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Messy is Good
You and your child have fun, wonderful artwork covering your walls, extra special gifts for family
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As a parent, I believe that along with love and basic care, itís my responsibility to introduce my children to as many positive and fun experiences as possible. I also believe that thereís no real age limit when introducing art into a young childís life. As long as you have some way of sitting them up, then you can help them access all sorts of different fun and messy activities. Freddy is ten months old, and I first started introducing him to art about four months ago and now itís an established part of our daily routine. I asked for this category to be added so that I could share some of the different activities I do with Freddy along with some that I will be doing with him as he gets older (all tried and tested by his now grown up siblings).
As with everything in life, when doing art with your child, preparation is the key. The first thing to consider is what materials you will need, personally I would suggest buying just a few basics to start with and then gradually expanding your collection as baby gets older.
Among the basic items I bought was a set of finger paints, these paints are far thicker than the paint you would get in a bottle, meaning itís easier for baby to handle without it dripping everywhere. Itís also quite versatile, as if youíre doing an activity that requires runnier paint you can always put some of this in a separate container and add a little water. I would say, though, thatís itís best to pay a little extra and buy good quality paints. I buy mine from The Early Learning Centre, where six 100ml pots cost £4.
I wouldnít recommend pencils or thin crayons for babies, theyíre too difficult for them to hold. Instead go for chubby crayons, again go for the slightly more expensive option, because by paying a few extra pennies you get a far superior product. Crayola is always a good brand, but once more Iíd recommend the ELC and their Chubby Crayons, that cost £1.50 for 20. Along with crayons, chalks are another favourite with Freddy, he finds them really easy to use and once more itís the chubby or chunky version you want to go for, and once more the ELC sells the best chalks weíve found.
Youíll also need paper for your baby to draw and paint on, and this really doesnít have to be in the least bit expensive. We use two different types of paper, white printer paper, that generally costs about £2.50 for 500 sheets and coloured paper that we buy from Wilkinsons at 40p for 20 sheets.
Along with the actual materials you need to think where your child will sit to do their artwork and how youíll protect their clothes and the furniture. We really did think ahead, and when choosing Freddyís highchair we specifically looked for one that would convert to a table and chair. The Mothercare Cube Highchair is a great multi-function highchair, that can also be used as a low chair with a tray, or table and chair. If you donít have a convertible highchair, then you could still use the childís highchair as most trays are large enough to hold an A4 sheet of paper. Or you could buy a booster seat, which would allow your child to sit at the dining table.
No matter what chair you use, you will need to protect the floor from splashes and blobs of paint. Although newspaper does a reasonable job, I do find that something a little more durable does it better. By investing in a splash mat, you can not only protect the floor while the child is painting, but can also use it when the child is feeding themselves. Any splash mat will do, but I did find it quite difficult to source one, eventually resorting to the old stalwart that is the ELC, where they had a small selection of different patterns all costing £5 each.
So thatís the floor protected, what about babyís clothes? Well you could just strip baby down to his nappy and allow him to run free, but thatís not always practical. What I do with Freddy is strip him down to his vest and then he has an apron that is only used for art activities. As with all the other basic supplies I would suggest spending a little more on an apron, if for no other reason than the cheapest ones are made of a thick plastic that hinders babyís movement and makes them sweaty and uncomfortable. Again the ELC sells a range of different aprons and the smallest of these aprons are suitable for babies of a year and above. But they actually fit smaller babies quite well, and have cuffs that hold the sleeves back from the hands.
Obviously as your baby grows into toddler hood you will find that you will need to add more equipment to your art supplies. Itís a good idea to start building up a supply of cardboard boxes, pots and toilet roll inners, as these will be great for junk modelling (and any surplus is normally greatly received by pre-schools). A good quality non-toxic PVA glue is also a useful addition to the art drawer and as your child gets a little more creative, bottles of paint will be useful along with a variety of brushes.
Iím now going to tell you about some activities I share with Freddy now, along with some that I will be sharing with him as he gets older, that have already been tried and tested by his siblings.
