Do you want a fun, easy way to build gross motor and fine motor skills in young children?  Take them outside, give them a paintbrush, add a small bowl or bucket or water, and let them paint!  Water painting is great for little ones and for children who have difficulty making strokes with writing tools.  My youngest daughter has Down Syndrome.  I will never forget when her occupational therapist took us outside and taught us how fun prewriting could be with a paintbrush and water.  Of course my older children loved it too!  And now I get to have fun all over again with my grandchildren.

Let’s talk about what is going on in this picture.  I’ve numbered each picture, so I could better explain how to support your child with this fun activity along with how it can strengthen fine motor, and gross motor skills.

M Chalk Paint Brush


  • sidewalk chalk
  • small container
  • small  paint brush


Start out by using a small container with water.  Toddlers will benefit from experimenting with putting the brush in and out. Basically, they will make a MESS!  Don’t be surprised it your child picks up the container and pours it out.  Using a small container will keep more of your sidewalk or cement area dry as they experiment with this.  Talk about what your child is doing.  “Are you putting the brush in the water?”  “Are you taking the brush out of the water?”  Then repeat simple words as your child does these actions.  Use one word directionality words such as in, out, on, over, under.  You are building important vocabulary too.


I put this as step two because young children need to have time to explore and play creatively first.  There doesn’t always have to be a learning objective to play.  Play is a child’s work.  If your child is getting frustrated with it tipping over or spilling, then help hold the container while they paint.


Draw lines, curves, shapes, or even a letter for toddlers to paint.  Don’t worry if they don’t stay on the lines.  Notice the gross motor skills that are happening in this picture as LITTLE M moves up and down bending her legs, using her trunk support, and building balancing skills while getting her paintbrush wet.  All of these experiences and movements are sensory building experiences.  Young children need lots of opportunities to twist, turn, bend, and stoop while playing.


Enjoy your time with your child.  Don’t worry about the Pinterest perfect pictures out there.  Your child will be learning so many things when they experiment with different tools for writing.  If you are modeling writing for your child, then your child will want to use those same tools.  How many of you have children who know how to turn your cell phone on and off by pushing the button?  They learn by watching you.  Those first strokes with sidewalk chalk and a paintbrush are the building blocks to writing.  If they want to do both at the same time, HURRAY!


Basically, this means that toddlers and young children will go back and forth experimenting.  Sometimes they will be very interested.  Sometimes they will be done quickly.  I always tell my daughter that using those large motor muscles (bending, stooping, walking) and fine motor  (holding the chalk and paintbrush) stretch their bodies and minds as they learn how to use them. It also takes motor planning which is a cognitive learning skill. Remember that play is a child’s work.  If they are engaged, play away.  When they get tired, put it away.

Outside Painting

As always, adult supervision is a must.  Talk to your child as you play together.  And remember you are building vocabulary, creativity, gross motor, and fine motor skills too!

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