DIY: Make your own dot dabbers for preschool

I love dot dabbers and as I prepare for the up and coming preschool year, I have been making my list of things I need to restock. I use up dot dabbers pretty quickly so I added them to the list but then I got to wondering if I could possibly make my own dot dabbers.. Hmmm…

I have been saving small water bottles for something and I decided to use them. They are fairly easy to squeeze and they would hold more than enough paint to last me a while…

I started by adding tempera paint to the water bottle. I filled the bottle about 1/4 full of paint….

Next, I added water up to the top of the bottle but not all the way to the top.  I didn’t know how much water per paint I should add but without the water, the paint was too thick. So this seemed to work pretty well. I suppose more paint could be added but I would not do less…

Then I put the lid back on the bottle and shook it really well to mix the paint and water up good. After the paint was ready to go, I was down to the tricky part. I needed to find something that would disperse the paint as evenly as possible but this was no easy task. I tried a cotton ball but it just got sopping wet and fell into the bottle after a few dabs. So I tried out these make-up sponges.

The makeup sponges don’t fit properly inside the bottle so I used tiny rubber bands and banded the sponges around the outside lip of the bottle. Make sure the bands are tightly on so they hold the sponge securely…

Then I flipped the bottles over and gave them a squeeze…

Let me say right now that if you squeeze the bottles hard enough, it is likely the sponge will pop off. I didn’t have a problem but I was being somewhat careful (but not too careful) so I wouldn’t end up with paint all over the table. I suggest that you give a few pointers to the children about squeezing the bottles gently so the paint will come out without popping off the top.

My paint was just a tad watery but it left really beautiful dots anyway. My husband walked by and said “what are you doing besides making lots of dots!”  I took that as a compliment…

I sat and played with my dot dabbers for quite awhile and barely ran through any paint…

Once you are done painting then just take off the sponges and rinse them out for another day. Add the lid to the bottle and put the paint away for another day too…

Now that I got you thinking, perhaps you have another idea for how to make a dot dabber or at the minimum, what else could be used for the top. Now that I have this going – my mind is twirling with other possibilities. I will have to work on those in my spare time!!

By |2011-07-20T00:24:25+00:00July 20th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Ariana Hall July 20, 2011 at 12:30 am - Reply

    I love it! Those things are so expensive … so creative 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:37 am - Reply

      Thank you Ariana:)

  2. Kristah July 20, 2011 at 12:35 am - Reply

    I wonder how hard it would be to cut the bottle tops so you could put the sponge on the inside of the cap. It is a great idea but Art and Education stores sell refillable bottles that might be worth buying.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:39 am - Reply

      We bought some refillable bottles from somewhere – possibly discount school supply but they were very difficult to take off the tops and they were quite small too. So I decided against buying them this time:)

  3. kewkew July 20, 2011 at 1:18 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. I can’t wait to give it a try. I’ve always wanted some dot dabbers for the girls. One question: not sure what make up sponges are.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 8:37 am - Reply

      Make up sponges can be found in most stores like Walmart or Marsh or CVS in the make up section. They are round and white and made of a soft foam and come in packages of 6 or so. They are often used for putting on foundation. I hope this helps 🙂

  4. Letty July 20, 2011 at 2:17 am - Reply

    How amazing and creative!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm - Reply

      Thank you Letty:)

  5. Leeanne A July 20, 2011 at 7:27 am - Reply

    OOOOOOOOOOO LOVE it!!!! Guess what I am making!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm - Reply

      Dot Dabbers!!!

  6. Carol D July 20, 2011 at 7:42 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this idea! I am setting up a new pre-k classroom and while I love dot daubers, the money available this year has been spent on more urgent items (like chairs!) 🙂 This will be perfect! And I am even going to WalMart this morning – makeup sponges are on my list! Thank you for ALL of your great ideas — the pictures are especially helpful!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm - Reply

      I noticed you spelled it Dot Daubers – I could not decide which way others would spell it! LOL! I know what you mean – I have so much to buy that purchasing these just seemed out of the budget at the moment..

  7. Diane July 20, 2011 at 8:17 am - Reply

    I am known as the dot queen at school so I absolutely love this idea and can’t wait to give it a try! It also shows the students the creativity of recycling and using things for different purposes. I am also working on making a light table for this year. Thanks!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm - Reply

      Yes – it is a great way to continue promoting the concept of recycling:)

  8. Scott July 20, 2011 at 8:26 am - Reply

    You’ve got my mind racing for possible toppers. Hmmm.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      Your mind is always racing!! That is what I love about you!

  9. jennie_hi July 20, 2011 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Hi I made some from using water colors/water/plant water stakes….I saw from another website. They work but didn’t work too well. SO I always wondered about using regular paint and water. You answered my question about that. Thanks. Maybe we will try it today.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      I saw this way too but didn’t try it. I would like to experiment with other types of paint or liquid water color when I get the chance.

  10. Carrie July 20, 2011 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Cannot wait to try this with my twins 🙂 what an awesome idea!! i will get my thinking cap on and stay tuned if anyone has other ideas for toppers..

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      You will have double the fun!

  11. You are just so smart! : )

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      Haha – I don’t know about that:)

  12. Autumn July 20, 2011 at 9:19 am - Reply

    I was JUST thinking yesterday that I needed these but I didnt want to BUY them. This is brilliant!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm - Reply

      Thank you Autumn!

  13. Michelle Willow July 20, 2011 at 10:22 am - Reply

    And today I bought some dot-a-dot markers! 🙁 Well, they will be spent fairly quick, probably 🙂

    • Bonna July 20, 2011 at 10:33 am - Reply

      Return them? Buy makeup sponges instead?

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm

        Hmmm, I would try to make your own set first and see how well it goes. If you don’t like the homemade then keep the store bought – if you do then return the store bought. I really like these for me but you will have to try it out first.

