Never give your toddler food coloring

I’ve been sitting on this “toddler friendly” art print project for YEARS because I wanted to test it before giving it my stamp of approval. Instead — holy cats, people! — I learned the hard way: NEVER GIVE A TODDLER FOOD COLORING.

Let me back up a bit. The following activity was suggested to me by Geek Dad in November 2011 as a toddler-friendly thing to do:

While toddlers may not be able to grasp larger scientific concepts, they certainly understand cause-and-effect, and they love messy play, which is why art-related projects with some hidden science involved can be great.

Playing with colors and materials can be a great way to explore a toddler’s creative side, while teaching the basics of color blending and the behavior of substances at the same time.

One project I like is making art prints with food coloring, shaving cream, absorbent card stock, and a squeegee. Working on a cookie sheet or cutting board for easy clean up, spray a single layer of shaving cream that matches the dimensions of your card stock. Put drops of food coloring on the shaving cream, and then use toothpicks, popsicle sticks, or other implements to draw patters with the colors. When ready, lay the card stock on top of the shaving cream, making complete contact over the surface. Count to 10, then pull the card off, and use the squeegee to wipe the shaving cream that has stuck to the card away. The result should be an excitingly colorful work of art! (This project appears in The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun.

Got all that? Well we tried it.

Super messy shaving cream activity for toddlers

Instead, just do this: Give toddlers shaving cream in a bowl, on a tray, on the table, or even straight into their clothes and hair (where it’s gonna end up anyway!) but, for the love of God, do NOT also add food coloring for a bit more fun.

Shaving cream and toddlers so much fun!

If you do, you will be covered in dots of staining splotches and cursing the idiot (YOURSELF) who thought it was a good idea as you carefully try to contain the mess from damaging the kitchen tables and counters as well as the rest of the house via footprints.

Don’t even give your elementary-age kids food coloring to play with. They will listen to you when you start freaking out about not touching anything, but they will still leave globs of color in strange places. (Though they might also declare the craft project “awesome”. Thanks, boys!)

All that being said, I liked the project. For adults who are not drunk. I think it might be appropriate for 11-year old girls working outside or in an art studio covered in splat mats. Maybe then. For my two-year old and yours, heck no. Try this no-mess finger painting instead.

No-Mess Fingerpainting

Related projects:

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Ken Denmead is the Bay Area dad behind geekdad.com and the author of the Geek Dad series of books including The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists: The Coolest Experiments and Projects for Science Fairs and Family Fun. He is also is the publisher and editor of GeekDad, the parenting blog for Wired magazine’s online presence, and publisher of the companion blog, GeekMom.

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on 510families.com or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.

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