Finger painting is a great way for older children to re-visit, relax, and enjoy what Viktor Lowenfeld called the Scribble stage (common to ages 2-4), in his book Creative and Mental Growth. We did quite a bit of expressive finger painting in Summer ArtBreak with children ages 4-8.
The joyfulness of the mess is part of the point of finger painting. Just keep calm and follow these tips:
1. Put a double layer of newspapers on the table (or have the children do this). It can be simply rolled up and thrown away.
2. Each child should don a smock. See my post on June 4, 2012 for how to make inexpensive smocks from t-shirts.
3. A damp washcloth next to each finger painter will allow children to wipe their hands and remove most of the paint before using the sink for a final wash-up.
4. Demonstrate how to use the paint: how to open and close the cap, squirt small amounts at a time. I keep the containers in a tub and have the children work from there. We use only red, blue, yellow and white and suggest that children try mixing the colors, inviting them to begin with two. They never fail to be delighted when they make green, orange, purple and pink. Color magic!
5. Have a bucket by the sink for children to deposit their used washcloths and smocks. I just carry the bucket home, put the contents through the washer and hang on a rack inside or outside to dry.
6. Have the children wipe up any paint on the table.
7. Finished paintings can dry on a rack, if you have one, or on newspaper spread on the floor (hallways are great for this in a school).
8. Re-teach prep and clean up when it’s needed.