  14. Tammy July 20, 2011 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Great idea. I will have to try it. Dot dabbers are so expensive and the tops usually are picked off or the foam top rips off after awhile.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      I like them too and found mine just don’t work that well after not so many uses! I think because half the time we lose the lids:)

  15. Bonna July 20, 2011 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Great idea. I always felt like a victim having no choice but to purchase these for high dollars. Not any longer!
    One question though: Are the bottles too squeezable that a child could easily blow the top right off? If there is that chance mine will do it!! Would the sturdier water bottles from maybe the flavored water work better? I may give them a try as well. Can we find that dense foam in sheets in the same consistency? I think I have seen them used in packaging, like for a computer part or a shipped fruit basket or something. Just a thought.

    Thanks once again for another great suggestion and for waking up my tired mind this morning!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      You know – I don’t think they are too squeezable. I tried the harder bottles and they wouldn’t squeeze at all so it was hard to get the paint to rise to the top. Keep in mind that part of the fun with this will be squeezing the paint. It isn’t that the top will pop off really but that the paint will squeeze out rapidly if it is too thin or squeezed really hard. I think preschoolers can learn to use them very easily!

  16. Roopa @Putti Prapancha July 20, 2011 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Great idea, love all your DIY ideas:) I had seen these being made with floral tubes here

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      Yes – meant to share that link and got in a hurry – I am so glad you have shared it for me!! I didn’t get a chance to try these but still would like to!

  17. Carrie July 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    I’m wondering about the possibility of just using a regular kitchen sponge… I would have to be fairly dense but you could cut it down to just bigger than the whole and squeeze it into the hole. I would think you could hot glue it in, though that would make it permanent and not refillable.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      I thought about a sponge and it may work very well. I couldn’t find one when I was at the dollar store that didn’t have scratch pads on the back so I just went with what I had:)

  18. April July 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    I spell it dauber as well. my grandma gave us quite a few of the ones made for bingo….but if we ever run out of those, I might have to try this!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      My father in law played bingo all the time! I wish I had some of his left-over daubers!

      • Ashley Kate July 25, 2011 at 9:23 am

        We call them ‘bingo dabbers’ in WNY! :o)

  19. Rose Mockford July 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    What a great idea, thanks for sharing. I’m thinking I might try using cable ties (not sure what they’re called in the States-you know the adjustable zip-lock style?) to secure around the make-up sponge, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t pop off then!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm - Reply

      I like to hear other ideas!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm - Reply

      I should say that the biggest problem is not popping off but coming loose. I also find that if you squeeze super hard, the paint comes out a little quick but it wasn’t something that made me worry. It was all manageable. Let me know how the ties go!

  20. Debbie July 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    I loved the idea of the dot daubers. I am also worried about the water bottles being to thin that the students would squeeze to hard and would be wearing the paint. I am going to check out the travel section in the Dollar Store and see if they have small travel size bottles that would be a little sturdier. Will let you know how it works out. Thanks for the great ideas. 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Travel bottles would work very well. I found some and thought about using them instead but I really wanted to try the water bottles just to use them up for now. I love your idea and when I run out of all those water bottles, I will give that a try.

  21. Lauralee July 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Love it. We are headed to Big Lots later, and we will be buying make up sponges!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm - Reply

      I found some at dollar store too!

  22. Jackie July 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    I have been trying to figure out how to make these! I tried cotton balls attached to clothespins to do a dot stuff … It wasn’t the same thing though but it was a fun way to paint. I’ll give these a try for sure.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      I love cotton balls on clothespins – a different kind of fun experience! Marking that on my to-do list this year:)

  23. Kristah July 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    I think I found something that might work if you can get your hands on them. Do you know anyone who works in the maternity section at the hospital? Come check out the picture on my blog

  24. Michelle July 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    I love this idea. There really isn’t a fabulous set of daubers out there. They say they are refillable, but when your class pounds them like hammers (even after being asked nicely not to), there is NO getting those lids off to refill. The tips also lose their material on the cheap ones, pretty quickly. I am so excited about this that I am going to hit walmart tonight to get some make up applicators to try this. Thank you so much for all of your ideas, I really enjoy your blog!!

  25. Ashley Kate July 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    You are quite brilliant! I can’t wait to try this and pass it along to other teachers! :o)

    Ashley Kate

  26. renelik July 25, 2011 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Brilliant! I have been thinking of how I could DIY a dot dabber for a long time as I find it quite expensive but I couldn’t think of anything. This is great!

  27. Savannah July 27, 2011 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Great idea! I made some for my kids today using kitchen sponges..I glued the sponges into the neck of the bottle so that I can put the caps back on

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Awesome! I am going to hop over to take a look now!

  28. Nadia July 28, 2011 at 2:21 am - Reply

    This is such a great idea! It was also something that I am in major need of! I haven’t been able to find the dot a dot type of paints here in South Africa and I have looked everywhere. Importing it from the US would be a bit too costly. I hope this one will work as a great alternative for us. 🙂 Thanks!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 28, 2011 at 8:56 am - Reply

      I hope it works well for you too! Just play around with the idea and you will find something that works for you!

  29. Lee January 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Oh my goodness…I have a lot of bingo daubers that have “juice” but the top is destroyed. Can’t wait to try this method for a replacement top!!!

  30. Elga January 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Super creative! Love your idea… saw it on Pinterest. I would definitely make them, those dot dabbers are insanely expensive here in Indonesia 😉

    Warm hugs from far-far away.
    Love your blog so much!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      Warm hugs back Elga!

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  34. Janet October 6, 2018 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    Love these dabbers. I have made and used them many times. I wrap some electrical tape around the top also to help hold the sponge on. The children I work with love using them.

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