Painting Tips for Kinders and PreK

Painting Tips for Kinders and PreK




I had three Kinder classes one year with one of the classes being considered a Transitional Kinder combo. What does this mean?

In California, Transitional Kinders are children who are not yet 5 years old before September 1st. They may be enrolled in Kinder but it’s likely they will take another year of Kinder before enrolling in 1st grade. I think I have that right. Basically, it means I have many sweet little 4 year olds in this class.

We’ve spent most of our art time getting to know the supplies, learning how to paint and practice holding scissors (this is the class who created the fab funny face pumpkins). I’m really proud of their development.

This is the fun part about teaching art; identifying what a class needs and developing art lessons just for them. This lesson’s purpose is purely practice. I set out my palettes of puck/cake tempera paints, tubs of water and two size brushes: big and small. On sheets of paper, the children painted skinny lines and fat lines, curly marks and straight marks, circles, big circles and small dots. The idea was to create as many different shapes and lines with our brushes.

As you can see, many children experimented with the various lines but many stuck with picking a favorite color and swirling it around the middle of their paper. I loved both styles and it allowed me to see where each child was at in terms of painting development.

My Tips for Teaching Little Ones to Paint

Use a good brush. I don’t mean an expensive watercolor brush, but a plastic handle brush with smooth bristles. Even kids are sensitive to the experience of using a product that works well. Cheap, stiff brushes are not nearly as good for spreading paint. 

– Teach children to use big, sweeping arm movements for broad paint strokes and then small movements for small strokes. Its good for children to experiment with the difference.

– For little kids, lay off the small watercolor pan paints that come in the trays. I like big, fat tempera cakes better.

– Do not fuss about paint colors mixing together in the palettes. It’s not the end of the world. There will always be kids who don’t clean their brushes well, will dip a blue-covered paint brush into a yellow tub of paint and not be aware of it. When kids get a bit older (end of Kinder and first grade) then you can start teaching paint manners. I do show some kids (the ones who get really upset with their paint partner for mixing paints) how to clean a dirty tempera cake with their brushes or even with a sponge. For the kid who can understand this, it is very empowering and it prevents lots of whining and tattling.

Use age-appropriate products/paints: Liquid watercolors dispensed in a baby food jar with a single brush in each color, tempera cakes, liquid tempera squeezed into plastic tubs with single paint brushes in each container, 76 lb sulphite/smooth construction paper, and no pencils. Instead use oil pastels for the drawing. Why? Read this.

– Give PreK children lots of opportunity to free-paint. The more they practice on their own terms, the more they will discover.

– Be gentle with the amount of instruction you give to very little Kinders. Small steps, lots of encouragement and happy colors will inspire even the most art-adverse child.

What are your best tips for teaching little ones to paint?

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Painting Tips for Kinders and PreK

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  • Mrs. Art Lady

    I, too, have a wiggly group of Kinders this year. I love using liquid tempera with them, but I have re-usable flat palettes (like plates) and they get their own portion of paint to mix, dab, swirl or whatever. I have no stress about dirty cakes, and students can keep their own paint as pristine or as messy as they like. (I have 6 &12 well palettes for liquid watercolors, too.) I find the students naturally learn about the effects of an unclean brush and adjust to their personal taste. I portion out dime size puddles of the paint, refilling as needed, so there isn’t a lot of waste. At the end of class I simply drop the palettes into a bucket of water for later washing. Nice thing there is at the end, they usually just need a rinse as most of the paint soaks off in the bucket.
    They love exploring with the paints! It is a medium of instant gratification, and they respond to that!

    • Sue

      Plates sound great, where do you get them?

      • kinder teacher

        You can use the plastic ice-cream bucket lids for mixing paints as well. Dime-sized amounts of paint and easy clean-up.

    • Nina Suchy

      What paints do I use for Pre-Kers to paint their hands and than put their hands on cheeks and have seeing their hands and face in a mirror or taking a cute picture for the end of school year and put it on our school Facebook.
      Just read an article on Princess Kate’s and what she did for 🤴 Louis’s second birthday
      I would like to do because it has been really hard on my Pre-Kers with our changing times of no school and the way we/they have to learn how our change will be the new way of living.
      ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🌈☀️days for God’s children

      • Patty

        Tempera paint is great! Crayola is the brand I use 🙂

  • Karen

    I am Kinder teacher, not an Art teacher, and my room is not necessarily paint friendly. I have learned the best way to paint with the entire class is to give each a paper plate and squirt liquid tempera onto the it as a palette. They can mix paint if they want and when done the plate goes in the garbage. This has worked really well and my little ones can experiment to their hearts content without anyone tattling about the paints!

