Approaches to Paint


“Think of the toddler years as a wacky and crazy but short period of time, slow down and see past the chaos of it…” – Paula Spencer

Two groups of toddlers – one from the Northside building, one from the Southside building. We came together and explored paint in the Studio with our Atelierista. She set up a table for mixing paint, easels to use their paint, and a table with watercolor and various types of paper.

As you can imagine, things got messy pretty quickly.


Through the mess, I was able to reflect in the moment on what I was seeing: a large handful of toddlers, all using the same materials in entirely different ways. They all had their own approach, their own goal, and their own way of meeting their goal. It was hard for me to keep up with taking notes, photos, and scaffolding these exchanges since so much was happening at the same time. Rather than allow myself to become overwhelmed, I took a step back to simply enjoy watching so many toddlers, with their own personalities, life experiences, understanding of the materials, and decision-making processes.


A was one of the few children I saw spend an equal amount of time in the front and back of the studio, with both provocations. He spent a fair amount of time focused on mark making. He made the above mark and then exclaimed, “I made my name! Now, I write A’s (name)”


T spent most of the time layering paint. He would cover the bottom of a paint cup with blue, then cover the blue with white. T said, “It disappears. Now blue….now white!” When the cup was almost full he mixed the colors together and said, “Blue like your hair!”


L grabbed a cup, dropped a few drops of blue, a singular drop of white, and then dipped the mixer into the paint before putting the cup back down. I said, “Are you going to mix the white into the blue?” L said, “I already did!” I didn’t get to finish watching L explore paint but when I looked back over he was more focused collecting and then opening and closing the squirt bottles.


D was the first child I saw painting at the easel. She was focused on creating the marks above and didn’t lose focus even when T brought his paint over and started painting on the same piece of paper. I didn’t see if she mixed her own paint or if she was using paint others brought to the easel. I also noticed her marks look like her symbol, and was curious if that was intentional.

H spent the bulk of his time practicing squeezing paint out of the bottle with and without adult help. Each time paint would come out, he would smile wide and exclaim, “I did it!” He never incorporated another color, but rather worked the entire time on filling the paint cup with blue. This met his goal he stated when he approached the table: “I want too much, too much. Too much like N.” Earlier, one of the paint bottle tops popped off, leaving N with a cup FULL of paint. H, unsurprisingly, was drawn to this.

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N sat at the paint table, watching other paint. Eventually, he collected both a paint cup and a paint bottle. He squirted the paint into the cup, dipped in the mixer and said, “I did it. I mixed paint up.” He got up, washed his hands, and spent the rest of the studio walking around watching. When asked what he was up to, he would smile and say, “Painting!”


A spent the entire time painting her arms and hands completely red. She covered them up, then washed them off, then covered them up again. Every now and then she would make a mark on paper but would return quickly to painting her body.

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This experience reminded me of why we do what we do – these children deserve the individualized care we work so hard to provide them, as they are all already individuals and have been from day one. They have their own thoughts, interests, and needs. This is why we not only plan a curriculum that revolves around their own individual interests but why we make sure we consider them in every moment – when we change their diaper, when we transition from one activity to another, when we are starting naptime, or when they are expressing their (often big) emotions.

“A hundred children, a hundred individuals who are people – not people-to-be, not people of tomorrow, but people right now, right now – today.” – Janusz Korczak


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