Discover How to Easily “Paint” without Paint


Creating a Fun Mess while “Painting”

All the kids I know love to paint. Once my son tried painting for the first time, he was hooked and has not stopped asking to paint since. At his age, it starts with small dabs of paint here and there and ends with his hands covered in paint. But he really loves it! And without him realizing, this is a form of sensory and messy play that helps in multiple areas of his development.

But painting does not always mean putting paint onto paper using a brush. The variability that painting allows you is a great place to add in more learning opportunities for kids. Not only can you switch the tools used to paint, you can also ditch the paint itself and use different materials. The switch in materials allows kids an opportunity to see something they have probably seen a thousand times in a new way. While this seems like a small switch to adults, kids have never seen items used this way, and they are building the foundations of critical thinking skills. Changes in the materials also gives kids a new avenue of creativity vs regular paint alone. 

Painting Supplies

Heres what you’ll need:

  • A space that can get messy and easy to clean up
  • Any type of paint brushes, the more variability the better!
  • Paper, cardboard, or something to paint on
  • Paint shirt or smock
  • Material used for painting

What to use for Painting


Food is often a good substitute for paint, and one of the easier foods to use is jello. The key is to make the jello as the box instructs, but start painting with the liquid jello when it’s warm. Because it’s more liquidy than regular paint, the jello goes a long way for painting. One of the best parts of using jello is the bright colors and the smell of the jello. The scent is just another way to add sensory experience into the activity. Try to talk to your kids about the colors they see and what they are smelling. 



Pudding is a great way to use a food kids are very familiar with (that’s cheap and easy to make) in a new way. The consistency of pudding is thicker than regular paint and offers a different feel for the kids. This is another material to talk about different colors and smells. If all the other materials are clean, you can even let them eat the ‘paint’. 

Shaving Cream

Shaving cream is a favorite painting material among kids largely because of the consistency. Kids love the tactile experience of squishing the shaving cream in their hands and spreading it around. Shaving cream is firm enough to keep its shape and stay on little hands, but light enough to paint. For older kids, you can also try writing letters or drawing pictures in the shaving cream using their fingers. The best way we’ve found to do this is to put down aluminum foil as the ‘paper’ when using shaving cream as the paint. 


When my mom first suggested water, I thought she may have meant colored water on paper. But the best way to paint with water is outside on the pavement on a warm day. The great part of this activity is that kids can actively see their ‘paint’ disappear. The added bonus of painting outside with water is that there’s virtually no clean up to do! 

Mix it up for Painting!

For any of these painting materials, you can add food coloring for new colors or another mixing activity for kids to do themselves. You can add other things to change it up as well. Try adding different spices to change the smell. My son absolutely loves it when we add sprinkles to the shaving cream. Not only does it add a new texture, the color of the sprinkles slowly starts to spread in the shaving cream. Besides what else are you going to do with the big container of sprinkles in the pantry? Let us know if there’s something else you love to use as paint!

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