As ironic as it sounds, it is entirely possible to achieve mess free painting for children.
Years ago, I purchased a seemingly-harmless mess free painting machine for my six-year-old son called a “spinning art machine.” To give you some perspective on how this weapon works, this “machine” houses a five-inch disc within a square plastic container (shield), onto which a piece of paper can be mounted. After placing the mess free painting machine on a flat surface, the operator may apply small, randomly-spaced drops of paint onto the mounted paper. This delicate exercise is followed by strenuous physical exertion, in which the user must pump the attached spin-lever at ludicrous speed [Space Balls]. Resultingly, the centrifugal force causes the paint to splay, providing hours of play for your budding Picasso. Who knew splatter paint for children could be so much fun? Oh, what fun….
(Did I mention that buying this mess free painting machine was a bad idea?)
The Mess Free Painting Machine Does NOT Encourage Mess Free Painting for Children
To be fair, my son is very artistically-inclined, and has always been quite tidy for his age. However, during the year he received his mess free painting machine, he often shared his toys (as all good little boys do) with the neighborhood kids next door.
One lovely summer day, the little rascals (i.e., neighborhood kids) came over to play. While the rowdy bunch entertained themselves, I busied myself playing with my favorite toy — a model train set — with my youngest son in a back bedroom. (Yes, parents; you can enjoy playing with toys too!) After completing one of the railways, I tuned-in to what should have been the blaring background-noise of child-play — now oddly quiet. Like… “pin drop” quiet. #notgood Jumping up, I hastily walked towards the “no sound” and witnessed one of the most traumatizing scenes of my mortal existence.
Mess Free Painting Machine and Splatter Paint
Upon entering the kitchen, my gaze first met four little sets of eyes, wide with guilty anticipation. Each small set of hands grasped a kitchen rag, doused in water and pigment. My eyes then darted to the very messy painting machine on the floor. Multi-colored splatter paint decorated the walls like a cosmic explosion. The splatter paint dotted the tables, the furniture, the ceiling fans…. In horror, I followed the wall trail of smeared paint towards the bathroom, where restoration efforts had begun. Little multi-colored fingerprints dotted every surface, including the shower curtain. Soggy tie-die-looking rags lined the sink basin, the floor, the toilet, the tub….
I honestly don’t remember how long I stood there, dumb and paralyzed, or how exactly said-children exited the scene. I do, however, remember scouring splatter paint from every inch of my home for several hours afterwards, whimpering… maybe even crying a little…and vowing never to have ANY children over to play, EVER again! (Gratefully, time has a way of reversing irrational self-promises.)
To be honest, I could have fared much worse! Not all splatter paint is washable, non-toxic paint is a novelty, and sometimes dents, dings, scuff marks, or wall damages caused by little monsters (I mean…children) requires more than just water and a scrubbing rag.
Mess Free Painting for Children is Possible
However, I know from this experience (and many others) that paint + children is typically a messy combination. Sadly, I’ve witnessed more than one parent deny their children the opportunity of artistic liberty for this exact reason. “No, I do not want to scrape Playdough out of the carpet today.” Understandable. Honestly though…the last thing I ever want to do is suppress my child’s creativity. Akaine, one of the world’s greatest child prodigies, may never have become an artistic virtuoso had her parents not allowed her the artistic freedom she so desperately needed and desired.
[at 5 years old] “….my sketches, now in color oil pastels, were on every possible flat surface of the mansion. My mother kept on guiding me to use the paper, but the paper was just too small for me. I needed much larger spaces. She was incredibly forgiving for my destructive artistic explosions and never reprimanded me for messing up the walls, the floors, the carpets, the tables, the windows, or the clothes even during the realtors’ house showings. For some reason, I did not value my paper sketches and used to throw them in a garbage. Had my mother not persistently salvaged them, none of my earlier works would be here today.”
As important as art is for creative expression, order and cleanliness has always been very important to me. “Children’s art” and “mess free” sound virtually incompatible, yet I sought solutions. After some creative experimentation of my own, I found that mess free painting for children is, in fact, entirely possible. There are a plethora of great ideas online, like these silicone mats, or this mess-free craft for babies and toddlers [watch video below]. Personally, I feel that mess free painting for children can be achieved best outdoors.
To facilitate this, I have an old table set up in the backyard specifically for my children’s artistic projects. When artwork explosions erupt, utilization of the garden hose does a pretty decent job of erasing any evidence. As for protecting my little ones’ clothing during projects, these cute (cough* expensive) little smocks I found online don’t really do the trick. In other words, if your kids are as accident-prone as mine, old adult T-shirts worn over clothing provide better coverage, and are definitely more cost-affective. Additionally, providing two rags per child (1 damp and 1 dry ), and teaching your child how to use them, are a must for keeping little pianty-hands [generally] clean during any project.
Outdoor Painting for Children
Outdoor painting for children is, admittedly, not always the best idea. “What if it’s raining?” you ask. “What if it’s cold? What if it’s 120 degrees outside?” Well then…it’s time for you (yes, you!) to use some of your own creative juices! Consider setting up a space heater, old table, and newspaper in the garage if it’s cold. Or purchase a small tarp and place it underneath a child-sized table for indoor projects. (These are easy to spray off and air-dry outside afterwards.) Toddlers/smaller children can even set up a small spot on the floor of a dry bath tub or shower. Once your little prodigy’s masterpiece is complete, you can wash any artistic residue (including any artistic residue on your child) down the drain.
I truly believe that human beings were created by a very creative God to be creators…just like Him! Not surprisingly, some studies show that careers requiring creativity have substantially higher satisfaction rates than those that do not. For these and other reasons, we — as parents and caregivers — can choose to overlook some of the inconveniences of painting for children and feel good about encouraging their creative (aka messy) ventures regardless.
“We are children of God. Shouldn’t we be about our Father’s business? Shouldn’t we be creators as well?…First, go where the Spirit directs….Second, don’t be paralyzed from fear of making mistakes….Third, support others along the way.…Finally, rejoice. Creation isn’t drudgery. Creation flows from love. When we do what we love, we rejoice along the way.”
-Mary Ellen Smoot
“Only those who can enjoy using their imaginations when working with limited resources know true freedom.” – Shoukei Matsumoto
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