This is a really fun but extremely messy activity that can be enjoyed by almost any child. Even children with motor difficulties can be helped to create masterpieces using nothing more than paint and cooked spaghetti. You will need to do a little preparation as the spaghetti needs to be cooked and then allowed to cool before being used, but thatís about it. Once the stick spaghetti has been cooked (I use the cheapest of the cheap value kind) you need to put some paint on a tray and then add the spaghetti and mix them together. Once the spaghetti is completely coated in paint then put some of it onto the paper in front of your child, allow them to squelch their hands in the spaghetti and watch them create a swirling, whirling picture. Once theyíve finished their picture then simply remove and dispose of the spaghetti before hanging the masterpiece up to dry. If you donít like the idea of your child using spaghetti, then you can replace it with string, but I think some of the fun is in the spaghettiís unique texture.
Potato Printing And More
This activity does require a little better hand eye coordination than spaghetti painting, but once baby can confidently grip then it soon becomes a favourite. This requires a little more preparation on your part, but is still easy to do. You will need to cut the potato in half and then cut out a shape on it. What shape you cut out is entirely up to you, but simple bold shapes seem to come out the best. I normally cut triangles or squares as Iím not really that good at anything else. Once the potatoes are cut, put one or two colours of paint into trays and then help your child dip the potato into the paint and then onto the paper.
As your child gets older you can substitute other things for the potato, such as pieces of sponge cut into different shapes, cups (makes a great circle), and even leaves. Printing is yet another fun and messy activity and it doesnít have to be expensive as you can use many everyday objects.
Weíve all heard of finger painting, but how about doing something a bit different and allowing your child to create a work of art with their feet. Obviously the baby/child needs to be a confident walker to do this, and itís an activity that I could strongly recommend takes place outside. Youíll need some quite large sheets of paper, I find wallpaper lining paper is perfect, which you can lay out on the ground. Then youíll need some trays of different colour paints, that your child can then put their foot in and so paint pictures with their feet. Believe me this one is so much fun, that youíll want to join in too, just make sure you have a washing up bowl of warm soapy water ready for cleaning your feet when youíve finished.
This activity is not only fun, but your child can also enjoy eating their finished creations. As with the previous activities you wonít need any expensive equipment for this, a packet of rich tea biscuits and some of those tubes of icing that you use for fine detail along with some silver balls and embellishments. Obviously, this isnít an activity to do with the very youngest of children, but it is one that Iíve done with my children once theyíve got to about eighteen months, have good fine motors skills and can follow basic instructions. Because of the amount of sugar involved, itís not an activity that I would do very often, but still it was something they enjoyed as a treat.
This is another activity that my older children really enjoyed from about eighteen months old. I collect all manner of different boxes, cartons, milk bottle lids and toilet roll tubes along with scraps of material and then what you child can make is completely up to their imagination. I do find that itís best to use a good quality PVA glue for this, and rather than glue spreader I would suggest investing in a brush that you dedicate to gluing. To begin with your childís models wonít look like anything particularly recognisable to you, but believe me they will know what theyíve made and take pride in having made it. My children have created all sorts of different models, from cars to dinosaurs, to robots and even models of Mummy.
Once theyíve completed their models, allow the glue to dry and then the child can have yet another art session painting the results. So not itís not just the one afternoonís worth of fun, but two or even more.
Along with bits and bobs for junk modelling, itís a good idea to start building up a box for collages. Although you can buy collage kits, itís so much more fun to make your own and thereís countless things you can use. From shiny sweet wrappers (quality street and roses have the best wrappers), to feathers, shells, pasta, rice, sand, buttons and scraps of materials almost anything can be used as long as it the glue can hold it on the paper. Again this is an activity where the child needs to be a little older, my eldest were between twelve and eighteen months when I started making collages with them, and still needed to be supervised very closely to make sure they didnít try and eat anything. When you first do this activity with your child, they will need lots of help and I would suggest you start with large items and then add in smaller pieces as they get older.
