The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 30, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Contain messiness of arts, crafts

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — When dealing with preschoolers, it’s usually best to have a plan.

Sometimes, all that consists of is the ability to go with the flow; their time schedules run in stunning contrast to our own. But when there’s something specific you’d like to accomplish with your little one -- something artsy-crafty, perhaps -- a well-planned event makes the difference between success and mess.

It’s not that parents should wish to discourage messes. The artistic spirit of creativity requires freedom and limitless opportunities for self-expression. Still, messy creative processes are part of childhood, so plans must also be a part of parental coping mechanisms.

In order to let children use all the tactile and creative art supplies they’d like to, here are a few plans that might help keep the messes contained:

Play-doh: When the kids ask to use Play-doh, part of me cringes inside. All I remember of Play-doh is the way little bits of it become savagely crushed into carpets and clothing. And trying to keep a child’s masterpieces contained to a vinyl placemat on a tabletop almost never works.

Instead, clear the middle of the kitchen floor, designate reasonable boundaries with some well-placed masking tape, and let them go wild right there on the floor. When they’re finished, the leftovers are easily swept up.

Finger painting: As long as you’re not too sentimentally tied to each and every art project made by your preschooler, try finger painting in the bathtub next time. Have the kids don their summer swimsuits and paint the walls, the floor, even themselves.

Because as soon as they’re done, it will all be rinsed down the drain. Mess averted.

Painting: Invest in some washable paints and accept the inevitable: preschoolers love to paint. There’s no need to be terrified of a painting session -- they often end in wonderful works of memorable art.

Just be sure to plan ahead for the usual eventualities. Old bed sheets are the only true necessity here, whether your painter uses it under an art easel or over a tabletop. Splatters won’t matter, and will be even less worrisome if you cover your little one in an old T-shirt from dad’s closet.

Alternate mediums: If you truly cannot bear to deal with a mess that day, but still want your kids to reap creative benefits, venture toward different options.

Squirt a few blobs of paint into a large zippered baggy, lay it flat and let your preschooler draw in the contained paint. Cut a stack of felt pieces, punch holes around their edges, and give the kids some pipe cleaners to thread and sew. Lay out a pile of ribbons, buttons, and beads to become necklaces and bracelets.

Whatever your tolerance for messy projects, remember that kids thrive and learn from being artistic. Besides that, these activities take up good chunks of time that might otherwise be spent moaning in boredom or staring vacantly at a screen.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.