I’ve read and heard a few things recently which have made me realise how scared of mess many parents are. Quite a few have told me that they never do any art or craft work with their children at home, not because of any lack of interest or inclination, but simply because they’re afraid of the mess and clearing up involved. The opinion seems to be ‘lets leave that to school or nursery‘ or at best, to the proliferation of art activity clubs that have sprung up. Other art activities I have come across are expressly designed to be as unmessy as possible. This again is for the parent’s benefit rather than the child’s. It’s an attitude which I can understand, and to some extent sympathise with, but which sometimes I feel is misguided. Because as far as younger children especially are concerned, the mess is a large part of the fun and provides an important part of the learning experience. Denying it is denying much of the creative value of the activity in the first place. By mixing paint, splashing, flicking and smearing it for example, children will learn a great deal. That’s not to say that damage limitation shouldn’t take place, but I think the overall concern should be to control the mess rather than remove it completely.
So, with all this in mind, and for the benefit of those whose fear of mess is greater than their urge for creativity with their kids, here are my top 10 tips for keeping the mess under control:
- Make sure all paints/crayons etc. are washable. I have to say that in my experience I find some colours are more ‘washable’ than others. Pink and purple seem to be especially troublesome.
- Cover up clothes with aprons, overalls, or an old shirt.
- Cover the table with a plastic cloth or newspaper.
- If possible use non-upholstered or wipe clean chairs.
- Try and contain the mess to a room with a hard floor, or if this is not possible cover the floor area around the table also with a cloth.
- When it comes to paint I use separate pots for each colour (or the tempera blocks) with a brush for each. This also helps to keep the colours ‘clean’. You can have a separate white plastic plate for a palette if they want to do some colour mixing, and a pot of clean water (ideally not too tall or easy to spill). Try to place these within easy reach, but away from elbows where they might get knocked. Keep to hand a supply of wet wipes, kitchen roll etc. for quick emergency clean-ups.
- Keep the lids on glitter when not in use, and try to supervise it’s use as far as possible, if you don’t want the whole pot emptying and getting deposited on the floor and around the house. Shake excess glitter immediately onto a sheet of paper, and then pour into another pot. Don’t worry if separate colours get mixed up – it actually looks quite pretty and can be used again.
- Keep things that aren’t currently being used, to one side, but easily accessible by you if they are needed, to avoid too much clutter building up on the table, as this is how things get spilled or knocked over.
- When children have finished, get them to wash their hands immediately.
- And finally – if the weather is fine, do your messy activities outdoors!