Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Introducing scissors, paint, glue and tape when you don't want a messy house

Kids are messy.  Let a three or four year old loose with scissors, paint and glue, and the likelihood of raising the blood pressure on a parent who likes a clean and tidy home increases tenfold.

Children have got to learn to use sticky tape, paint, glue and scissors though... how to do this without it getting very messy?

I'm not all that bothered about a little bit of creative mess.  After all, I make things all the time, so having threads, paints, scissors and knitting lying around is just part of life in the inkspots house.  Three year old creative mess can be, even for me, a bit of a challenge.  One of my sisters likes a clean house, and I understand that for her the idea of allowing her children to wield paintbrushes and glue-spreaders was just too much.  Since they were in full-time nursery this wasn't really a problem, as she put it "they get all the messy stuff at nursery, I don't need to do it at home".  What about the children who don't go to nursery though?  They need to have a chance to experiment creatively with a wide range of different materials and to learn how and when to use them... how can you do that without making a mess?

Set up activities
From a very young age set up supervised activities.  Cutting around pictures in magazines and catalogues for example, and show the children how to use the scissors safely.  Set up a table and chair with lots of old magazines and a pair of scissors and allow your child to snip away to their hearts content.  Then when they've finished TAKE THE SCISSORS AWAY!  The same with glue - set up activities where you can show your child how to use it.  Then set up activities where they can use it by themselves.  When they've finished PUT IT AWAY.

Limit the zone
Once you know that they know how to use the scissors / glue / paint / tape you can move to the next step, which is to allow them to use it for whatever project they have in mind, but designate a particular place where they must use it.  This place should be easy to clean (no expensive carpets) and somewhere that you're likely to be nearby to supervise and to ensure that clean-up happens.  The kitchen table is a good bet.  Do not allow them to take paints or glue into the bedrooms.  My daughter, just 4, is at this stage at the moment.  She keeps trying to take water, paint, glue, scissors or tape into her bedroom, and if I let it slip I always end up regretting it (PVA glue on the carpet, an entire roll of selotape wrapped around her, tiny scraps of feather that she's been chopping up all over the carpet, bits of furniture newly "decorated") - felt pens are also a worry at the moment, as I've found her using them in her bed a couple of times!!

Gradually lift the restrictions
As your child becomes more aware of their surroundings, more careful and more responsible you'll be able to gradually lift the restrictions.  They'll show this readiness by keeping things mostly tidy when they are crafting in your designated zone, by cutting with a purpose rather than random snipping, and by tidying up when they've finished.  You can gradually allow some things to be taken elsewhere, maybe by buying them their own roll of sticky tape and their own scissors...  Allowing them to take a palette of water-colour paints (not poster paints yet!) upstairs to use with a water pot... allowing a glue stick (but not yet PVA).  They will relish this new freedom and responsibility, and if you find that they have painted their wall, left small bits of paper all over the floor, or left the lid off the glue, then take them back a step, don't replenish the glue or tape and tell them they are back to the kitchen table only rule until they can show they are ready.  Try again a few weeks later.  My five year old is at this point at the moment, and the things he creates at his desk in his bedroom are wonderful.

By taking a steady step-by-step approach, you are still enabling and developing their creativity, but also developing the responsibility which needs to go with increasing freedom and independence.  You wouldn't leave a 3 year old with a saw in their bedroom because its dangerous.  Equally, unless you're happy to deal with or ignore the mess, they shouldn't be left with items that could wreck the house, until they can demonstrate their readiness to use them without the mayhem.

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