Painting Sticks--A Lesson for Mom in Child Development

 I really do love our A Year of Playing Skillfully manual.  The pictures and descriptions are so lush and gorgeous that I am inspired (in spite of myself) to organize great projects for the kids to work on.  Even though all of the ideas can be found online for free if I just would open up Pinterest more often, I love having them organized and separate from the computer.   My binder sits on my counter top at all times, and as I make dinner or pause for a cup of herbal tea, I browse through it for preschool inspiration.

One of January's ideas is painting sticks.  It's a good process-over-product activity, and we have sticks in abundance in our little half acre of woods.  With zero trips to the store and an hour of prep time (gathering sticks, finding paint and brushes, and covering the table with paper), the kids had a fun activity that engaged them for an hour or more.

I haven't done a painting activity with the kids in many months, but I've noticed significant development in Brother's and Little Brother's drawings.  In the year and a half he's lived with us, Brother has grown from making faint scribbles on a page to making deliberate lines and circles to drawing faces with arms coming from their ears to making people with heads, necks, bodies, faces, arms, and legs all reasonably appropriately placed.  Little Brother has grown from not even being able to hold a crayon (I'm not kidding) to successfully make a mark on paper through the same stages as Brother to arrive at drawing heads with limbs.

Having done much reading about how significant and universal these drawing stages are for kids, I assumed that similar growth would show in their painting.

Not so.

Brother and Little Brother were playing with building toys in the bedroom, and they were slow to clean up, so they joined the painting activity late.  While they were off playing, I watched Lola and Baymax get started.  They dipped their brushes in multiple colors on their palettes (ice cream bucket lids), brushed their sticks a few times, stirred their paint colors together, brushed their sticks a few times, stirred their paint some more, and generally explored the supplies.  They were far more interested in discovering the qualities of the paint than they were in actually painting anything.

This seemed reasonable for a 24- and 25-month-old.

In the meantime, Nature Angel, Little Princess, and Mister Man were painting patterns and designs on their sticks.  They were mixing colors with care, cleaning their brushes between colors, and generally really focusing on creating works of art.  This seemed appropriate to me for ages 9, 7, and 5.

Ladybug's (age 6) first instinct was to glop the colors on, but being sandwiched between Nature Angel and Mister Man at the table, both of whom were painting with great care, she stopped herself, watched what she saw around her, and began mimicking the more developmentally advanced behaviors.  This, too, seemed appropriate for her experience.

Then Brother and Little Brother joined us.

(I have no pictures of them painting because once they joined the table, the babies started to be done, and I was up to my eyeballs in cleanup and paint refills and moving wet, finished sticks to the other table to dry)

The first thing they did was to mix their paints together into brown and green slop.  They stirred and stirred and stirred.  They dumped paint into their water jars.  They dumped water onto their paint palettes.  They swiped at their sticks a few times and went back to stirring and dumping.

They are 5 and 4 years old.

They were playing at the same level as the 2 babies.

I was dismayed at first. 

I felt they were wasting their art supplies.

But I repeated the mantra, "Process over product" several times in my head and after one false start at telling them to stop playing like the babies were, I bit my tongue and let them experiment at the developmental level they are currently at.

I'm trying to respect who they are instead of who I think they ought to be.

When Ladybug and Mister Man needed paint refills and I obliged, both Brother and Little Brother asked for more paint, too.

I mentally shrugged my shoulders and gave them each a little squirt of new paint.

Instantly it was mixed right into the glop they already had.

They talked excitedly together about how their paint had changed colors (it hadn't--at all).

I bit my tongue (again) and watched, trying not to judge--trying not to make my kids reproduce the same gorgeous art that appears in the A Year of Playing Skillfully manual--but to give room, to give opportunity, to observe and to learn.

What did I learn?

I'm not really sure.  I've been hoping to process some learning and invoke a bit of self awareness through the process of writing, but I'm left with only a sense that Brother and Little Brother are who they are.

Which is, I suppose, a really important lesson to learn.

They need to grow through various developmental stages at their own pace and in their own way.

I need to be patient, give them room to grow, and appreciate who they are right now.

Honestly, it's worked so far for drawing, building, and table manners (sort of).

Why not painting as well?


  1. Oh my goodness. That would be so hard for me to not intervene and try and make them "do it right". Good for you. Horray for Ladybug. I hope she felt proud of herself. You are amazing.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I forget that there are steps in between where a child is and where they're "supposed" to be. I want to see leaps, and I need to learn to be content with crawling before walking.

  3. I think it's so wonderful that you take time to sit back and observe. I don't do a lot of that. I spend too much time setting up and cleaning u to pay much attention to the process.

    "I'm trying to respect who they are instead of who I think they ought to be." This is something I think of often and applies to children at all ages.

  4. "I'm trying to respect who they are instead of who I think they ought to be": I just love this, and I'm appreciative of the time you take to document your efforts/progress in this regard. It's just all awe-inspiring!


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