Of all the questions I get one of the most common is “How do you deal with the mess?” This is often followed by “I just can’t do messy stuff with my kids.” If messy things really honestly upsets you I am here to tell you that it’s not worth the upset. If you will spend the whole time cleaning up after them, telling them to not do this or that it’s not worth it as an activity at your house. That’s OK. We all have our limits and not allowing messy art in your house doesn’t make you a bad parent.
If you are just nervous but eager to try it than these tips are for you. Over the years these have been my go to ways to make messy art like finger painting a wonderfully creative experience for my kids without me budding in every two minutes with a wipe interrupting their play. When we break up their play with wipes and cleaning up under them what we are saying is ” What you are doing is wrong, let me fix that.” or ” This is annoying me, let me make it right.” Sure this won’t register with every kid but most pick up on it and by nature most children want to please us. If we are going to let them be creative we need to find ways to make it work for all of us so we aren’t stepping in constantly.
These tips will help! These are old pictures of my now four and a half year old daughter, she was just under two when we did this activity.
1. If possible strap them in. If you use a booster seat for meals use that same chair for the activity. When their hands are covered in paint you don’t want them free to roam. If this isn’t an option position yourself so that you are between them and the area you do not want them to reach until their hands are clean. For us that’s the family room ( specifically the new couch) only a few feet away from the kitchen where we were creating.
2. Tape their paper to a cutting board, or right to the table if the table is easily washable. This prevents the picture covered in paint from hitting the floor and other things on the way down.
3. Dress your child in old clothes/ Pajamas. Little toddlers and smocks don’t really make a great pair. Avoid the dramatics and just let them wear something that you don’t care if it’s stained.
4. Use an old table cloth to protect your table. If you need to protect your floors try a shower curtain under your child’s chair.
5. Give them control and let them have small dishes of paint to explore with. Toddlers are on the verge of a lot of new independence and giving them some control during activities is a great way to support this development. You don’t need to direct this activity at all!
6. Have extra paper ( and anything else you are using) on hand so you don’t have to leave them unattended for a second.
7. Have wipes or a wet wash cloth, and a towel ready. Also don’t unbuckle the booster until after they are all the way clean.
8. If they are super messy my favorite trick is to have a big old bath towel ready and wrap them up in it, and go directly to the bath.
9. After the painting is dry display it with pride! This seems obvious but it’s really important. Children need to their their art to complete the process. They are artists and should be proud of their work!