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What Types of Paint are Good for Children to Use?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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In thinking about types of paint to use with children, there are several things to consider:

  • the child’s preferences and developmental level
  • the resources available in the painting area
  • clean- up, and
  • the paint available for children

The child’s preferences and developmental level may help you decide if you want to use paint that is applied with their hands, or paint that is applied with a brush or a bottle or a tube. The resources available will help you determine if the child needs paint that works well on a countertop, on paper placed flat, on an easel, or paper taped on a wall. Clean-up after painting can range from putting the lids back on the tubes to washing all nearby surfaces and the need for a bath, so the circumstances can help you decide what will work best for you. And the types of paint available for children include mainly finger paint, tempera, watercolors, and specialized products, which you can match to the child and occasion.

Types of Paint to Match Your Child
Many young children begin their paint experiences with a non-toxic finger paint. There are special finger painting sets you can buy, because this is often used by children, but you can also make finger paint at home. The sets come with a coated paper, and this paper can also be bought separately, but finger painting can also take place on a kitchen countertop made of Formica®, for example.

Tempera paints come in both powder and premixed colors, allowing ease of set-up on the one hand, and a high degree of control on the other. Because they are washable, clean-up time is minimized. Tempera paint is a type often used in school settings. Tempera paints are characteristically applied with a brush and feature bright colors.

Watercolors come in five forms that you may find interesting. The first is a book with pre-drawn pictures and pigment embedded in the pages. Brushing the pages with a brush dipped in water brings out the pigment, which stays on the page. This is one of the types of paint that allows for very quick set-up and clean-up, but there’s not a lot of creativity involved for the child.

The other four types of watercolor paint come in pans and tubes, crayons, and pencils. They may be applied to varying types of paper for different effects, and the paper may be wet or dry. Wet brushes and sponges may be used after the watercolors have been applied to create more effects. Since these types of paint are used by professional artists, a child beginning to learn watercolor techniques can keep it simple and just have fun or embark on a career or a hobby that will last a lifetime.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for HomeQuestionsAnswered, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

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Discussion Comments
By ChickenLover — On Oct 25, 2010

@bbpuff - Yeah, I think all of the major companies make different types of interior paint with low VOC. It is kind of becoming a necessity and hot commodity. It is also safe for pregnant women to use low VOC paints as well. I always painted with latex when I was pregnant and was fine, but I mean, that's a personal choice women would have to make. I know some people get very skittish about that.

By bbpuff — On Oct 25, 2010

@plaid - Food coloring I think is pretty much safe, but there is one - huge - problem: it stains very badly. So if you're looking for an everyday paint, forget it. You should probably turn to home made finger paints or look back to Crayola's repertoire. Aside from that other than specifically child formulated items, the regular types of spray paint are never safe for children to use. There are also some interior paints with low VOC that will be safe for them as well if we're talking about painting a bedroom or home or even furniture. Hope that helps some people out!

By plaid — On Oct 25, 2010

@empanadas - I really like the Crayola brand because they specialize in non toxic materials. This is especially important when it comes to younger children that are into everything. I like that they have that paint spray stuff that the kids can draw on the sidewalk with. Aside from that is food coloring safe to use?

By empanadas — On Oct 25, 2010

Hands down I will always say that Crayola's Color Wonder is the best thing EVER. My children would have written, drawn, painted, and colored all over everything in the house if this had never been invented. The different types of paint brushes you can use with Color Wonder isn't limiting either, as long as you have the right paint and paper. It's pretty awesome.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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