All right, time to roll up the sleeves. The other night Laura ( a dear gal from a mom's group I'm connected with) asked me about fingerpainting. Some ideas came to mind, and I thought it would be nice to share info. If you have some other ideas, please leave them in the comments section as well.
Little ones tend to do best with some basic materials. I'm a fan of paint, and discovered that Crayola makes a very washable gel-type fingerpaint that comes in a tube. We picked this up and I have to say, I liked it a lot, mostly for the easy cleanup factor. The colors (three primary and green) are not as bright as some other fingerpaints, but what I'm going for is mostly experiential and not product-oriented in the least. I just strip kiddo down to his diaper, tape a big piece of paper onto the oilcloth that we have on the table, and put down a couple of squirts. Joaquin tried to pick it up, then smooshed it around. His forearm made some really interesting prints-- it left a feathery pattern as he moved it down the paper toward himself.
Here's something to consider: some kids don't like the texture of fingerpaints or other art supplies. That's okay. The important thing is to let them explore at their own pace and initiative and not to force them to touch anything they don't want to. Also, it really helps to do art time with very young children when they aren't tired. There are times that even the prospect of smearing paint can feel like too much for them when they'd rather be reading a book and snuggling, and cleanup can just push them over the edge. Also, strapping them into a high chair will limit the amount of mess, and confine it much smaller space.
Some fingerpaints work best when you use a special slick kind of paper, and moisten the paper. These are the nicer kinds, and you can pick them up at places like Columbia Art Supply or ArtMedia. These paints are prefered for art pieces that you want to keep or give to grandparents.
Other things you can do to help give kids some sensory experiences on the cheap:
A bin filled with smaller-sized beans. We have black, red, pinto and yellow split peas. Joaquin eats them on occasion and they go right through, but aren't big enough to choke on. Besides eating them, he likes to scatter them, dump them, scoop them, etc.
Fill bin with dry oatmeal or cornmeal. More to clean up, but also non-choking, nice sensory play. Be sure to include scoops (old containers are fine), measuring spoons, funnels, or collanders.
Some kids are happy to smear their food. If you are still using purees, or are just as free and easy as we are with food, let your child explore, smash and smoosh, pinch and tear their food apart during the meal. They really learn, and it's sometimes easier to feed them while they're distracted.
I also like to double over a fleece blanket on the kitchen floor and put down a pan of water filled just 3 inches with some bubbles on top. Use a gentle dishwashing liquid. The blanket keeps the floor safe from slippery falls and fleece helps keep the floor beneath drier than other fabrics. A big spoon, a whisk and some smaller pans/containers are enough to keep my boy busy while I get dishes done.
There are more in my head, but tonight's Joe's night out. Excuse any typos, drop us a line, and have fun with your kid.