Finger painting as fun, learning and an act of resistance.


An old photo appeared on my Facebook page this morning. It was a picture I took of my students finger painting in 2012.

I reposted the picture and wrote:

“Looking through some old pics of student art work I am reminded that one of the things that drove teacher-hating trolls the most nuts was that I, an elementary Art teacher, was paid a full teacher’s salary for “finger painting with kids.” So I always made sure that during the school year that is exactly what I did. And post it. Kids love to finger paint and it is messy! And I was paid in full.”

It is true that we finger painted as an act of resistance to teacher-bashing.

Well, at least I did.

I’m pretty sure that my kindergarten and first grade students did not follow the latest debates about standards and outcome-based instruction, PARCC testing or guided learning.

They cared less about where I was on the salary schedule.

My art room had large formica tables that sat four kids, two on each side. I would walk around with a bottle of laundry starch and pour a puddle in front of each student directly in front of them and then repeated the walk with colors of poster paint.

A piece of paper could be pressed against a final picture making a print. But I liked the fact that the image was temporary and changeable with the wipe of a hand.

An observation about art in elementary school Art curriculum:  We don’t have our students draw enough.

Sure. They draw what they are directed to draw: Flowers, landscapes, houses, people. That kind of thing.

What I found was that my students in kindergarten and first grade didn’t really draw from observation and less from direction. And no matter how often I would point out that eyes were not circles with dots in the middle of another, bigger circle, that was how they drew them except to satisfy me.  They drew from stuff that they saw in their heads and they did it as an act of story telling. My students would draw stories in real time, often telling their stories aloud as they drew one thing on top of another. If night came, they covered the entire picture with black crayon. If morning came, the sun would appear.

I don’t think we treat drawing as story telling in school seriously enough. Although I also fear treating anything in school too seriously as it may appear on the test.

Finger paints are a perfect medium for this.

And the clean up was the most fun of all.

I handed out soaking wet sponges to clean up all the laundry starch and paint. By the way, laundry starch dries fairly quickly but can be reconstituted with a spray water bottle.

Some students loved the dry colored starch that appeared on their hands like a pair of gloves.

Some hated the tactile sensation.

When we were done everything was gone. Nothing to hang up. Nothing to take home. Nothing to grade. Nothing to evaluate.

Nothing but the experience.


12 thoughts on “Finger painting as fun, learning and an act of resistance.

  1. Loved this post ! You taught my kids at Field . You were/are a top notch educator! I can’t wait to try this style of finger painting with my grandbabes – 4 who are 4 and under!
    Mary Hestet-Tone

    1. It must be over 20 years ago! But I remember you and your children very well. I remember you as a most supportive parent. I recall one year you invited the entire staff to your home for a holiday lunch.

  2. Well that was certainly a great waste of taxpayer money! You spent the day finger painting in protest similar to all of the liberal protesters clogging out streets and wasting taxpayer money on first responders who need to babysit your silly protests. Great job Fred!

    1. Laughing. You are like a Pavlov-trained dog. I wrote that teacher-haters go nuts about my finger painting with kindergarten and first grade kids and you react as predicted. Thank you.

  3. Creativity cannot be taught but it can be squelched by regulations and closed mindedness.
    This was a great exercise, Fred! Thank you for providing an outlet for creativity and the visual storytelling experience for your students. Children need to have many different chances for expression, especially in the formative years. (We used to speak about a well-rounded education which included the arts, humanities, sports, math and the sciences). Taxes were never mentioned in a well-rounded education.

  4. FRED,
    Did you ever pudding paint? As a teacher of high school Psychology in H S District 214, Arlington Hts., Illinois, in a Unit study of emotions, I would have the students bring chocolate pudding to class. On a sheet of typing paper, the students would be asked to paint various emotional states without using words. The students always enjoyed the activity. At the end of class,I would tell the students to take home their painting and “put it IN the refrigerator”.

    Yours in Art Education,

    Dr. Charles W. Birch, Morris, Illinois

  5. Dr. Charles–Taught Early Childhood SpEd, & we pudding-painted (the kids tended to eat it off their hand AND off the paper!). BUT–they had FUN, a great tactile experience & learned other things (sharing, boundaries/respect for others, etc.). Not to mention that they also learned that life is messy, but it’s okay to make a mess–you just clean it up afterwards.
    That is, if you hadn’t eaten it all!
    Play: the work of children–U. of C. Lab School Kindergarten Teacher & National Treasure, Vivian Gussin Paley.

  6. I love my students’ pictures. Children whom I think may have understood little of the lesson portray their grasp of the material in their artwork. My superiors, however, do not hold their artistic talents in high esteem.

  7. Most of my curriculum-related art projects have been replaced with more work for my students to make sure they reach their learning goals by the end of the year. Gone are the days when we could take the time to make a 3D map of their community with food boxes, paint, and paper. We no longer draw large sea creatures, paint them, and stuff them with paper to hang from the ceiling. This is wrong. I know it’s wrong. I hate it. The principal even scoffed at an ABC project the kindergarteners created in December. And by the way, my daughter is 33 and she makes more money than me after 28 years of teaching. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

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