    • Torika Delailoa

      I have the same type of non friendly paint classroom and I really like you idea. I have seen children like to experiment on their own way while painting. thanks for the tip

  • joni

    Where is the best place to buy/order tempera cakes for kindergarten? I’m a classroom teacher, not an art teacher (but have used many of your ideas and lessons).

  • patty

    I got tired of washing palettes so I started using old catalogs. I tear off several sheets per student and squirt paint on. The paper holds up fine for a whole lesson and we just pitch them when we are done. If I am doing a step by step project I only give them the colors I want them to learn to blend. If the are rough with the paper and put a hole in it I just slide more paper underneath

    • Julia Thomas

      Great way to use old catalogs! Thanks.

  • Sarah

    I was given a box of 8 x 12″ plastic meat trays that have 1/4″ grooves covering the entire surface. The paint doesn’t spread and mix and the grooves provide just the right amount of paint to prevent an overloaded brush or printing object. They’re sturdy and wash up easily. I expect to be using them for years,

  • Lucy

    disposable paper paint palettes have changed my life! Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but their smooth surface is great for mixing, and if kids are neat enough it will easily hold up for three back to back lessons. When the lesson is over, tear off the top sheet, toss it and you’re ready for the next time you need them. The pad of 50 lasts a long time. I try to set it up so there is one palette for every two kids.

    • Mary Jo

      Hi Lucy,
      Where do you find the disposable paper paint palettes?
      Mary Jo

  • georgia

    I have 9 classes of 4-5 year olds and I’m teaching them art in their class rooms. Painting is a real stretch for me…I’ve done printing with sponges in containers with paint so they could stamp (in a small group), used oil pastels, chalk, crayon and paint squeezed onto their paper (2 primaries to mix to a secondary). At some point I will need to do more painting with them…this has given me some great ideas.

  • christine.chobirko@yahoo.com

    I am a pre-k teacher and really like the idea of tempra cakes. But even though we have plastic paint smocks, I worry about stains. The students usually dress in nice clothes. How much do the cakes stain?

    • Patty Palmer

      Like liquid tempera, I suppose if you leave the paint on the garment long enough, it will stain. Make sure parents understand to send their children o school dressed in art. And, since you already use smocks, I think you are safe.

      • christine.chobirko@yahoo.com

        thanks for the quick reply

  • Marj Praml

    I have a collection of my husband’s old (non-holy) T shirts that serve as smocks in my pre-k class. If paint gets on them I don’t care and it actually gives the smock some character. And Yes! I remind parents when we are planning a painting day so that the children dress accordingly. And about palettes, I use coated paper plates, any size. They are inexpensive and I can throw them out when we are finished. I try to have only three colors at a time and one brush in each color on the palette. This past year’s class caught on very quickly. They are more than ready for kindergarten.

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks Marj! Love these tips.

  • victoria russotti

    Hi Patty,

    Check out by website:


    teaching kindergARTen art for 6 years 🙂

  • abhatty@balboa.edu.pa

    Our school has uniforms for all students. At the end of the year I send messages to high school, middle school and the gym teachers to donate unclaimed uniform T shirts from the lost and found closet. The kids love to wear middle school and high school shirts,especially the senior shirts. It works very well. I toss the really messy ones and keep getting cleaner ones each year. They’re FREE!

  • Carmen Mitchell

    Excellent ideas on how to teach them to paint. T Y

  • debra s felner

    would love to join sparklers but need preschool age

    • Bethany

      Hi Debra! Our lessons are geared to K-7 grade and we don’t have plans to add lesson for preschool age. However, teachers frequently adapt the lessons to different ages, skills, or supplies! Anything is possible.


    A wonderful way to teach 4year old art. Very easy and direct.

  • Rachel Stafford

    I wanted to print this out, but each time I try it comes up “about blank #blocked”. Any advice?

    • Patty

      Hi Rachel…it’s working on our end. Are you by chance, trying to download at school? Sometimes school’s block outside websites. Try on your phone or at home and see if that helps compared to your school email 🙂

  • Irene Anderson

    I try only to give three directions at a time. That’s all they can handle. Like 3 bears or 3 pigs

  • thomas

    Anyone have a suggestion for 3 year olds on how to help them get less paint on the brush. For now my only option is to use very thin brushes. Having them tap is not a skill most of them have.

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