Painting for Literacy

Painting for Literacy

As children grow, they learn, imagine, and build connections within their communities. There are many ways to support what children are already learning while inspiring them to share the stories that foster understanding and creativity.

Unstructured arts activities, where children are encouraged to create without specific end goals, are a great way to support children and build connections between family members. Painting is one such activity that the whole family can engage in and that supports literacy and math skills, at all stages of development. 




Watercolor palettes

Paintbrushes of various sizes

Large paper (Rives BFK paper is great because it holds up to heavy layers of paint and water without tearing. The results of painting are better with quality papers) 

Painters tape

Containers for water (shallow, recyclable containers are nice)

Optional- Masking fluid, white crayons, or tape for making resist patterns



Tape edges of sturdy paper to table, floor, or other hard surface for painting. If you want to keep a space free of paint it is a good idea to put down a plastic table cloth or similar covering on to the surface first. 

Set out paints, water, brushes. If desired, try setting out something that inspires your family; this could be plants, toy animals, sea shells, or anything else that might get the gears of a story rolling.

Get painting! For some, reading a story together before beginning to paint is a good way to get creative muscles moving. Stories that are about letters, counting, or themes that are important to your family may inspire thoughts that connect to later painting and storytelling. 

Be flexible! Expect that some children will make very representational paintings and others will be more drawn to abstraction in their painting. There is no right answer, and also no wrong answers. Celebrate the uniqueness of each child and painting.

Even if your child is at a place in their development where they are more interested in mixing all the colors than in creating representational objects, let them. Mixing is a great way to learn the chemistry of colors, gain motor skills, and get ideas rolling. While adults may not always know what is happening in a child’s mind, we can bet there are many more ideas than the child will share with us. 

For older children the act of painting may be relaxing or provide a way for them the share what is important to them. Listen, ask open ended questions, and try to let them guide the way. Paint on individual papers or work together on larger pieces. 

For more fun and shared learning, make up painting games, or work together to tell stories. Final pieces can be matted and framed. For more abstract or collaborative paintings, try moving a mat over the dried painted paper until you find a section you like; trace around the mat board and then cut out the section to frame. Papers can also be turned into cards, bookmarks, or book covers. 

The adventures are boundless; just keep an open mind and watch for the stories, letters, and numbers that occur naturally as children express themselves and connect to what they are learning in their lives.



Jess Graff is an artist, writer, and educator who is currently the Residency Manager at Portland Children’s Museum.