Balloon and cotton bud prints

Painting is a frequently asked for activity in my house, but can turn into a 5 minute activity with a 20 minute clean up: the favourite part for my boys is squeezing paint out of the bottles and mixing it together; after that they can lose interest pretty quickly.

Recently we tried making prints with balloons and cotton buds.

The first thing they both instinctively did was try to paint on the balloon by dipping the cotton bud into the paint. I showed them that they could also dip the balloon straight in and splodge it onto paper. Zeph’s splodges quickly turned into one big swirled splodge and then he tried making patterns on the painty plate using his cotton buds. Elly made some splodge and then tried to pop his balloon. Meanwhile I made some pretty patterns.

Wet chalk drawings

This is great as an outdoor activity if you have paved paths or a patio in the garden, but can also be done indoors on tiled floors, walls or even on paper. All you need to do is throw some chalk sticks into water – the chunkier the better, and we use washed out yogurt pots.

The wet chalk draws much more silkily than if it is dry making it a completely different art process, and it is easily washed away after. Outside the clean up should be minimal to non-existent, and even inside (assuming there aren’t any major water spills in inconvenient places) it’s straightforward to wipe up. Another great thing about this activity when it’s done on the ground or walls is that it provides such a huge art space, encouraging crossing the midline and spatial awareness.

My two started out using a fairly conventional drawing style which progressed first to block colouring tiles and then to experimenting with their hands and feet.

Box art

Before you recycle your boxes (nappies/diapers in this case), open them up and set the kids loose with their crayons, pencils and pens. Add in some stickers or tape for variety, or leave a big box intact and let them get inside to decorate it.

No set up, no mess. Sounds like a win win activity to me.

Spreading colour cloth dyeing

Got any old baby muslins lying around? Old towels, sheets or t-shirts? Here’s an idea for one more use you can put them to while entertaining the kids at the same time. What’s more, this can be a great opportunity to learn and to practice motor skills.

Simply mix up some food colours to use as dye and apply them to damp fabrics. Damp paper works too.


This is pretty straightforward and pretty self-contained so the mess is minimal. You could of course use fabric dye on your fabrics. But food colouring is probably easier to come by in most mum’s cupboards, and it’s more child friendly.

We used washed out glitter glue tubes with a drop of food colouring and topped up with water. Make sure to give it a good shake to mix it thoroughly. You could also mix your colours in pots and use pipettes to apply them. My son has enjoyed this method from age 3, but of course it will be different with different kids. Another idea would be using a small mist-spray bottle. Whatever you use, it’s a good chance to practice fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Put your cloth or paper on a messy tray or in a shallow box and add some water. It should be damp, but not too wet. Then squeeze on your colours and watch them spread. Zeph loved this! He thought it was amazing the way it happened. He tried big squeezes and little dots. He tried it where there was a lot of liquid and where it was quite dry. He put colours onto colours. We actually made up tubes of the primary and secondary colours from our red, blue and yellow food colouring and talked about how to make orange, green and purple as we did it, but you could easily make the whole thing a colour mixing activity by only using primary colours and mixing them on the fabric.

Once you’re done, hang or spread your fabrics to dry away from anything you don’t want food colouring on. We did this very much as process art – enjoying the doing, experimenting and not worrying about the results or the appearance of what we made – but the paper versions could easily make cards, or backgrounds for future projects.


Marble painting

A classic minimal-mess painting activity! We used marbles (!) a click-seal food storage box, yogurt pots for coating our marbles in paint and spoons for scooping them into the box.

I’ve tried this a few times before with Zeph but until now he hasn’t been super interested. This time round he got a lot of joy from shaking the box around, and Elly couldn’t wait to take a turn either – probably because big brother was having so much fun.

Here’s how we did it:

1 – Squeeze paint into the yogurt pots – for Elly, this is the best part, sometimes the only part, of any painting activity. It used to be the same for Zeph, but at 4, he has started to enjoy the actual painting bit too. Even when the painting is not on himself.

2 – Drop marbles into the paint.

3 – Put a sheet of paper in the bottom of your box.


4 – Use a spoon to cover the marble in paint and scoop it into your box.


6 – Open up to see what you made.

Here are our first two, done one after another using the same marbles and without adding any extra paint. Lots of red – Zeph’s favourite colour! I love using art like this to cut out shapes and stick on homemade cards or use as gift labels.

This is my favourite one – Elly shook the box mostly on it’s side which meant the paint stayed more towards the bottom of the paper.


For thisĀ one we tried mixing pom poms with the marbles… Zeph insisted we still use at least some marbles, so the effect isn’t all that different the way it came out in the end.

20180208_1947551550704925.jpgAnd finally, Zeph tried shaking the marbles in an empty box before taking them out and then putting the paper in on top of the paint. I guess he got this idea because we’ve done printing style paining things before. He actually got into the box and stepped all over the paper to get the paint onto it.

I should add a caution though… despite its potential to be a minimal-mess activity, if your kids are anything like mine, it will probably end up messy anyway.


Today, you crawled into my lap for a cuddle

And I marked it

Because I’d realised earlier that I had forgotten the last time.

You don’t fit in anymore, like a squishy little ball

You are all sticky-outy elbows and knees and energy

Bumping into me as impatience to do propels you away again.

With one hand I want to launch you to fly, higher higher than I’ve been

And on the other I count the seconds.

Baby days


Baby days.

These days.
My every one consumed
By two small boys who make me the
center of their universe.

These back-breaking
soul-making days.
These exhausting tiresome menial days.
These on-a-loop glorious days.

These precious

Which will never come again.