenly another child shouted, “Blue paint!!!”

We didn’t provide any paint brushes or other art materials, just paint and paper. The purpose of this project was to see what the children would say and what they would do when presented with this provocation and how they would “solve” the problem. 

One child boldly claimed, “I’m going to use my finger.” This led all the children to declare the same, and begin to finger paint. One of the children stood out from everyone, as she used both hands to paint, while most of the other children used their index fingers and moved them in a back-and-forth motion.

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Allowing children the freedom to see a problem, hypothesize on what the solution is, experiment, and make their own decisions. Long before children are able to draw smiley faces and write their names, they learn how to express themselves through doodling and scribbling. This activity allowed children the freedom of not being confined to a utensil. They had access to paintbrushes and paint sticks, but none of them chose to use those, they all decided to paint with their hands. Moreover, their decision to finger-paint is a rather remarkable one. Here’s 15 reasons why finger children should finger paint according to Nothing But Genius:

  1. Kids can learn informally about mixing and exploring colors
  2. Sensory integration is promoted
  3. All the senses are involved: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and (if you use edible paint) tasting
  4. Finger painting strengthens the finger and hand muscles, thereby improving fine motor development
  5. The development of hand-eye coordination is supported
  6. If you place the paper on the floor, large muscle control and balance could be improved
  7. Finger painting is easier for little fingers that are not yet ready to manipulate a brush with skill
  8. This is a non-prescriptive way of promoting children’s self-expression
  9. There is a focus on the process, not on the end result of the finished product
  10. Finger painting is therapeutic- children can express their feelings visually without using words
  11. It stimulates creativity and imagination
  12. Finger painting is an excellent way of creating shared art work with a group of children working together
  13. The finished art work and the process are stimulation points for discussion on the creative process, the colors, the themes, the design, etc, thus language development is promoted
  14. Kids learn that they can manipulate and be in control of their surroundings
  15. It is messy which also means its fun!

Finger painting also develops children’s spatial awareness, they are able to combine different shapes, create straight, curved, and shaped lines, and learn about volume, consistently, and density with paint! At this age, sometimes it’s easier to communicate through art rather than words. Finger painting gives children an outlet to express their feelings and represent ideas in a visual form with no pressure of producing an end product.

“Finger painting has existed for centuries, but was established in its modern form in the 1930s by Ruth Faison Shaw, the “First Lady of Finger Painting”. She was one of the first to recognize its therapeutic potential and was hailed as “a pioneer in progressive education.” At a time when many thought children should be seen and not heard, she saw finger painting as an important way for children to communicate their unexpressed words and feelings. The instinctive nature of finger painting, she said, “aids the imagination and gives a delight in creating things subconsciously – things that one may not even have seen or dreamed of before”. – Kerry Greasley


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