Making your own homemade paint for creative play can save educators and parents a lot of money over time and as a bonus you know exactly what is going into younger children’s mouths AND it washes easily off skin and out of clothes!
For some reason whenever I try and buy ‘washable paints’ the claim does not live up to the name and is it just me or do washable paints tend to have a funny texture and smell? However, I am a firm believer in letting children really explore with the paint they are using and that tends to mean messy bodies and paint on clothes…as both a parent and educator I don’t want to worry about stained clothes or stopping children in their play because they might get ‘messy’ so I find ways to make that less of an issue!
Offering children opportunities to engage in messy, sensory play is so important but I know it can cause a little anxiety on the part of educators and carers so one of my biggest tips is to ensure your painting materials are truly washable and therefore all will come out in the wash or a soak in the bath! Making your own paint also means you can save a whole lot of money and know exactly what is in the materials they are using (especially useful when playing with babies and toddlers who like to still taste everything!) .
When I first began working in early childhood as an assistant we made all our own paint and paste and used powder dyes to colour. Acrylic paint had to be reserved for special projects and we very rarely used it (or we had to deal with a ‘please explain’ from our director or owner!) It was a rite of passage to learn how to make paint, playdough and other sensory materials for play.
I have been surprised recently at how many educators have never heard of making their own paint and materials – I find that sad but I do understand it, everything is more readily accessible in the educational shops now and there is everything ready to go that we once had to make ourselves. I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of these skills though and making your own paint is just one way to show a commitment to sustainable practice.
If you work or play with young children you will know that they use A LOT of paint and paste when they get into the messy zone, this can sometimes hold you back from offering certain experiences and activities. However, if you know the paint costs next to nothing and is non-toxic if they happen to do a quick taste test, then it makes the whole process a lot more fun I promise you.
Think making your own sounds great but would probably be to much effort? I’m going to show you how simple it is – let’s get started!
What you need to make Homemade Cornflour Paint
- 4 tablespoons cornflour (homebrand is fine – I find the one that isn’t gluten free thickens faster)
- A little water from the tap
- A full jug of boiling water (not just hot)
- A large heatproof bowl
- Your favourite whisk
How Do I Make Homemade Paint?
- In a large bowl put 4 heaped tablespoons of cornflour.
2. Use a little water from the tap to mix to a smoothish paste (like making custard or white sauce).
3. Take your kettle of boiled water and slowly pour it into the bowl whisking briskly as you do.
4. You need to move quickly as it will thicken as you pour in the water. If you are using gluten free cornflour you may need place in the microwave for 30-50 seconds to thicken up as it doesn’t work as well as the original cornflour I always used in the past.
5. Decide the texture you want. I like it a little runnier for easel painting and craft but thicker for finger painting-type activities. By adding more or less water you can reach the texture you prefer. Don’t worry if your first batch comes out lumpy – it can take a bit of practice but don’t waste it – lumpy makes for even more sensory fun and sometimes I even do it on purpose!
6. Now you have your paint base. If you want to use it as a paste for sticking and collage just leave it white (if you need a stronger glue just add a few drops of PVA and mix in). If you want to colour your paint add a little sprinkle of edicol dye or food colouring – the kids will love to help with this part.
7. You can involve the children in this process by letting them mix the cornflour paste before you add the hot water and sprinkling the edicol dye or food colouring into the paint base afterwards. They will also have fun washing the whisks and making more bubbles in the kitchen sink to help you clean up!
8. I prefer to use edicol vegetable dyes with my cornflour paint base to colour because they make such lovely vibrant colours and I also know that although they do stain hands for a little while, it comes off in a bath and it definitely washes easily out of clothes. You can also use food colouring but the colours won’t be as bright or lasting.
How to Store Your Homemade Paint
This cornflour paint will keep for up to a week before it begins to get smelly but you must store it in the fridge. It will thicken and become jelly like when refrigerated but you just add a little warm water and give it a good mix before you need to use it each day.
I like to make up a large batch of white paste and store in a plastic container with lid (ice cream containers are the perfect size). Then I just scoop out however much I need into the paint pot or similar each day -add a sprinkle of colour, stir and good to go!
If you use happen to use baby food in jars at home or work make sure to recycle and save for your paint as they are a fantastic size and don’t take up much room in the fridge.
When dry the paint looks like any other paint on paper but sometimes after a few weeks it can become flaky if used on cardboard or hard surfaces. I’ve never really had any problem though and it has certainly saved me a lot of stress and money over the years!
Ideas for Using Your Homemade Paint
Add some tools
Why not add a few little tools to extend their play and creativity? We love using shaving brushes here as they are so easy for little hands to hold and move around.
Sticks are lots of fun for making patterns in the paint and older kids love to write their name and make a masterpiece or two. You can use craft sticks from the collage trolley or simply collect some sticks from around the yard!
As you can see this batch was rather lumpy but it just provided more opportunity to explore with the senses and was perfect for fingerpainting and sticks!
Warm Fingerpainting Fun
Warm cornflour paint is a lovely sensory experience and even I enjoy squelching it through my fingers if given the chance! Spoon your colours out onto a table (I would suggest outside!) for some finger painting fun!
When they have finished their artwork on the table why not help them make a print to keep? It’s so easy. Simply lay some paper over the top of the table, get them to press down and make some hand prints then peel back for a masterpiece!
Such a joy on a cold Winter’s morning…..warm cornflour paint to squish and ooze through little fingers…letting them mix the colour dye through the paint gives the activity an added element of excitement and discovery!
Explore Big & Small
Use brushes and cornflour paint to explore the simple concepts of big and small in this activity perfect for toddlers and little hands!
Cooking and Role play
Add muffin tins, bowls, spoons and other baking essentials from the kitchen, add a sprinkle of colour here and there then stand back and watch the cornflour paste baking begin! An excellent sensory activity that also offers opportunities to explore colour mixing and role play.
Explore Texture with Sponges
Grab a tray, your cornflour paint and some homemade painting sponges with different textures and sizes to invite lots of hands on sensory play – all ages will enjoy this one!
Stamp With Nature
Add a little thinned cornflour paint (just use more water) to empty takeaway food trays with a damp kitchen sponge and then see what you can find in your backyard that would make interesting sensory stampers – see how we used seed pods to stamp with here.
Experiment With Colour Mixing and Squeezing
Add your base cornflour paste to trays then watch as the children use squeeze bottles with water colours to mix, investigate and create in this simple activity.
As with any creative and messy play experiences outdoors I always like to keep a tub or bucket of water close by so that the children can come back and forth to wash hands and allow them a sense of independence and control over how messy they want to be. Some children need to wash their hands often during sensory play and others not so much.
I hope I have convinced you to give making your own homemade paint a try . I promise you will feel a sense of achievement and a whole lot less stress when you watch the children experiment and create with something you have made and know will wash out easily! Especially useful for those moments when you return from the shops and realise you have colourful handprints on your behind (please say it’s not just me that has those moments!!).
Have you made your own paint before? I’d love to hear how you have used it or perhaps you’d like to share some inspiration and photos with us in The Empowered Educator Facebook Community with other early childhood professionals from all across the world!