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Kid-safe Tempera Paint vs. Watercolor Paint

by Debra Pachucki

Painting activities stimulate little learners in lots of different ways. Problem is, they also stimulate mom's fears of major messes and hours worth of cleanup. Finger painting, if you dare, encourages toddlers to develop fine motor skills, and painting with a brush or other tool enables preschoolers to continue to do the same while also developing hand-eye coordination. If fears of tiny, colored fingerprints left behind on household items and surfaces still haunt you, lay a disposable plastic tablecloth down on the activity table for mess prevention and easy cleanup, and arm yourself with a package of wet wipes.

Safety First

Watercolor and tempera paint sets are available in kid-friendly, non-toxic varieties. To determine whether a paint set is safe for your child, look over the packaging carefully. As with all art materials, paint sets should say “non-toxic” on the label. Another way to be sure that a watercolor or tempera paint set is safe for children is to look for an “ASTM D-4236” code on the packaging. This code means that the paints have been evaluated for safety by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Also, make sure the paints are not expired, since some ingredients can change in chemical composition over time. Pigment powders that require mixing are not recommended, since dust particles can be an inhalant hazard to children. Fortunately, both tempera and watercolor paints easily wash away with a little soap and water, meaning you don't have to worry about using harsh solvents to clean them from your child or your furnishings.

Similarities and Differences

Both non-toxic tempera and watercolor paints are water-based. They are easy for kids to work with, and to Mom’s delight, they are also relatively easy to clean. The main difference between these two types of paint is in their texture, use and application. Watercolor paints are semi-translucent and thin in texture. They work best on thin surfaces, like paper. Tempera paints are bold and thick. They will adhere to a variety of surfaces and work well on heftier materials such as poster board or wood.

Painting with Watercolors

Because watercolor is thin, it isn’t the best choice for finger painting. Preschoolers can use different brushes to paint with watercolor on paper, in coloring books, on windows or on clear plastic items such as ornaments or sun catchers. Breathe new life into watercolor painting projects with simple additions and variations. Sprinkling table salt into watercolor trays will produce a sparkling affect when paintings dry. Help your child press bubble wrap, string or crumpled foil onto wet paintings to make creative patterns and designs.

Painting with Tempura

Because it is thick, tempera paint is an excellent medium for painting with fingers -- and even toes! Dip a toddler's foot or hand into the paint and help her stamp foot and hand prints onto poster paper, card stock, paper plates or other heavy paper products. She may even enjoy painting with a variety of easy-to-manipulate tools, such as sponges, large paint brushes, combs, string, foam makeup applicators or plastic spoons. Take your child’s hand and help her dip the tool into the paint, then guide her hand across a sheet of heavy paper to help her make different artistic designs.

About the Author

Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.

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