Although I donít feel Freddy is quite old enough yet, Iím hoping heíll be able to help make a picture from bits and pieces we collect when we go on holiday in June (heíll be about 14 months). Even if itís only adding a few shells or feathers to the picture. Collages are a lovely way of helping a child make memories of a day out as they can use items collected on that day. So if youíve taken the child to the beach they can recreate the scene using sand (sterilise it in a hot oven first) and shells that they collected.
Itís a big tradition in my family that the children help to make some extra special decorations each year and even at nine months Freddy wasnít left out. This year there wasnít a lot that he could do, I let him do some finger painting and then cut stars and Christmas tree shapes out to decorate the tree. Next year, weíll be doing a lot more activities in the run up to Christmas all of which Iíve previously enjoyed with my other children.
One thing weíll be doing is collecting pine cones, that we will be able to decorate with paint and glitter before using pipe cleaners to attach them to the tree. Iíll also be cutting out stars from cereal boxes, which Freddy will be able to decorate, again with paint and glitter along with scraps of foil paper and beads and Iíll be hanging these from the ceilings.
Freddy will also be helping to make extra special presents for relatives next Christmas, using projects Iíve successfully completed with my now much older children. (They were 18-24months when we first did them). One thing thatís common to all those projects are little mini-calendars, that can be bought for a few pence each.
My favourite Christmas gift project is to get a plain white paper plate and then allow the child to make a pattern on it, by gluing various pasta shapes. Then once the glue has dried, the next bit needs to be done by an adult, and that is to spray the whole surface with metallic spray paint. Make sure you do this outside, because I do remember once when I worked in a nursery I ended up spraying twenty of these plates and the fumes definitely went to my head. Once the paint has dried all that you need to do is attach a loop of ribbon to the top (do check with your child which way up it goes, because they get upset if you get it wrong) and the calendar to the bottom and you have a gift that any Grandma or Granddad will treasure. The best thing about this activity is that as well as very young children being able to do it, youíll find itís something that their older brothers and sisters will enjoy just as much.
Another great calendar idea, that even the very youngest of babies can be involved in, is the extraordinarily simple idea of allowing them to do a finger painting, which you then back onto card. With the very smallest of babies you can simply use paint to make an impression of their hand and footprints. After backing the picture on card, simply attach a calendar to the bottom and there you go another great gift. Similarly, you could help your child produce a festive collage using lots of cotton wool and glitter and attach a calendar to the picture. I find all these gifts are well received and treasured far more than the standard box of smellies
This is in no way a comprehensive list of art activities you can do with your baby or toddler, but it is some of the oneís that have worked really well for my children. Iíve tried to include activities where the initial outlay is quite small and where we use objects around us. I personally feel that itís very important to allow my children to experience as many different ways of being creative as possible, and always praise their results (even if I canít quite work out what theyíre meant to be. Art is also a great way of helping your child understand the world around them and cause and effect. But I will say, no matter what art activity your very young child is doing, it is important that you closely supervise them and get involved (they learn from you). But is it really such a hardship to spend half an hour getting messy with your child, it certainly beats the washing up.
Hopefully thereís something here that has left you with the urge to cover the floor, roll up your sleeves, get the paints out and have some messy fun with your baby/toddler. And if you have some great activities to share then why not write your own review and share them with us.
*Please ignore the specific ratings, they're totally irrelevant*
My girls loves creative stuff, very messy indeed. Have an E san. :D
Amazingwoo 01.02.2011 09:55
I remember doing stuff like this when I was at play school and in the early years of primary school - and I'm now in my 30's! The art activities you describe would probably seem as 'old fashioned' to very young mum's but I like it, it's getting involved with your child, getting mucky and having fun (and far better than being put in front of a DVD!).
paulpry118 28.01.2011 20:49
Some great ideas. My daughter must have been the only child on this planet who hated messy play and still isn't too keen now she is 5. She hates getting her hands and clothes dirty.