“Ohhh no! Come with me, you’re too young to paint! ” A toddler who has been dabbling his fingers in paint is whisked up and away by a parent and plopped down beside some cars.
Parents, grandparents and caregivers routinely move small children away from paint in this drop-in program. Whether it is paint on the table with brushes, paint on the floor or paint at the easel, all are out of bounds for some toddlers. The facilitator of this program would love to have toddlers paint, and has never imposed restrictions about an appropriate age to paint. In fact there are photos around the room of children, small and big, with paint on their hands, faces and arms. Mess is acceptable here, there is a sink nearby, smocks are available. So why does there seem to be a ‘rule’ about the ‘right ‘ age to paint?
Do we think a toddler is going to go wild? Throw paint at the ceiling? Toss a brush at a bystander? Pour it on someone’s head?
Do we think that because a toddler isn’t making marks on paper that are representational they are
therefore unable to use paint ‘properly’?
Does making marks with hands or fingers, or pushing the brush around in circles not count as painting?
What role do clothes play? Has keeping clothing clean become a value of childhood?
Do we think toddlers are not capable of experimenting with texture, colour, brush, paper?
Do we think toddlers are too young to make their own choices about what materials they would like to explore?
Are toddlers simply not trustworthy?
Is there too much unpredictability giving paint to a toddler? Does it mean we will lose control?
When is the right age to paint? Would we ever tell someone they were too old to paint?
What are we afraid of?