Learning at Home: Messy Art Play Activity

Mom and kid fingerpainting

This activity is called “Messy Art Play” for a reason!

What You Need

  • Water
  • Clear or white plastic cups or bowls
  • Cooking oil and food dye
  • Eyedropper
  • Paintbrush (the bigger, the better)
  • Sturdy paper plates
  • Solid-colored paper
  • Newspaper or craft tablecloth

How to Do this Activity

First, cover your table with newspaper or a craft tablecloth.

Explain the various materials to your child, and experiment together to find out what happens when you mix food dye with water. Then, add oil. Have your child use the eyedropper to take some of the mixture from the cup or bowl and put one drop onto a paper plate. Ask her to brush the drop with the paintbrush — the color should move around, with the oil/water mixture gliding over the plate.

What Your Child Learns

Through this activity, your child observes how oil, water, and dye interact. She might notice that the oil and water do not blend together, nor do they have exactly the same consistency. Use these observations to spark an "I wonder" mindset. "Why does the oil feel slippery?" or "Why does the water stay separate from the oil?" Dig deeper by exploring other liquids.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

About The Bright Horizons Parenting Newsletter

Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

Whether you’re looking for parenting advice, or trying to figure out how to bring learning from the classroom to the family room, let Bright Horizons early education experts be your trusted, knowledgeable resource. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey.