She's going to get her hand prints all over the tablecloth anyway, so why not make it a decorative statement that can at least pass for sentimental and endearing? Don't, however, mistake this type of project as finger painting on fabric. Because your little one will need to follow directions and firmly stamp her painted hand once per hand print -- not smear it around, not draw with her fingers -- it's best to save this type of project until at least late preschool or early kindergarten.
Basic cotton tablecloths absorb paint well and are easy to clean. Since you'll eventually want to wash your tablecloth, it's important your kiddo stamp her hand print using non-toxic acrylic paint. The use of non-washable paint (read: permanent staining) is another reason why toddlers are not good candidates for this project. You'll also need a foam paint brush and a large tarp. Several clean damp paper towels nearby are also useful so you can clean her hands before she touches anything.
The Set Up
Lay the clean dry tablecloth flat on the tarp. Tape the corners of the tarp and the tablecloth to the floor so the fabric doesn't move when your child stamps her hands. Have your little one wash and dry her hands thoroughly, because nothing ruins the purity of a child's hand print like cookie or chip crumbs stuck in the paint. Pour a few tablespoons of paint in a small bowl and dress your kiddo in a smock or ratty T-shirt.
Explain to your child that after she finishes stamping her hand print she should freeze and you'll wipe it clean. Use the paint brush to spread a thick, but even coat of paint on her hand. Warning: painting your child's hand is likely to feel ticklish. Help her bend down and stamp her hand print. To make the hand print visible, use a paint color that contrasts with the color of the tablecloth. Pale pink hand prints aren't too visible on white or ivory cloth. Apply more paint to her hand after each hand print for the boldest impression.
Depending on your kiddo's patience and your commitment to aesthetics, there are several ways to stamp hand prints on a tablecloth. For a playful, natural pattern, let your child stamp her hand anywhere she wants, in all different directions. For a more traditional pattern, have her stamp her hand print around the perimeter. And, if you really want to make it look professional, draw x marks in pencil so your tyke's hand prints are evenly spaced and on a straight line.