In a well-intended effort to introduce art to children as early as possible, it has become quite popular for parents to give babies yogurt based paints or to make flavored, edible playdough for toddlers. I even know of a mother who created edible paint from breast-milk, fruit purees, and infant rice cereal! Recipes for edible art supplies can be found across the internet, in magazines, and tucked away inside parenting books. Of course I am an advocate for encouraging children to create art, but I can’t honestly tell you that I think it is a good idea to give edible art supplies to children under the age of 3.
In my opinion, children need to learn how to respect and appropriately use art supplies from the start. Paint, yogurt or not, simply isn’t something people eat. Just this past week, I overheard a mother telling her friend, “Oh, this craft is going to be a disaster. I don’t think we can participate because my little one loves to eat finger-paints. When we paint at home, I brighten up strawberry yogurt with a drop or two of red dye and let him go to town.”
“Oh! What a great idea! You are sooo creative!”
“Thanks! I saw it on Pinterest! I just didn’t want to stifle his creativity, you know?”
I can’t be the only one who views the situation this way: The child (who was about 18-months old) eats paint because at home, he is encouraged to do so and (bonus!) it tastes like strawberries. In her very caring effort not to “stifle his creativity,” isn’t she doing just that by excluding him from the finger-painting activity due to her fear of him eating the paints? How will he learn the “right way to behave” if she will not teach and he cannot practice? I also can’t help but wonder how snack-time goes. Does her child become confused when he is reprimanded for smearing yogurt everywhere (in his mind, painting!) instead of using his spoon?
I did not want Colin and Owen to ever feel baffled about what they could and couldn’t put into their mouths at the craft table, so I have refrained from making edible art supplies for the past 4 years. From an early age, they learned not to taste playdough, suck on markers, chew crayons, or lick paint. When they brought art supplies up to their open mouth as toddlers, I told them, “No, we don’t eat . . .” and redirected them. If they happened to get a taste of it before I could correct them, I said something like, “Yuck! We don’t eat playdough. Playdough isn’t food. Playdough is for squishing and rolling!” The fact that they learned this has made craft time very enjoyable and (mostly) stress-free. We get to enjoy our time together creating with real art supplies and I don’t need to worry about whether they are going to eat the paste or lick the scented markers.
Edible art supplies are often appealing because parents feel that it is inevitable that their child will taste them. “It’s how she learns . . . and I want her to be safe,” they will gently defend. It’s true! Children do, in part, learn about their world through taste. And of course we want them to be safe, but do tell me what exactly is the child learning while they taste their yummy red, strawberry-flavored paint? If edible art supplies are being used for those reasons, I think it is still important to teach children how to appropriately use them and to discourage tasting.
With that said, now that Owen is 3 and has demonstrated absolute understanding of our family rule about not eating craft supplies, I thought it would be fun to introduce edible playdough for the first time, but not without a short conversation about it first.
Peanut Butter Playdough from The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
- 2 cups peanut butter
- 6 tablespoons honey
- Nonfat dry milk
1. Have a conversation with your child about this “special playdough” that you are creating together. Do we typically eat playdough? When can you taste art supplies?
2. Mix the peanut butter and honey together.
Peanut-free Alternative: Substitute a different type of butter (almond, cashew, soy) for the peanut butter.
You might also like: