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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 Wonder of Watercolors

Do you remember the palette of paint you had as a child?  It was probably the rectangular box with the eight or so oval color “bricks”: red, orange, yellow, green, blue violet, brown and black.  The plastic brush would nestle right in front, and you would get a little cup of water to rinse off your brush – a cup of water that would magically turn murky brown to black after only a few rinsings. 

What you probably DIDN’T know when you were creating those Monet-inspired masterpieces for your parents to hang from the refrigerator that you were doing one of the most important jobs of your early life: you were PLAYING.  Play is definitely a child’s work, and outlets such as painting can benefit so many developmental areas.

The physical act of painting is a practice in fine motor skills.  The pincer grasp, one that is so vital for good writing skills, can be used to hold a brush, but for those children who are not yet comfortable with it, they can grasp the brush in other ways, making them successful without being corrected.  Being able to dab your color on the brush and wipe off the excess paint only encourages young brains to perform multiple tasks well once writing skills become more pronounced.  With younger children, look for brushes that are easy to grasp and hold and work up to the more “sophisticated” brushes later on.

Moving the brush from paint to paper to rinse-water is a huge skill for working on eye-hand coordination.  While we consider it fairly subconscious to do, young minds need to be taught how to maneuver the hands into doing what is needed to do.  Being able to determine when it is time to clean the brush and the process to complete to clean it are huge undertakings for little children.  Experimenting in paint is a non-threatening way to discover processes and procedures without “messing up”.

And look at the creative side of it as well!  What we, as adults, may see as an array of colors swirled together (or, as I have found with my boys, an array of browns and blacks) is actually a city or an animal or a space ship to little eyes.  Children are able to create on their own in a medium that is different from the standard crayon and paper.  There is no right or wrong way to look at something.  And, what children see in their artwork is almost always different than what we, as adults, see.  Taking the time to talk to a child about their painting can open worlds of conversations and stories.

Children also learn about basic design and spatial relationships when painting.  They find out that if you want to paint a pink cow on the paper, it is best not to make his legs run the length of the easel.  Then, there’s no room for the head or body.  They begin to discover “where things go” and “how things look”.  With more and more experience, children are able to gauge their artwork and plan for the things they want to put into it.

So, on the next rainy day (or not – outside painting is great, too!), whip out that little palette of paint and a big piece of paper.  Find out what really lives in your child’s mind.

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