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Why Making A Mess Is A Kid’s Job

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”  Words have never been truer than when in relation to children and what they do – make a mess. 

As a parent, it is difficult for me NOT to get mad when the kids make a mess.  It isn’t the mess I dislike as much as it is the not-picking-up part.  Part of me would just as soon not have the messy toys in my house – no play dough or paint, no little cups and pots, no construction toys like Zoob, no scissors, markers or glue.  If they aren’t here, the kids can’t make a mess with them, right?

But, the fact is, kids WILL make a mess.  That’s what they do.  They explore their environment to its fullest, and they use creativity in ways we seem to forget as we grow older.  Children dive head-first into delightful things, such as packing peanuts and glitter.  It is fun; it is learning.

So, while I might not want to sweep up the shredded paper ONE MORE TIME or clean the marker up off the kitchen table – AGAIN, I know that my kids are learning to express themselves and discover more about the world around them with each exciting activity they do, no matter how messy it is.  And that is our job as caregivers – to expose children to as many different situations, stimuli, activities and experiences as possible in a safe (and hopefully fun) way.  Of course, the other side of that is to also teach our children to be responsible and clean up after themselves.  I’m still working on this one.

Someone remind me of this when my youngest manages to spill the fish food all over the carpet again tonight, okay?

The Delicate Shell Of Creativity

Children are uninhibited creatures.  They are much like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, right before the snake showed up and ruined the party.  It isn’t until we put parameters on them that they start to lose that inhibition and practice boundaries.  In art, however, the fewer parameters we place on a child, the more they blossom.

I witnessed a disturbing scene at our local children’s museum the other day.  A grandmother was in the art room with her granddaughter, about 4 years old.  The granddaughter was having a marvelous time, smearing bold colors across the large piece of paper, sweeping strokes of purple, blue, and brown, then swiped with a brush of white.  There were dots of orange and green across the top and bottom.  She was having a grand time.

Then grandmother said, “That is an UGLY picture, Victoria!”

Everything about that child changed.  Victoria dropped her head, slowly replaced the brushes, and took off her smock.  She had the look of defeat all over her.  What was a wonderfully freeing experience for Victoria had instantly been squashed by her grandmother.  And, since it was her grandmother that was telling her this, it must be true, right?

The woman went on to show Victoria the “proper” way to draw a flower, a bird and a tree.  But by then, Victoria could have cared less.  And, I would be surprised if Victoria ever felt the same way about painting again.

With art and creativity, the sky is the limit.  It does not matter if the pig is green and the sky is orange.  A painting of a black flower on top of a red house is great.  Playdough CAN BE MIXED.  Snakes can have legs.  Children can be free to imagine whatever it is they want.  And, it is a beautiful thing.  Art is a reflection of themselves, of their inner spirit and creative juices.  It is from inside, not some copy of something an adult does.  When we stifle a child’s creativity like this, something inside them no longer thinks they are quite as good as they were a moment ago.  It is like a little bit of the child in them dies.

So, Victoria, and all the Victorias out there, I think your art is beautiful – just like you.  Paint your rainbow of purple, blue and brown with a whitewash on top.  Or, paint something else.  I think it is fantastic.  And next time, I’ll hang it on MY refrigerator at home for you.

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