Children are never to young to start painting and it doesn't have to be messy!
If you use water colours and limit the amount of water the kids have to hand, it can be a relatively clean experience with minimal cleanup, while still allowing your child the creativity of playing with paint and experimenting with various splotches on the paper.
Time: 10 minutes
Age: Under 5's
Water colour paint
Set your baby or toddler up with water colour paint and a small cup of water next to a piece of paper. Show them how to dip their finger into the water, then into the paint before pressing their finger onto the paper. You may need to guide their hand to do this the first few times until they get the hang of it, but they will probably catch on sooner than you think.
Allow them to continue until they lose interest - with small children this can be a matter of minutes as their attention spans are very short and they quickly move on to the next thing that catches their eye.
Remember to praise them for their efforts as this reinforces the way you want them to act, no matter how quick the activity ends up being.
If all goes well, you should only have to wipe down their hands with a wet cloth or a baby wipe before moving on to the next activity.