Sometimes I don't think it matters what they paint. The process of dipping their paint brush or fingers into the paint and transferring it on to paper captivates their attention. Dip---paint, dip---paint, dip---paint.
Many kids like to paint the same small spot on their paper until there is a glob of funky looking colors and the paper turns mushy. The pretty paint blob may disintegrate into a hole in their masterpiece, possibly resulting in an unhappy artist.
Of course I encourage kids to paint more than just one section on their paper...but there is some learning happening with that gooey paint glob. What happens when two or more colors are mixed together? What happens when too much paint soaks through the paper? What happens when I try to pick up a paint saturated paper?
I encourage children to explore the painting process and learn by doing. It is much more fun to watch them go through this process than to tell a child, "No, don't do that" and having them ask, "Why?" I rarely answer a "why" question. Instead, I usually respond by saying, "Let's find out."
Finding out by doing (even if the result isn't ideal) empowers kids to try again. I make sure I have plenty of paint and paper to ensure enough attempts for success.
Herve Tullet's book, Mix It Up takes the reader on an interactive journey of mixing colors to make other colors. Shades and tints are also explored. I read this to my class on our Purple Day. Afterwards we mixed red and blue paint to make purple during circle time and then we finger painted.
Some kids LOVED to smear the paint around and draw with their fingers.
Other kids were not as excited about getting their hands into the paint and needed a little encouragement. One boy really doesn't like to get his hands 'dirty' so I asked him to use one finger to paint with. After watching the other kids he made a great painting with not one finger, but two! I was very proud of him doing something out of his comfort zone!
So the next time you do something new and it really doesn't turn out the way you expected or it falls to pieces...just think about Purple Finger Painting. Then get a new piece of 'paper', apply what you learned, and create a masterpiece you will be proud of.